Be strong, be proud
BY Keith Boykin
November 18 2005 12:00 AM ET
remarks were prepared for delivery at the Millions More
March, Saturday, October 15, 2005, in Washington, D.C.
Today I am honored to stand here at the Millions More
Movement March as a representative of the National Black
Justice Coalition, the country’s only national
civil rights organization for black lesbians, gays,
bisexuals, and transgendered people. The National
Black Justice Coalition strongly supports the goals of the
Millions More Movement for unity and inclusion of our
In February of
this year, Minister [Louis] Farrakhan and I participated
in Tavis Smiley’s annual State of the Black Union
event in Atlanta. During a press conference that day,
Minister Farrakhan announced that women and gays would
be encouraged to participate in today’s march.
“The makeup will be our people, whoever we
are,” he said. Then he added, “Male,
female, gay, straight, light, dark, rich, poor, ignorant,
wise. We are family. We will be coming together to
discuss family business.”
After the press
conference, I spoke to the minister and I introduced
myself. “Minister Farrakhan,” I said, while
shaking his hand, “My name is Keith Boykin, and
I am a black gay man. And I want to thank you for your
inclusive comments about gays in the Millions More
March.” Without missing a beat, Minister
Farrakhan responded to me with a long, warm embrace.
“Brother, I love you,” he said as we hugged.
“We are all part of the family. We are all part
of the same community.” That was an historic
Ten years ago, I
joined more than a million of my brothers on this very
location for the Million Man March. At that time, there were
no openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual speakers at that
march. This time, however, I am able to speak here
today as an openly gay man because of the courageous
leadership of one man—Minister Louis Farrakhan. I
publicly and honestly thank him and salute him for the
invitation to speak. The diversity of speakers
assembled here today is a powerful signal that we in
the black community will not allow ourselves to be divided
by differences of opinion, religion, gender, class, or
sexual orientation ever again.
Farrakhan himself said in August, “We must not allow
painful utterances of the past or present, based on
sincere belief, or based on our ignorance, or based on
our ideology or philosophy, to cripple a movement that
deserves and needs all of us—and, when I say all, I
mean all of us.”
week, two of my colleagues and I sat with Minister
Farrakhan, his wife, his daughter, and his son, and with
Rev. Willie Wilson, the executive director of this
march. Minister Farrakhan said it was the first time
he had ever sat down with a group of openly gay and
lesbian African-Americans. Let me be honest. It was an
intense, passionate, and candid meeting where both
sides shared their pain and frustration with the
other. At the end of the discussion, however, we made
progress. We realized that there are no “both
sides” of the table. There is only one side,
and that is the side of justice.
So today I accept
the olive branch offered by Minister Farrakhan and Rev.
Wilson and offer an olive branch of my own. We acknowledge
the hurt and pain that has been caused by both sides
in our past conflicts, and we fully commit ourselves
to heal the deep wounds that have hurt us. Thank you,
Minster Farrakhan and Rev. Wilson, for the love.
We have disagreed
in the past and we may disagree in the future, but we
all agree that we must move forward together. We all agree
that we will not allow ourselves to be manipulated by
the media to create divisions among us. We all agree
that we are stronger together than we are apart. And
we all agree that the struggle for the liberation of our
people is more important than our individual
differences of opinion.
Fifty years ago,
Ralph Ellison wrote, “I am an invisible man... I am
invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see
me. ... When they approach me they see only my
surroundings, themselves, or figments of their
imagination—indeed, everything and anything except
me.” Ralph Ellison was talking about the
invisibility of the African-American, but the same
could be said of black gays and lesbians.
When Dr. King
spoke at the 1963 Civil Rights March, he called on one
person, Bayard Rustin, a black gay man, to organize that
march. When Duke Ellington performed “Take the
‘A’ Train,” he called on one person,
Billy Strayhorn, a black gay man, to serve as his
composer. And when black actors and directors put on
performances of “A Raisin in the Sun,” they
call on one person, Lorraine Hansberry, a black bisexual
playwright, to serve as their muse.
Black culture as
we know it today would not exist without the words of
James Baldwin, the poetry of Audre Lorde, or the
choreography of Alvin Ailey. That is why I am here
today—to honor their legacy.
But I am also
here to honor the living heroes and sheroes of today. My
good friend Phill Wilson likes to say that our people cannot
love us if they do not know us. So I want you to know
who we are. I want you to know the activist Angela
Davis, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Alice
Walker, the Grammy-nominated recording artist Meshell
Ndegeocello, the editor-at-large and former executive
editor for Essence magazine Linda Villarosa, and the
former adviser to New York mayor David Dinkins, Dr.
And I want you to
know the living male heroes. Men like New York City
Council member Philip Reed, former mayor of Cambridge,
Mass., Ken Reeves, mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., Ron
Oden, best-selling author E. Lynn Harris, and Harvard
University chaplain Rev. Peter Gomes.
And finally, I
want you to know that we are your brothers and sons and
fathers. We are your sisters and daughters and mothers. And
we are your cousins and nieces and nephews as well. We
cannot separate ourselves from the larger black family
because we are an integral part of the black family.
We raise our families, we send money to our nephews, and
yes, we sing in the choir as well.
The issues that
affect black gays and lesbians are issues that affect all
black people. Last year I sat in the living room of a young
mother who had lost her child to violence in Newark,
N.J. Her 15-year-old daughter, Sakia Gunn, was
murdered because the killer thought she was gay. When
black homosexuals and bisexuals are murdered, black
heterosexual family members still have to bury their
kin. What happens to black gays and lesbians directly
affects black straight people as well.
HIV and AIDS is
the leading cause of death for young black people, gay or
straight. Forty-five million Americans do not have health
insurance, and too many of this group are black, gay
or straight. Unemployment is still too high among
black people, gay or straight. We are all connected.
When black people
were forced to sit in the back of the bus, black gay
people were forced to sit in the back of the bus. When black
people could not vote, black lesbians could not vote.
And when black people are beaten and abused by the
police, black bisexuals are beaten and abused by the
We share the same
goals and aspirations as the rest of the black
community, but none of us can accomplish those goals without
unity and courage. We all need courage in our lives.
It took courage for you to come here today. It took
courage for Minister Farrakhan to invite me to speak
today. And it will take courage to heal the wounds that have
divided us for far too long.
In the timeless
words of Audre Lorde, “When I dare to be
powerful—to use my strength in the service of
my vision—then it becomes less and less
important whether I am afraid.” So I say to you
today: Be strong, be proud, be courageous.