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Our queer year

Our queer year


African-American LGBTQ people pushed through 2005's culture wars with creative genius and collective strength. Here's a recap as we enter 2006.

In looking back over the past year of major events and issues confronting the lives of African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, I realize that we have accomplished quite a lot.

In crossing over into 2006, while standing on the shoulders of our LGBTQ foremothers and forefathers, here's a glimpse back at our creative genius and collective strength that got us through the raging culture wars of 2005.

We built an African-American civil rights organization. In coming up with the idea of building an organization that addresses the social justice issues of African-American LGBTQ people, cofounder and president Keith Boykin created the National Black Justice Coalition in 2003. As a civil rights organization of black LGBTQ people and our allies, the NBJC is dedicated to fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia. The group advocates for social justice by educating and mobilizing opinion leaders, including elected officials, clergy, and media, with a focus on African-American communities.

In October 2005, the NBJC became official when the organization was approved for 501(c)(3) status. And in November, NYANSAPO, the magazine of the NBJC, premiered. The magazine is a first-time comprehensive look at how African-American LGBTQ people live out the intersectionality of their multiple identities.

We stood in need of prayer. On the church front, our community heard the usual cacophonies of hollering homophobes confusing hallowed homilies with hate-filled messages. The shock and awe, however, came from our allies.

In July, prominent African-American minister Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., who in 1999 opened his church for a forum on discrimination against same-gender loving people, set off a firestorm with his now-notorious sermon denouncing gays and lesbians.

Using graphic language, Wilson told an approving audience: "lesbianism is about to take over our community. Women falling down on another woman, strapping yourself up with something, it ain't real. That thing ain't got no feeling in it. It ain't natural. Anytime somebody got to slap some grease on your behind and stick something in you, it's something wrong with that. Your butt ain't made for that. No wonder your behind is bleeding. You can't make no connection with a screw and another screw. The Bible says God made them male and female."

In August, the well-loved and lauded liberal African-American pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, who has a same-gender loving ministry in the church, wrote in the church's magazine, Trumpet, his real views about this segment of his congregation, causing many parishioners to leave the church.

In his article "Maybe I Missed Something!" many of us who admire him got to see how our issues are not a priority in his present-day prophetic social gospel intended to ameliorate the social conditions of all God's African-American children. "While our denomination grappled with how to address that human problem, the denomination also, at that Synod, voted to ordain a homosexual. Guess which item made the newspapers? Maybe I missed something!" And in his closing tirades on SGL issues, Wright stated this: "Are 44 million Americans with no health care insurance less important than 'gay marriage'? Why aren't Black Christians in an uproar about that? Maybe I am missing something!"

When the article came out in light of the United Church of Christ's stance on ordaining and marrying SGL people, it was disheartening for many of us to know that Reverend Wright broke rank with his liberal denomination to stand in solidarity with a more conservative Black Church position.

We campaigned against homophobia. While our connections and contributions to the larger black religious cosmos are desecrated every time homophobic pronouncements go unchecked in these holy places of worship, there are, unbeknownst to many, African-American ministers who support the ethos and expression of our spirituality. These ministers understand that in standing within the Black Church tradition of a prophetic social gospel, one can be unabashedly Christian, unapologetically black, and also uncompromisingly SGL-friendly.

In August, Dr. James A. Forbes Jr., senior minister at the Riverside Church in New York City, held a conference to address antigay rhetoric spewing from pulpits in conservative churches.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, along with his National Action Network, has become a leader in the fight to stamp out homophobia in the Black Church. Why the personal stake in the issue? His sister is a lesbian. In the October 11 issue of The Advocate Sharpton stated, "I understood the pain of having to lead a double life in the system [since] we grew up in the church."

And while misogynistic and homophobic lyrics are a mainstay in hip-hop music, hip-hop artist Kanye West is on a campaign against homophobia by challenging his fellow rappers to eschew those rhymes. During an interview for an MTV special, West disclosed that he changed his views when he found out his cousin is gay. "It was kind of like a turning point when I was like, 'Yo, this is my cousin. I love him and I've been discriminating against gays.' "

We tied the knot. Today the topic of marriage equality is still debated, with many African-American ministers leading the campaign against it. And ironically, many in the African-American LGBTQ community are not too wedded to the idea, either.

With continued silence and no action from the communities on the topic of same-sex marriage, the issue nonetheless will not be disappearing anytime soon.

Social research, moreover, shows that African-American same-gender households have everything to gain in the struggle for marriage equality and more to lose when states pass amendments banning marriage equality and other forms of partner recognition.

In November, Equality Maryland and the NBJC published "Jumping the Broom: A Black Perspective on Same-Gender Marriage." The publication was produced to initiate dialogue in churches, fraternal organizations, media outlets, and NAACP chapters.

Statistics reveal that 45% of black same-sex couples report stable relationships of five years or longer. These are relationships that are nevertheless routinely denied the tax breaks, health benefits, and decision-making rights that straight married couples enjoy. This is not a religious issue: Even if marriage becomes a legal option, clergy will decide whom they wish to marry.

We made a million more steps for an inclusive march. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the historic October 1995 Million Man March, the Minister Louis Farrakhan announced on May 2 plans for the October 2005 Millions More Movement March.

Not surprising, however, Farrakhan's invitation to an "all-inclusive" and broad coalition of African-American civil rights leaders and organization once again excluded LGBTQ activists and organizations.

After promising that there would be an LGBTQ speaker at the event, Keith Boykin was dropped on the day of the event, but Cleo Manago, founder of Black Men's Xchange, an Afrocentric support system for the empowerment of black men of diverse sexualities, was not. Why? Manago mirrors the fundamental sentiment of Farrakhan's theology--a conscious separation from the dominant white heterosexual and queer cultures.

We had our say. Best sellers in the writers' corner came in the form of books discussing the topic of African-American men "on the down low." J.L. King became the issue's poster boy by exposing the behavior in his 2004 best seller On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep With Men.

Keith Boykin's 2005 best seller, Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America, dispelled the hype that men on the DL are the root cause of the AIDS epidemic by exposing how the Black Church and its sexual politics contribute to this subculture.

"Ex-gay" activist and minister K. Godfrey Easter depicts his recent and dramatic transformation from being gay to now being straight in his memoir Love Lifted Me Because of the Church: Why One Can NOT Be Gay and Christian. When asked what brought about the turnaround, Easter replied, "God did it! All I can say is that inside me, the instant love cataclysmically collided with wisdom, a great separation took place--me from homosexuality."

And the best-selling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Terry McMillan, is "waiting to exhale" from the news that her husband, Jonathan Plummer, who inspired the blockbuster hit of the same title, is gay.

We had our coming-out moments. Three-time WNBA MVP and Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes came out in an interview with ESPN The Magazine.

And after a dearth of black actors in Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and The L Word, a deluge of applause was heard throughout the nation's LGBTQ community when the black cast of Noah's Arc premiered on Logo, a gay and lesbian cable channel.

We gave final farewells. The African-American community lost a great hero with Rosa Parks, the mother of the 1960s civil rights movement, leaving us in October. And when we lost R&B crooner Luther Vandross, the queries about his orientation surfaced yet again. Vandross finally came out shortly before his death, setting the record straight. He was "bi"--not sexually but coastally. He had homes in both California and New York.

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