Thanks for nothing, Reverend Fauntroy
Like all gay people, I'm dismayed when Walter Fauntroy, a key lieutenant to Martin Luther King and pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church, holds a ballyhooed press conference with Bill Frist and the hateful likes of Rick Santorum in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. But let me be crystal clear. Right now I'm speaking as a black man, not as a gay man. As a member of Fauntroy's African American constituency, I think I've been sold out. Fauntroy knew damn good and well he was helping to re-elect George Bush. Fauntroy went to the Capitol Building and all I got was Republican hegemony.
Now I see white evangelicals flexing their muscles in Washington. I don't see Fauntroy flexing muscle on behalf of African Americans. Is he going to get Bush to roll back his tax cuts in exchange for delivering Ohio? What exactly did the founder of the Black Congressional Caucus get for black people in his backroom deal with Bill Frist? Plenty of nothing.
As a black man, I feel culturally tarnished by Fauntroy's peddling of his Civil Rights pedigree. A company can license its registered trademark for profit - it's called franchising. McDonald's make billions that way. By joining forces with the Republicans, Reverend Fauntroy in effect licensed the name of Dr. King like a trademark. Now whenever I see a debate on marriage, I see white conservative 'franchisees' brandishing Fauntroy's Civil Rights credentials to shield themselves from charges of bigotry. The low point came when I heard right wing buzzsaw Ann Coulter invoke Civil Rights to attack gay rights. When you sell a license to Ann Coulter to speak for Martin Luther King, I'm sorry but that just stinks. Coulter, who publicized the possibility of 'DNA evidence' on Monica Lewinsky's dress, befouls the legacy of Dr. King by even speaking his name. And the right wing has the audacity to accuse us of 'highjacking Civil Rights' when we march on Washington for gay equality.
Reverend Fauntroy's argument against marriage equality is very feeble. First he claims that he's defending the black family. Then he wanders off into the clouds to think up some vaporous link between gay marriage and the stability of Black families. He can't find a link in concrete reality, so he has to wander way out into the moonie realms of existential sociological theory to find one. You want a link between gay rights and black families? AIDS destroys black families. Gay activists fight AIDS. There is nothing theoretical about that. Dick Cheney may not have a clue, but you won't find a single gay AIDS activist who doesn't know the mortifyng statistics on HIV reported by the Black AIDS Institute. I read the statistics in Gay City News. Reverend Fauntroy doesn't read that paper or he'd know that when he attacks gay rights, he undermines the fight against AIDS. An army of gay and lesbian activists, some 10,000 strong according to Larry Kramer's estimate, has been fighting a two-front war for 25 years. When Fauntroy attacks us on one front - the gay rights front - he weakens us on the AIDS front.
You want some specifics? This past summer I was scheduled to help produce a hip-hop style HIV prevention documentary called "Cause of Death." We had fantastic footage of Black youth talking about HIV and sex, and I was producing digital animation to appeal to a young urban target audience. But when Bush and Reverend Fauntroy declared nuclear war on my people by pushing the Federal Marriage Amendment, I had to stop work on the documentary and devote all my time and skillset to fighting for John Kerry. I'm infuriated that I have to table HIV prevention projects because of the nightmare FMA. Hundreds of gay and lesbian activists could tell you the same story. Our laptop batteries are dead. Our e-mails are bouncing back. Lobby day, crystal meth, staying negative, preferred drug lists. Now the FMA again? Everyone is swamped. Our passion, our skillsets, our time are diverted from fighting AIDS to fighting George Bush and Reverend Fauntroy.
Now, if Reverend Fauntroy claims that marriage equality is a greater threat to black families than HIV, he's either seeing things or he's taking money.
Where there's smoke, there's bribery
Walter Fauntroy organized the legendary Selma Civil Rights March. His work with Dr. King is very impressive. So impressive that it causes me agony to doubt him, but I can't help but be suspicious of his motives today. His Alliance for Marriage and our Freedom to Marry coalition could have battled it out on the state level, where the issue belongs. But when Fauntroy went federal with the FMA, he gave Bush's campaign a boost even as Fauntroy claimed to oppose the President's domestic policies. Fauntroy's own words paint a picture of tactical confusion so improbable it begs for some other, ulterior explanation.
Early in the presidential campaign, Fauntroy described the marriage controversy as "a sideshow issue being used by [the] radical right-wing". So why did he make himself the featured attraction in that sideshow?
Again, In Fauntroy's own words, when his D.C. constituents come up to him, they don't ask about gay marriage, they ask about health care. "Gay marriage is not even on the radar screen." I don't get it. If marriage equality doesn't even show up on their radar, how can it affect their lives one way or the other?
Barack Obama doesn't support our right to marry. But Obama didn't help re-elect Bush by supporting the FMA. Fauntroy claims he wants a fair tax policy, but he's got a strange way of showing it–helping Bush acquire the political capital to make his tax cuts permanent. Why did he do that?
I know Fauntroy didn't learn this kind of ass-backwards strategy from Dr. King. In fact, Fauntroy has a reputation as a master strategist. Well, the master strategist has seen better days. I'd say Fauntroy has some explaining to do, but I couldn't stomach another dose of his sophistry. And given Fauntroy's stake in the Bush faith-based initiative (translation: slush fund), I don't expect him to tell the truth any more than well-compensated Republican hack Armstrong Williams. Unlike Williams' out-and-out bribe, the Reverend's cash-out is perfectly legal under Bush's faith-based patronage system. Fauntroy would say that the money goes for community services, and I'm sure a lot of it does. But Fauntroy did plead out a felony charge for financial non-disclosure in 1995.
