After gutting the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, sending the Texas Affirmative Action case back to the lower court with instructions that almost surely guarantee a ruling against the University of Texas’ diversity admissions program, and raising the bar for demonstrating workplace discrimination, today the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case lacked standing, leaving in place the lower court ruling invalidating California’s ban on gay marriage. Now same-sex couples can marry in California, and same-sex couples in states who recognize their marriages will now receive equal federal benefits as other married couples.
Yet sadly I think a colleague of mine is correct when she says that these “disparate” rulings will inspire more black vs gay resentment, in a way that of course marginalizes black gays and lesbians. When perhaps the more cogent analysis is that marriage equality doesn’t threaten the oligarchy in the way that full voting, employment and educational access do.
Now it is important for the (white) LGBT community to stand with communities of color and other marginalized people on the broader issues of social justice.
In Godless Americana I address the epidemic of foster care and homelessness amongst LGBTQ youth of color. African American youth in L.A. County comprise over 30% of foster care youth (and around 26% nationally) and 50% of homeless youth. Nearly 30% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. LGBTQ youth overall are imperiled by homophobia, transphobia, religious discrimination and HIV/AIDS contraction, but LGBTQ youth of color also face considerable risks of racist profiling, criminalization, sexual abuse and predation when they are forced to live on the streets or in foster homes. Unfortunately, the largest homeless youth shelter for 18-24 year olds in the U.S. is run by the Catholic-based Covenant House (which has a history of anti-trans discrimination). The Huffington Post reports:
“Sixto Cancel says his ultra-religious foster family frequently talked about their disdain for his homosexuality at the dinner table, trashed his room and called him homophobic slurs. While he was still a teenager, he says, they kicked him out of their Connecticut home after he had lived there for nearly a decade.
Discrimination against gay and lesbian youths in foster care is prevalent enough around the country that federal health officials sent a letter in 2011 encouraging states to develop training for caseworkers and foster parents on the issue. Advocates in a handful of states including Florida, California, Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts have increased efforts to train caseworkers, recruit foster parents and assign mentors. Officials don’t want to force youths to disclose their sexuality, but must try to create environments where they feel safe to come out when ready. Without such support, the federal government memo says, gay and lesbian youths who leave the foster care system can wind up homeless.”
What is the secular community doing to step up and redress these issues that intersect with institutional racism, heterosexist discrimination and economic disenfranchisement?
Skeptic Ink News is reporting that former American Atheists’ development director AJ Johnson is suing AA for racial discrimination and wrongful termination.
“The suit alleges that [A.J.] Johnson was ‘forced to listen to various racial jokes and was subjected to unprovoked, unwarranted, vicious and persistent verbal attacks on everything, including her competence.” It claims “unfounded complaints” against her competence and that this was in spite of excellent performance, citing “dramatically” increased donations which it was her job to solicit. It also indicates that Johnson, the sole African-American employee of American Atheists at the time, was “forced to support” a billboard stating “Slaves obey your masters” which she expressly disapproved of.”
American Atheists’ president David Silverman has vigorously denied Johnson’s charges–even producing a memo Johnson wrote urging her (redacted) email contacts to challenge my March 2012 article criticizing AA’s naked slave billboard. Although Johnson’s lawsuit will be adjudicated in court, her allegations should be taken seriously, especially within the context of a movement that has actively sought to discredit people of color who call out racism and has made little more than a token effort to engage people of color in positions of leadership. Despite frequent tokenistic calls for “diversity” within the “movement”, there are virtually no people of color in executive management positions (notable exceptions being leader-activists Debbie Goddard of CFI and Maggie Ardiente of AHA) in any of the major secular/atheist/humanist organizations. Further, when people of color are constantly bombarded with bullshit claims from Internet cowards about separatism, reverse discrimination and “self-segregation” when they point to the absence of social justice, anti-racist community organizing, coalition-building and visibility (outside of white suburbs and gentrified urban centers) amongst secular organizations, it merely underscores the burning need for authentic real-time grassroots organizations of color beyond the mainstream atheist power structure.
Earlier this year, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA) spearheaded its First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative, which focuses on providing resources to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis in communities of color, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis. If current prison pipelining trends persist the Education Trust estimates that only “one of every 20 African Americankindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university” in the next decade.
We received applications from outstanding South Los Angeles students who are challenging racism, sexism, homophobia and injustice in their schools and communities. Thanks to generous support from the secular community* and beyond, our winning 2013 applicants below will receive $1000 scholarships to assist with their tuition, room/board, books and other academic resources. Our scholars will receive their awards on July 13th in Los Angeles. Due to this year’s success, BSLA is partnering with other secular organizations to make the scholarship initiative a national effort.
As part of their essay requirement for the scholarship, applicants were asked to talk about how Humanism related to social justice activism:
Jamion Allen, Washington Prep HS (El Camino College)
Over the past two years, Jamion has been one of the major voices in the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), Gay/Straight Alliance and No Haters clubs at Washington Prep. She is the recipient of a Youth Volunteer of the Year award from the County of Los Angeles for her outstanding leadership teaching workshops on school climate, homophobia, sexual harassment and women’s rights. She would like to pursue law, politics and continue her activism for communities of color:
“In my experience doing peer education workshops, I often find that the homophobic views of young men of color are rooted in religious homophobic speech as well as the image that society sets that says it is wrong to be gay. I have come to believe that what is actually wrong is the acceptance of racist, sexist and homophobic depictions of ourselves. Humanism means freedom from the layers of lies we’ve been toldto believe.”
