On gay rights, a lot can happen in 10 years

Recently, California Senator Sheila Kuehl lambasted Assembly member Laura Richardson of Long Beach for being homophobic.

The occasion? Richardson is one of 19 candidates running to replace the vacancy left by the untimely passing of Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald. Richardson is considered the frontrunner in the campaign along with state Senator Jenny Oropeza.

In an e-mail, Kuehl denounced Richardson, who is black, and urged recipients to support Oropeza, who is Latino. Kuehl said, “Oropeza has long been a friend to the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community,” and that Richardson’s earlier campaign mailers “were filled with homophobic hate speech so shocking that many of her biggest supporters withdrew their endorsements of her candidacy.”

The campaign mailers that Kuehl referenced were sent out over 10 years ago during Richardson’s 1996 Assembly run against Gerrie Schipske. The mailer accused her opponent of being “committed to the radical gay agenda” and “strongly backed by ultra liberal Santa Monica Assembly member Sheila Kuehl, the Assembly’s only openly gay member.”

Ten years ago was 10 years ago, and a lot can happen in that span of time, including education and a new sense of right and wrong. While the campaign mailers were nasty, Richardson is not who she was 10 years ago, and today she is supportive of gay and lesbian civil rights. I know because I asked her about this last year which is what prompted me to invite her to speak at the State of Black LGBT California, where Senator Kuehl was also a guest.

During the discussion, then Assembly candidate Richardson shared the story of her parents struggle with their inter-racial marriage during a time when it was unpopular. She compared the struggle of her parents to the gay community’s quest for the right to get married.

Now, mind you, Senator Kuehl was there as Richardson shared her story and discussed the mistakes that she’d made in the past regarding the gay community and where she was today.

Flash forward to a year later with a very controversial Congressional seat up for grabs that in some ways has pitted black voters against Latino voters, and enter the gay factor.

In California, more often than not, black politicians are labeled as homophobic until proven friendly, but the gay leadership is barking up the wrong tree with this one.

Us gays spend an incredible amount of time, energy and money on trying to change public opinion on our issues, primarily marriage. From ad campaigns to lobbyists, protests, and the like, we are all about changing the attitudes of Americans when it comes to our issues. But what happens when we succeed? What happens when we actually have an impact and we change the way someone views us or we cause someone to rethink their position on our issues? Richardson, like many of us have, had a change of heart, mind, and soul. We can’t continue to demonize her for something she did in the past that she has worked hard to make amends for while repairing damaged relationships. If we do, then we are the hypocrites, and not the Richardsons of the world.

Kuehl’s accusation was premature and only served to benefit her colleague and Richardson’s main opponent, Oropeza. Knowing that Oropeza already had the Latino vote, Kuehl’s letter served as the official nod for the LGBT community’s support, as well. But I’m here to say that not all gays will be supporting Oropeza and that there’s a significant number of black gays who know, love and admire Richardson’s commitment to the LGBT community. I am one of them. Not to mention the fact that gay and lesbian issues aren’t the end all in this race. As an African-American lesbian, I am also looking at sending someone to D.C. who is going to represent my concerns on the rising cost of health care, the economy, education funding, ending the war in Iraq, and Social Security.

The gay political leadership has a sorry track record for supporting African-American issues, and it seems that the only time the two worlds meet is when one is accusing the other of being homophobic. While the gays are screaming “marriage, marriage, marriage!” those of us in the African-American community, including black gays and lesbians, are screaming “jobs, affordable housing, education, and health care!” And at the end of the day, in California black politicians are more likely to support gays on their issues than gays are on black issues.

After years of hard work in the black community on behalf of black gays to bring our community together, Kuehl’s letter did nothing more than try create a larger divide between blacks and gays, and I’m not having it. We’ve worked too hard in our community to heal wounds and repair relationships to have it all go down the drain because the “powers that be” are ill-informed and misguided.

Stooping to the level of accusing Richardson of being homophobic crosses the line for me in this campaign and is a dirty low blow coming from California’s gay leadership. And while I am sure that there won’t be a race among the black political leadership to defend Assembly member Richardson, because this is still controversial issue for blacks. I, on the other hand, have no problem raising my voice as a member of the LGBT community in support of Richardson and urging others to do the same.

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