Out journalist and CNN.com contributor Clay Cane releases his first book, Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race, June 13. Best-selling author Keith Boykin recently called the work “heartbreaking, insightful and inspirational.”
In an exclusive video for The Advocate, Cane calls out longtime homophobes Donnie McClurkin and Eddie Long, antigay pastors who have also been alleged to have sex with men (Long died in January). Below, watch Cane read a powerful excerpt about homophobia in church and discuss the issue with Malcolm Kenyatta, a political strategist and community activist in Philadelphia.
We also spoke with Cane to get more details on his highly anticipated book.
The Advocate: In your book, you touch on race, religion, and sexuality. These three subjects are interconnected in African-American culture. Early on, we are taught that being black and gay or black and queer are abominations. How did you turn off the noise and find your place of peace?
Clay Cane: Honestly, sometimes the noise still creeps in. Not necessarily about being an abomination, but just the complexity of living in the duality of blackness and gayness, whether it's relationships, career, or friends. But I don't think that’s just a black and queer issue, especially in Trump's America. There’s more noise than ever. In many ways, you still have to defend your right to exist. But I can say it lessened the noise when I found my "tribe" in Philly. I was 18. This may sound weird, but when I was a kid, I didn't think black queer folks existed. There was zero representation, zero visibility in the mid-'90s. In the book, there is an essay called "Thirteenth Street" and I show how my life changed when I found my tribe. They helped me build up armor. All throughout Live Through This, I explain through a variety of stories how I am always turning down the noise. The noise is never gone. I think everyone can relate to that.
Do you think there's such a thing as religious oppression? Does it still exist, and how do we begin to change the minds of people who use religion to demonize gay people?
Absolutely! I call it spiritual and theological violence. It’s been part of my life's work — to call attention to oppressing people by using religion. I even wrote about it for The Advocate years ago. With states signing "religious freedom" bills, it's about to be even worse. For me, the way to change minds, is about humanizing people. In Live Through This, I am putting a face to stats and voting blocs. I’m encouraging people to see beyond their lens, no matter who they are. Then there’s resistance. In many ways, this book is an act of resistance. Many of the groups who will be even more disenfranchised under the Trump administration are represented in my book. So if we tell our stories, stay visible — that’s a start to change minds and, hopefully, policy.
In your book, you call out people like gospel singer Donnie McClurkin and late Southern megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long. They both, in their own way, use the church to condemn homosexuality, but gay rumors have followed them their entire careers. What, if any, responsibility do they have to the black gay community? And why single them out?
I single them out because they singled out LGBT folks. Both of them made it their platform to hate on LGBT people. Eddie Long advocated “sexual reorientation therapy,” and he headed an antigay march in Atlanta. Donnie McClurkin called gay people “vampires.” They are symbols of this disgusting hypocrisy. In the book, I call it "church queen culture." And I do think the black church has a responsibility to the black gay community, because without the black gay community there would be no black church. I always say, “If you want to meet a bunch of black gay folks, just got to the black church.” But let me be clear, I’m not saying every black church is homophobic. White churches are homophobic as hell. I attended a Jesus Camp when I was a kid, which I talk about in the book. But I appreciate someone like Kirk Franklin, who said the church owes the LGBT community an apology. Also, what I say in the book, through the stories, is the responsibility is on black LGBT folks in the church as well. They have to call out the hypocrites. This is life and death. People are suffering. People are committing suicide. I believe part of the reason why the HIV/AIDS rate is so high among black gay men is because of self-hate, and some of that comes from the church.
What do you want people to take away from your life story?
With the stories in Live Through This, I want people to understand where oppression connects, the intersections of our identities. Not the oppression olympics or arguing who has more or less privilege, but encouraging people to identify and empathize with a person they may not think they know. I hope that will be powerful for people. Right now we’re in a war of ideology, a cultural war where no one will win. We’re in this cultural war because we refuse to see outside of our boxes. Someone told me after reading the book they felt changed because they saw people differently. If people read the book and their mind or heart is just a little more open, then I'm happy.
KELSEY MINOR is a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist & freelance reporter with The Advocate. You can follow him on Twitter.