March to End Bias on Sexual Orientation, Race and Sex

by Kimberlee M. Ward

Activists who support civil rights for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals have especially good reason to march in San Francisco April 14. California is leading the charge of right wing attacks that are likely in a total of at least 20 states this year.

I recently discussed the radical right with Mandy Carter, one of the nation's leading African-American lesbians fighting the right. A grassroots organizer for almost 30 years, Carter received the 1995 Stonewall Award for activism.

Under the auspices of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum and Human Rights Campaign, Mandy founded the National Call to Resist, a campaign that counters the right's attempts to divide the Black community and the lesbian and gay community.

Mandy is currently organizing North Carolina Mobilization 1996, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender vote effort to help defeat a notorious homophobe, Sen. Jesse Helms.

Q: Mandy, What do you see as the radical right's biggest threat to lesbians, gay men and bisexuals?

A: Their divide and conquer strategy along the race lines -- pitting progressive communities against one another. It was particularly effective in 1993, during the Cincinnati anti-gay ballot initiative struggle. The Rev. Lou Sheldon, of California's Traditional Values Coalition [a radical right organization] created a video specifically designed to show in Black churches. The main theme of the video, "Gay Rights, Special Rights," was that the lesbian and gay movement was trying to overshadow the Black civil rights movement.

Q: Where did this "special rights" message originate?

A: The "special rights" rhetoric that the radical right uses to justify discrimination is based in racism. The underlying message is "you don't want anymore of those people to have more rights than you, do you?" It is the same language being used in the affirmative action battles, most of which are being waged by the radical right.

Q: Do you think this strategy is working?

A: It has created some setbacks, but we must not allow this strategy to divide us. The same radical right that claims to be looking out for people of color is working against issues of importance to us. They hope to dismantle affirmative action, multicultural curriculums and implement English-only laws. Most people of color, gay and straight, have always known that the radical right is no friend of ours.

Q: Mandy, as you know, NOW played a large part in defeating Maine's anti-lesbian and gay ballot initiative. What do you think about the future of these initiatives as a tool of the right?

A: I don't think they're working very well, so they'll soon move on to something else more frightening. Particularly, I think they'll continue their strategy of taking over local governments and school boards. We've got to shift our organizing focus to the local grassroots level to defeat the radical right.

Q: What are some other things that we can do to fight the radical right?

A: Progressive alliances coming together is the tool that we must use because it is the tool that works. And we should all show our unified strength by turning out for the Fight the Right March in San Francisco this April. As someone who used to live in California, I appreciate the incredible national action being mobilized in an area that's known for creating local solutions to problems. I also think California is a test case for the radical right. Lou Sheldon has said that if they can push their agenda in California, they can do it everywhere. And thank you for having a national march on the West Coast!

Q: What do you envision for the future of the lesbian, gay and bisexual movement?

A: As we move toward the 21st century, we must ask ourselves if we're serious about a multicultural movement or not. The faces and voices of leadership must reflect the faces and voices of lesbian and gay people. And the issues that we work on must be issues that concern all of us. I am especially glad to see NOW linking all of the issues that are under attack by the radical right, as it gives us a perfect opportunity to bring people with common goals to the same table.

This march, and the upcoming elections, will play a key role in determining the future of a multicultural movement. While I hope to see everyone in San Francisco on April 14, more importantly, what are you going to do on April 15?

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