Philip Aubrey, King-Drew Medical Magnet (Babson College, MA)
King-Drew college counselor Lisa Golden writes of Phillip, “There have been few times in my 26-year career when exceptional brilliance has come in the form of a 17 year-old extraordinary package.” Philip is a foster care youth and peer counselor with a 3.91 GPA who took six Advanced Placement courses (in Environmental Science, Calculus, Psychology, English and Government) during his senior year. He has shown leadership as a mentor of other young men and as an entrepreneur with his own small clothing line. This year he was a member of the UCLA VIPS scholar program and will attend Babson College this fall as a business major:
“One very important issue I would like to fix in my community is the matriculation rate of black and brown men. For the last two summers I have been at UCLA studying the barriers that inhibit minority males from advancing on to college. These barriers include gender congruency, incarceration rates and the list goes on of why black and brown males specifically have a harder time of going on to college. I plan to leave my footprint on Earth by creating a school which will cater to black and brown men and encourage the social, cultural and educational growth of every student at the school.”
Hugo Cervantes, King-Drew Medical Magnet (UC Riverside)
Hugo is an undocumented youth and honors student who will attend the University of California, Riverside in the fall. He is a member of Nuestras Raices, an organization that provides music and dance classes to children and young adults. Hugo has performed at the James Armstrong Theatre, Disneyland, and other venues. He also volunteers in the classroom as a teacher’s aide. Hugo aspires to be a novelist and receive a Fulbright scholarship, like his inspiration Sylvia Plath:
“The freedom riders’ brave rides through the Deep South for equality and today’s LGBT and DREAMer movement are examples of humanism: fighting for equality through vehicles of compassion…Hate can be broken through compassion–the profound self-realization that we are all equal and deserve to be treated equal.”
Victory Yates, Washington Prep HS (California State University, Long Beach)
Victory is a former foster care youth and Women’s Leadership Project activist. She graduated from Washington Prep High School with honors and was a member of Legacy Ladies, ASB Leadership and several other youth leadership organizations on campus. After graduating from CSULB she would like to pursue a career as a juvenile justice attorney and advocate:
“As a senior at Washington Preparatory High School, I’ve found that violence, low expectations, and destructive behavior are normalized. No one thinks twice when they see or hear young women verbally abused by the violence that engulfs our school or community. I don’t feel safe because of the indecent behavior some men exhibit and the way they treat young women like prostitutes. Recently, a woman going to the carport in my apartment got raped. My future non-profit organization will set out to empower youth of color so they can live better lives and advance their communities. I want to transform low-income communities into safer places, places where youth will no longer admire gangs and youth will rise above drug use and abuse. As a believer in humanism, I think that it’s everyone’s moral obligation to address these injustices. I’m proud to have been involved with the Women’s Leadership Project. I became involved because I just can’t sit idle.”
BSLA says thank you again to all of the generous donors who made this initiative possible!
By Dr. Kamela Heyward-Rotimi, Osun State University, Nigeria
Sikivu Hutchinson’s Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels is a pointed and necessary resource for both public and academic discourses to better understand the experience of secular people of color forging visibility in the battle for social justice. Secular activists of color are rendered invisible and improbable within the community politics of religious institutions and predominately white humanist and secular institutions. These institutions response to secular activism among people of color contributes to an American consciousness which mythologizes authenticity and denies the complexities of the human condition. The measure of a sole authentic story is mired in notions of religious practice, racial stereotypes, intra-racial conflicts over a recognizable racial self, gender discrimination, and white privilege. Hutchinson’s accounts of secular activists catalyzing grassroots humanist movements’ counters American solace in oppressive definitions of what a person of color believes.
An accessible analysis, surveys and interviews are some of the research methods utilized to animate markers of race, identity, and non-belief. Hutchinson expertly traverses cultural, religious, gender, and racial landmines to make visible the experiences of women, high school girls, and men who are, or, have the potential of becoming secular activists. Historical examples of early African American freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and first-hand accounts of Latina feminist atheists, for example, present a seldom discussed tradition of people of color and humanism. Godless Americana queries the marginality and invisibility of secularists within communities of color and within mainstream humanist communities by engaging authentic stories of race, gender, activism, and humanism.
Today is the beginning of the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida last year. Martin’s killing elicited a firestorm over whether race and racism were still alive and well in the U.S. While some whites in Sanford and beyond “wonder” why this “clear” case of “Stand Your Ground” is even going to trial, Martin’s family must endure the defense’s character assassinations seeking to smear Martin as a violent drug-abusing marauder invading a tranquil white suburb. Yesterday, at the CFI book release event for Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels there was a heated discussion about whether racism deters people of color from joining predominantly white organizations. This morning we received this cowardly example of white supremacist tripe from the online lynch mob:
A new comment on the post “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology” is waiting
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Of course obama is against abortions and especially black abortions.
Hes looking to expand the democrat party and build more jails, baby sambos and
crackhead mommas will expand the numbers of both.
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