And he's positioning himself for more and better backroom deals. Fauntroy has testified in support of H.R. 2357, the "Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act" which would allow tax exempt churches to engage directly in partisan politics. Good for Fauntroy's ministry, maybe, but bad for black people because the net gain favors the radical right. Wealthy, tax exempt churches free to fund candidates while the Democrats feel pressure to court white evangelicals? They may as well repeal the Voting Rights Act, for all black votes will mean under that scenario.
Fauntroy's also got a good thing going with the billionaire lunatic Sun Yung Moon (I won't repeat Moon's remarks about gay people here.) He speaks frequently at Moon events and has ties to Moon's American Clerical Leadership Conference. Last summer, Fauntroy was the Master of Ceremonies at an embarrassing Washington event in which Moon was coronated as the 'New Messiah" and claimed to have rehabilitated the soul of Hitler.
Frankly, Moon's certifiable ramblings make more sense than Fauntroy's. After Bush won, Fauntroy accused Republicans of playing politics with marriage. That's like Richard Perle criticizing Bush for the Iraq war. "The Republican Party chose this as the primary wedge-issue ... and was successful in getting people to forget the lies and the mistakes that were made by President Bush on handling the war on terrorism, and focused on a sideshow issue that ran away with the circus." Fauntroy wants us to forget that he was a key player in the Bush anti-gay gambit that has stranded Black people in the dead zone of American politics.
Now he tries to cover himself because black voters didn't go for Bush. "The Republican Party failed miserably. The goal was to get 16 percent of the Black vote." Failed miserably? They control the White House, the Supreme Court, both houses of Congress, and the progressive coalition is dazed and confused. Sounds like Fauntroy has been spending too much time with Reverend Moon.
The key point Fauntroy wants to hide is this: his lobbying for FMA was never designed to deliver black votes to Bush. Fauntroy's job was to shield the radical right from charges of bigotry; he was the 'bigot insurance'. Now he covers himself by claiming that black voters didn't go for Bush so he's not to blame for Bush's win. But that was never the plan. Like Christopher Darden, the professional Uncle Tom who appealed to White America while dissing the black jury in the O.J. Simpson trial, Fauntroy was not speaking to or for Black America during the campaign. He vouched 'morally' for Bush and Bill Frist among white voters who might hesitate to vote for a bigot. He used his Civil Rights rep to pressure Congress to make marriage a federal issue so Bush could exploit it in the campaign. (I doubt Frist would have touched this stinker without Fauntroy on the team.) Also, his job was to throw a curveball at gay white marriage advocates, who never came up with an answer to Fauntroy.
You could call Fauntroy the Nader of 2004, with one significant difference. Nader was running for President, he didn't want Bush or Gore to win. Fauntroy claims to oppose Bush, but his game of political pattycake on marriage equality was far more useful to Bush than Nader was in 2000.
P.S.: Would Reverend Fauntroy accuse ACT-UP of 'highjacking Civil Rights' in the fight against AIDS?
I hope the picture of Reverend Fauntroy's betrayal of black families is becoming clear. To cash in on his civil rights credentials, Fauntroy has in effect colluded with HIV in its attack on black families by diverting gay energy and resources from AIDS activism.
Forgive my passion, but my family has been devastated by AIDS. We've lost a brother and a sister-in-law, two other brothers would have died of AIDS if they hadn't overdosed first. And it's a miracle we didn't have a pediatric case in my family. Every time I think of it I almost faint with horror. For white gay people, the worst days of AIDS were marked by the serial loss of friends and lovers. But for black people, the worst days were marked by serial cases of AIDS within families. Black mothers and fathers watching their sons and daughters die slowly, one after another. There is so much less of that now, due in great part to gay AIDS activism.
There is something unspeakably perverse about a black leader attacking the very people who have been fighting so long for the treatments that today save black lives by the thousands. I use an Old Testament word to describe Reverend Fauntroy's collusion with George Bush. It's an abomination. To turn and attack the very people who, in Larry Kramer's words, "put their bodies on the line and changed history" to get the medications that are sparing black families from the horrific mortality rates of the 1980s-that is an abomination. Or I could use another Old Testament word. Reverend Fauntroy's de facto collusion with HIV is an apostasy.
Collusion with George Bush. De facto collusion with HIV. Commodification of the Civil Rights legacy. No doubt, Reverend Fauntroy reached the extreme low point in his otherwise distinguished career during the past campaign. It's not likely, but I can still hope he didn't realize what he was doing. I ask the Reverend to atone for his mistake and change course. The Alliance for Marriage and Freedom to Marry can slug it out state-by-state, fair enough. But Fauntroy owes it to black America to pull the FMA out of Bush's political Easter Basket.
And Fauntroy should state publicly that his loyalty to evangelicals is stronger than his loyalty to African Americans. His actions make that plain as day so he might as well say it - he no longer speaks for blacks, he speaks for evangelicals of all colors, which is his right. At the very least, I'm asking for this disclaimer so the likes of Ann Coulter can't despoil my proud African American legacy.
Even better, I'd like to see Barack Obama, Maxine Waters, Tavis Smiley, Russell Simmons, and every rational Black leader in America get on the telephone and tell Reverend Fauntroy to shut the hell up on gay marriage.
Next: Rick Santorum and The Body Language of Hatred