Ed. Note: I plan on writing something about black voters, the passage of proposition 8 in California, and the discussion that has ensued about whether the former failed in part because of the latter. In the meantime, I thought I’d republish some old content that might be relevant to the discussion.
(Originally posted on March 19, 2007.)
More homophobic than whom? More homophobic than whites? More homophobic than the general population? Or all of the above?
One of the things I wanted to blog about last week, but didn’t get a chance to was this Alternet post featuring video from the National Black Justice Foundation’s 2nd Annual Black Church Summit, in which Michael Eric Dyson addresses the question that’s been on my mind a lot in as I’ve been reading stuff online lately: “Why are black people so homophobic?”
Pam supplied the video as part of her excellent coverage of the summit. I was invited to cover the summit, but due to family responsibilities was unable to make it. So, I particularly appreciated Pam’s coverage, and will return later to some things she addressed.
I also caught Keith’s post “Why Are Whites So Homophobic?”, in which he states:
Every time a Tim Hardaway or an Isaiah Washington or an unknown black preacher makes an anti-gay comment, reporters call me up and ask why are black people so homophobic. But when high-profile white people make homophobic remarks, nobody ever asks why are white people so homophobic. They should, because the answers to the two questions are related. African Americans are homophobic because white Americans are homophobic. We all live in the same homophobic society, and in this case the prejudice starts from the president on down.
I understand where Keith is coming from, but for a while now I’ve not been willing to defend African Americans anymore against charges of being more homophobic than other groups. I know it’s controversial to say that black people are more homophobic than other people, but my personal experience has been that most black people are more homophobic than are most white people I’ve encountered, and defnitely more homophobic as a group than is the general population. I still haven’t seen or experience much that’s convinced me otherwise.
Some of this is due to my own personal experience. Starting back when I first came out, in middle school, the most vehemently and even violently homophobic reactions came from my black peers. When I finally changed schools to escape the harassment, most of my friends were white, because they were the ones who could accept my being out. Most of my black peers wither (a) tried to ignore it or (b) tried to convince me that I could “change.” When one black girl said to me in public, during field trip, “God doesn’t want you to be that way,” it was a white female friend who stood up to her and said “Don’t you do that to him!” while the rest of my black peers seemed not to hear or notice the exchange. That was pretty typical of my experiences.
While it would indeed be wrong to present black heterosexuals as more homophobic than whites if they are not,it would also be dishonest to present black people as better on the issue of homosexuality than they really are. …Covering up black homophobia serves no good purpose and will ultimately hinder black heterosexuals from confronting the many ways in which they are homophobic and participate in a system that promotes homophobic attitudes and practices.
I’m transcribing from the Dyson video here, so this may not be verbatim, but here’s what he said.
One of the reasons I think black people tend to be more homophobic is that our heterosexuality has already been treated as queer by a dominant society. So backpedaled should tap into our symbolic queerness to understand the homophobia that we house is antithetical to our own identity. Because we’ve been treated like gays in a very serious way so i think that’s critical. And then what’s interesting is that in hiphop is the same kind of tension as in the black church; homoeroticism up against homophobia. Hate gay people but got your pants down to the butt crack. Can’t stand gays but standing up saying you love jesus more than any other person in your family.
Dyson’s comment echoes his earlier essay “The Black Church and Sexuality.”
One of the most painful scenarios of black church life is repeated Sunday after Sunday with little notice or collective outrage. A black minister will preach a sermon railing against sexual ills, especially homosexuality. At the close of the sermon, a soloist, who everybody knows is gay, will rise to perform a moving number, as the preacher extends an invitation to visitors to join the church. The soloist is,in effect, being asked to sign his theological death sentence. His presence at the end of such a sermon symbolizes a silent endorsement of the preacher’s message. Ironically, the presence of his gay christian body at the highest moment of worship also negates the preacher’s attempt to censure his presence, to erase his body, to deny his legitimacy as a child of God.
… the black church, an institution that has been at the heart of black emancipation, refuses to unlock the oppressive closet for gays and lesbians. …Black Christians, who have been despised and oppressed for much of our existence, should be wary of extending that oppression to our lesbian sisters and our gay brothers.
Horace Griffin’s book does a good job of explaining historically and culturally why blacks tend to be more vehemently homophobic, and Dyson’s explanation of black homophobia lines up pretty well with Griffin’s own theory.
Following slavery, the racist attitudes that defined black men as sex predators caused black men extreme hardship and death. By appealing to the age-old stereotype that black men harbor an insatiable desire for white women, black men existed as targets for to be blamed for raping white women. Indeed as Paula Giddings notes, it was black women themselves who were identified as culprits for their own rape due to the purported sexual appetite that blacks had for sex. … Given the majority culture’s racism and sexual attitudes, African Americans soon learned that their very survival depended on distancing themselves from “sexual perversions.” Much of black heterosexuals’ antihomosexual sentiment exists as a means of countering the perception of black sexuality as perverse in order to survive and gain respectability and acceptance by the majority. Thus, it is understandable that African Americans would approach homosexuality with more dread and disdain than others, often denying a black homosexual presence to avoid being further maligned in a racist society.
Examples of the kind of “dread and disdain” Griffin speaks of are unfortunately easy to find. There’s the most recent example of the response to the video in the previous post. Darian over at Living out Loud highlights some of the more extreme responses.
“I would love to have my son beat his ass and get my wife to beat his Momma’s ass. This is sad.”
“That lil nig gon be gay when he grows up.”
“Flamin fag in the making…if it was my son i’d throw his ass in football unpaded for that shit”.
