Last year, a young African-American told her parents something that can’t go unspoken for long in a close-knit family: “I’m a lesbian.” Her father immediately responded, “We love you,” and her mother felt a relief rush because she’d feared bad news. The family hugged. “It was the easiest coming out experience that anyone could possibly have,” the lesbian teen later recalled. “… I’ve been closer to my parents since coming out….”
Her story might not seem remarkable in a world where millions of heterosexual women comfortably spend their TV time with funny gal Ellen DeGeneres and personal finance wiz Suze Orman, both openly gay.
But this coming-out story took place in one of America’s most prominent black political families. Deval Patrick, the dad, is governor of Massachusetts. The mom is Diane. And the daughter is 18-year-old Katherine.
The Patricks recently told their beautiful family story of truth and joyful consequences to Bay Windows, a gay newspaper in their state.
It’s a story with the power to blow off closet doors in countless African-American homes, says Mandy Carter, a longtime black lesbian activist who attributes much of the unease of African-Americans toward the gay rights movement to the mistaken notion that it’s “about giving more to already privileged, rich, white gay men.”
Something very powerful and special is happening within the black community to counterbalance the often unaccepting messages from the black church:
A few weeks ago, on the front page of the New York Times, the nation’s other black governor, New York’s David Paterson, talked about “Uncle Stanley” and “Uncle Ronald,” the Harlem gay couple who were close to his family and helped him with his spelling when he was a boy.
Paterson reminisced about his “uncles” in explaining why he directed state agencies to recognize out-of-state gay marriages: “People who live together for a long time would like to be married — as far as I’m concerned, I think it’s beautiful.”
Like Paterson, Patrick supports gay marriage, which started in 2004 in his state.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama, who’ll be the first African-American presidential nominee of a major party, advocates civil unions (not marriage) for gay couples, giving married gays federal benefits and getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“I can’t tell you how amazed I am,” Carter says of the influential trio of gay-friendly black politicians. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
Recent polls underscore the significance of these role models by showing that black voters tend to be less supportive of gay couples. Pew Research found whites opposed to gay marriage by 49 percent to 40 percent; blacks were 56 percent opposed and 26 percent in favor. Quinnipiac University found something wonderful in polling New Yorkers on Paterson’s decision to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. By 54-40 percent, whites approved. Most black voters, who tend to be big Paterson fans, did too, 47-41 percent.
Gov. Patrick told Bay Windows his daughter’s coming out was “just no biggie,” sweetly adding he’s happy he can imagine her marrying another woman.
Then, showing what America’s gay-friendly future sounds like, Patrick joked that thinking of Katherine’s wedding he can also imagine “how much it’s gonna cost.”
Reach Deb Price at (202) 662-8736 or firstname.lastname@example.org