Prop 8 Sparks Gay-Black Divide

Wanda Sykes comes out amid black homophobia and divisions between gays.

ByABC News
November 18, 2008, 6:14 PM

Nov. 19, 2008 — -- When comedian Wanda Sykes disclosed during a rally in Las Vegas this week that she had been in a same-sex marriage since October, no one cheered louder than those who face the double jeopardy of being black and gay.

"You know, I don't really talk about my sexual orientation," said Sykes, 44, who stars in the television series "Adventures of Old Christine." "I didn't feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life."

But living life in the spotlight -- as black and gay -- is twice as hard, according to other blacks who say they are stigmatized by society at large for their sexual orientation and again by their own homophobic culture.

Sykes, who was unavailable for comment, is one of only a handful of black, gay celebrities to protest California's Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban that was passed with the help of a coalition of religious groups, many of them black.

For blacks, the victory of President-elect Obama signaled the promise of a new era of racial equality, but gays like Sykes see Proposition 8 as an assault on their civil rights. And the aftermath of the vote has opened old wounds between gays and blacks.

Being black and gay is "pervasive in the entertainment industry," said Terrance Dean, who worked for MTV and other networks. "I've know many celebrities who are on the DL lifestyle."

"For people of color, they are not as accepting as they are for Ellen [DeGeneres], Rosie [O'Donnell], Lance Bass [former of In Sync], George Michael and Elton John. I haven't seen anyone [who is black and openly gay] on the national celebrity A list."

"We also get it at home from our parents and grandparents and don't want to bring shame to the family name," Dean told "We know who we are, but we don't out them."

Dean, who is 40 and wrote about coming out in his book "Hiding in Hip Hop," said he had to buck the popular black culture that worships "machismo, the whole bling thing and the gangsta thug lifestyle."

But, he said Sykes sets a more accepting stage for other black celebrities who are gay.

"Good for her," said Connecticut's Jason Bartlett, the nation's only state representative who is black and openly gay. "She gets it. You can be in love and be a success and still be black and gay. Too many of us are still in the closet and not really sharing our story."

"Being a minority is hard enough," Bartlett, who was elected in 2006 and only came out this year, told "We rationalize that it's easier to stay in the closet and survive."

ABC News exit polls found that blacks voted in support of Prop 8 and to ban gay marriage by heavier margins than other ethnic groups. The exit polls indicated that 70 percent of black voters supported Prop 8, while 49 percent of whites and Asian Americans voted for it and 53 percent of Latinos supported the ban.

Some charged that socially conservative blacks were responsible for the demise of gay marriage. Others said that largely white gay advocacy groups didn't do enough to persuade them.

And many blacks say that gay groups -- in six legal challenges -- have unjustly labeled their cause a civil rights issue.