Jones, a dogged journalist who has dug up a lot of corruption in black politics, says it's offensive to most blacks when their plight is compared to that of gays.

"When homosexuals try to use the blessing of those who are black to help their cause, it has failed, and it will continue to fail," he says. "If they are seeking rights, I don't think they will be successful comparing homosexuality to race. I think most people see it as a slight or an insult."

Jones concedes that many gays and lesbians seem to be born that way. But he compares them to people who seem to have a propensity for crime. He compares it to a trait he has to seek harsh revenge when someone has wronged him. "I was born with that. I was born in a family that has done a lot of violent things. But I was taught that was wrong, so I don't act on it. I think people are sometimes born with an urge to steal or to rob or to be lazy, but that doesn't mean you act on it because you have urges."

Translation: Homosexuality, Jones claims, is a crime that should be snuffed out.

Hoch, who is white, says he has seen, through his gay activism, an urge in the black community to deny that homosexuality exists. Smith adds that it's largely hidden under the "machismo" running through the male culture.

"In ethnic communities, really all ethnic communities, African-American, Cuban-American, there's a lot of machismo," he says. "So whenever you talk about anything gay, it goes beyond religion. Culturally, it was hard to embrace AIDS because AIDS was the 'faggot disease.' Once AIDS became a black disease, the church woke up."

Smith says he will probably co-sponsor a long-floundering gay-rights bill to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in employment and housing. He has hopes that the measure will get a modest amount of support among blacks.

The senator says he believes blacks might also support his bid to overturn the ban on gay adoption. "That's a battle I think we can win," he says. "You have gay people serving as foster parents, and you have hundreds of thousands of kids that need adopting. That's a battle we can win to treat everyone equal."

But Smith admits that he has been met with a stone wall in trying to raise awareness about gay issues in his district. He says that when he gives speeches in black churches, he often brings up the issue, but it's never popular.

"If you think gay marriage is against God's law, then adultery is against God's law too," the senator says. "Are you going to make it a crime to have an affair? You can't legislate all of God's law. When I mention that, I get some agreement, but that's only if I can get to that phase of the argument. Usually, I get shut down before I get there."

For Mahee, it's understandably more personal than that. She says that when she got up on the morning after the election, her first impulse was to flee the state. Then she realized that Arizona and California, one of the nation's more progressive states, had passed the same initiative on the same day.

"I am in absolute and complete awe," she says. "I am in awe that we can elect the first African-American president and that on the same day, we can write discrimination into the state Constitution. Our education is at the bottom of the heap. We have a state House that just had to apologize for its participation in slavery last session. We have a gay adoption ban. I am afraid Florida has become in this millennium what Mississippi was to the civil rights movement."

Smith, though, says the irony is that the black man who was elected to the White House is, like him, sympathetic to gay causes — though not gay marriage itself.

"In Barack's speech, he mentioned the people, and he said gay and straight," Smith remembers. "He's the new president of the United States, a black man, a religious black man. Hell, he sat in Rev. Wright's church, and he said gay and straight. That's something that gives me hope."

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