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Tommie Watkins

Tommie Watkins

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The Reverend Tommie Watkins knows discrimination. After the aspiring pilot was pressured to quit the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997 for being gay, he was refused ordination as a deacon by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2000. Now at age 31 the Miami Beach, Fla., resident heads the Watkins Group LLC, which helps faith- and community-based organizations reach out to men of color. And he has published Living Out Loud, a book about overcoming homophobia in and out of the black community.

In your book you quote a minister who said that gay people have never had a place in the black church and never will. How do you respond? Black homosexuals have a unique role in the spirituality discussion. We've always been at the forefront--musicians, preachers, all of those people--and to have the clergy say now that we can't exist is just asinine.

And yet there's been so much made in recent years about how difficult it is to be both black and gay, in part because of the large role of the church. But you don't buy that. No, I don't. I think it takes courage to be who you are. In general, homosexuality has been one of the taboo issues. But when people put a face to it--when preachers encounter gay men in their pulpits or the gay members of their choir stand and speak it and own it--then it changes how they respond to the issue. So my optimism is that younger black gay and lesbian persons will no longer tolerate the bigotry and prejudice that has existed in our most influential entity [the church].

What makes you so passionate about ending religious bigotry? Because it has to. Unless it does, we're dying as a community. When you look at Medicaid, Medicare, and AIDS Drug Assistance Programs being cut, the burden falls on the black church to respond and to really be the caretakers in our community. We can no longer afford homophobic sermons or to let our clergy not address critical health issues like HIV/AIDS.

How will your book help effect that change? I started the book with the Adam and Eve story. The Creator made Adam and Eve naked, and they were unashamed. Then they ate the apple and discovered they were naked and they hid. And God says, "Well, where are you?" And [Adam] says, "I hid because I was ashamed." And God says, "Well, who told you you were naked?" That's the key issue for black homosexuals: to stop allowing society or another entity to tell us we're naked, that something's wrong with us.

It's interesting to hear you say that, knowing how opponents of homosexuality like to cite Adam and Eve as proof of their beliefs. When the Creator made us, it made us perfect. It is really about owning who we are and honoring that. You know, I can't give blood. I can't serve in the military. I mean, as a taxpayer, I'm funding my own discrimination! And then the government wants to give money to churches that discriminate against me. It's like, hello! All these issues have to be raised with the homosexual person--to stand up and say we're not going to tolerate this anymore.

You're living out loud, but what do you say to those people who are afraid to come out? That their voice is needed--they cannot be afraid. A lot of them are living in glass closets. People know that they're gay, but because they haven't said it, they get off the hook. My point is, no more glass closets. Just be who you are. Be authentic to who God made you to be. Because once you do that, that's your only power. Society no longer can condemn you or throw you in the closet.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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