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Black LGBTs in the News

The status of LGBTs in the African-American community has been a hot topic as of late, with a number of stories highlighting the progress made, as well as illustrating the work that remains to be done.

Columnist Wendi Thomas penned a scathing editorial for the Memphis Commerical Appeal criticizing the black church for their hypocritical stance on LGBTs in their congregations. In a story that may be familiar to you, the church often employs a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy with regard to their members, and LGBTs are encouraged to assume leadership positions ranging from Usher to Choir Director to Pastor as long as they do not acknowledge their sexuality. What’s worse, in addition to staying in the closet, many LGBTs are expected to endure and support homophobic sermons as a price of their “acceptance” by the church.

The absurdities of this position were recently on full display, when the actor and singer Terrell Carter, best known as the cover model for the gay book series B-Boy Blues and appearances in gospel plays and Tyler Perry films, was outed by a former boyfriend, complete with photos. Instead of acknowledging his sexuality, Carter took to the stage and sang the gospel tune “Never Would Have Made It,” where he improvised lyrics dismissing the outing as “gossip.” He then posted the performance to Youtube, as if that would erase the evidence that was already circulating.

Carter’s behavior is just one example of the lengths that so-called “church queens” go to in order to maintain their standing in the religious community. Thomas’s column is a must-read and is available at http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2009/jul/12/the-straight-and-narrow/ . Interestingly, none of the homophobic pastors she contacted would comment for the article.

Another notable event from last week was the NAACP’s Centennial Convention. The meeting was highlighted by a speech from President Obama, where he reminded the audience that LGBTs continue to face discrimination, declaring that “On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination must not stand. Not on account of color or gender; how you worship or who you love. Prejudice has no place in the United States of America.” The organization also announced the formation of an LGBT Equality Task Force, a partnership between the NAACP and National Black Justice Coalition, the first black LGBT group to address the NAACP Board of Governors. The Task Force will be co-chaired by Julian Bond and Alice Huffman, who both have strong records of supporting gay rights.

While the NAACP is stepping up to the plate and recognizing that black LGBTs are a part of the larger black community, another longtime civil rights organization is sliding backwards. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group co-founded by Martin Luther King, is threatening to remove Rev. Eric King, president and CEO of their Los Angeles chapter, for his support of marriage equality. King has been an outspoken advocate for gay rights, delivering the keynote address at the Courage Campaign’s grassroots function Camp Courage and writing a book called Proposition 8 The California Divide. SCLC’s executive committee says he does not have permission to make statements on behalf of gay rights. The LA chapter says they support Lee, and only they can remove him. The two sides are locked in an ideological battle and it will be interesting to see if King is allowed to keep his position.

Just when you thought the controversy over “gay is the new black” was over, journalist LZ Granderson jumped into the fray with a column on cnn.com. This article was a valiant attempt at winning the Oppression Olympics that I wrote about several weeks ago. Speaking of the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, he wrote that “40 years is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country.” Does he think LGBT people did not exist before 1969, despite centuries of documented oppression? Does he believe every black person in the country is still personally impacted by slavery? Granderson is a black gay man who has won awards from several gay journalism organizations, which makes his article even more disappointing. I am choosing to believe he just had a bad day when he wrote this piece.

On a local note, on July 21, the Metro Council will have the first reading of a nondiscrimination ordinance to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes for Metro employees. If passed, this would make it unlawful to discriminate against LGBTs who are current or prospective Metro employees on the basis of their identity. A similar bill was narrowly defeated in 2003, but it is hoped that with the makeup of the current Council and support from Mayor Karl Dean, we can add this important protection for the LGBT community. I will be writing more about this in the future, but for now Megan Barry, Jerry Maynard, Ronnie Steine, and Tim Garrett deserve our thanks for being the primary sponsors of this bill. You will be able to watch the reading on the Comcast channel Metro3 or online at http://www.nashville.gov/metro3/live.htm.

From “Blackout” for 7/20/09 by Anthony Rucker

 

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