“This the problem with the “gay agenda” which is highly supported by ignorant”black” females. they are so Gung ho about seeing lil’ boys act like little girls only to be complaining later when their husband is on the down low. the kid looks like a sissy. I bet you he’s raised by his momma alone!”.
“I’m sorry, but the first few seconds, I had to stop the video. I saw spirits flying around this boy. (In case you don’t know what that means, I mean demons…Yes, this boy has a homosexual spirit on him, among other spirits)”
There’s the responses on BET message board to an earlier post about a group of black gay men allegedly creating their own chapter of AKA. Or responses on the same board to a post about a possible biological basis for homosexuality.
As for other examples, there’s the students of Central State University. There’s D.C.’s own Rev. Willie Wilson, or “Bishop” Alfred Owens. As long as we’re talking about “Bishops” there’s Bishop Eddie Long, the homophobe who presided over the funeral of gay rights supporter Coretta Scott King. (Check out the comments on my post about the irony of a anti-gay black minister presiding over Coretta’s funeral; a woman and civil rights legend who supported equality for gay & lesbian Americans.) There’s also Wellington Boone.
You can ask Dwan Prince’s mother. After her son was gay-bashed into a coma, and left with lingering disabilities afterwards, she turned to her church for help. When they found out her son was gay, they wanted nothing to do with her.
I can only imagine that the black parents in Philadelphia who objected to a mere acknowledgment of a Gay History Month, and denounced it as a “white gay conspiracy” were simply unaware that gay history includes several black gays and lesbians like Lorraine Hannesberry, James Baldwin, or Langston Hughes. But it’s more likely the just didn’t care.
In that sense, they’re like the people who chased Bayard Rustin out of the civil rights movement; a charge that was led by famed womanizer, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell.
How about the black ministers praying for discrimination against gays to remain legal?
I could go on and on. But I think a case can be made for an incredibly strong homophobia among African Americans. But don’t take my word for it. Drop into just about any black barber shop or beauty shop and just wait for it.
Or you can attend the NBJC’s summit, and listen to Bishop Harry Jackson, a Maryland Minister who said the following in an interview for Agape Press last year.
“I’m not against gay people; I’m not trying to bash them per se. I just think that we’re in such a terrible situation in my community that I’ve got to protect the institution.” According to Jackson, only 30 percent of blacks are in monogamous married relationships.
Gay rights is not an extension of the civil rights movement simply because there’s no choice involved in our blackness,” Jackson asserts. “I think there is an amazingly militant group of gays who have made it their point to say, ‘We’re going to be out; we’re going to be visible’ — that’s their choice.”>
I could go into a long diatribe about the cognitive dissonance of Jackson saying “I’m not against gay people” on one hand, but on the other advocating the kind of discrimination that has direct negative consequences for our families. I could address how Jackson’s concern for black families excludes black gay and lesbian families who are negatively impacted by the lack of marriage equality. But I won’t, for the moment.
Jackson attended the summit, so let me take a minute to give him credit for doing that much, even though in his participation in the discussion he dragged out just about every old, ignorant stereotype of homosexuality held by too many African Americans. At least he participated, and as Rev. Yvette Flunder pointed out during the discussion, “If we are going to understand SGL people, Flunder continued, we need more people like Jackson to sit down with gays and lesbians to actually learn what their lives are like.”
Maybe Jackson’s participation is a beginning of that. But then Pam points out that after attending the summit and participating in the discussion, Jackson turned around and wrote this in an op-ed for Townhall.
Gays have enjoyed d that “second chance” opportunity in black churches. Therefore, a gay appearance or someone’s past life does not stigmatize black church attendees. After all, how can someone reform if there is no dialogue or opportunity for exposure to truth.
Regretfully, gay acceptance does n’t stop there in many cases. Many of our churches have had a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach to gay members of congregations, choirs, and clergy. This means that openly gay behavior has not been condoned, but leaders in churches and denominations have not probed to identify or remove gay people. Often,rumors of gay activity outside of the church are overlooked as long as there are no incidents of solicitation or liaisons at church sponsored events. One minister I know proudly told a few other clergymen confidentially that he had been hired by a new congregation who had already employed a closeted gay music leader. His approach was to have a heart to heart talk in which he warned the man that he would report any problems he observed on church property. He went on to add that what the man did off site was his own business.
In my view, the “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach to this problem is the height of hypocrisy. Politics may be the place for compromise and consensus. The Church, on the other hand, should be a place of conviction and truth.
Unfortunately, few churches preach biblical sexuality well. If they did, there would be fewer out-of-wedlock births as well as fewer practicing gays in the black church.
Church leaders must stand against the acceptance of the gay lifestyle because of social ramifications as well. Recent studies concerning same-sex marriage have shown that in Sweden and the Netherlands, where such unions have been allowed, marriage is devalued—resulting in fewer and later marriages. Secondly, they lead to rising out-of-wedlock births akin to the current black community dilemma in the U.S.
In addition to the damage that gay marriage does to the black family structure that is already under stress, legalization of gay marriage has the potential of endangering the next generation. Statistics show that children do better in school and are greater contributors to society when a mother and a father are present in the home.
In conclusion, let me state that the battle concerning same sex marriage and gay rights is just warming up in America. I am not willing just to give into the current cultural idiom which says, “Gay is Okay!”There is too much at stake.
I have compassion for people who live a gay lifestyle. Just like Jesus,I will take every opportunity to love the sinner and hate the sin. What about you?
So much for inviting the likes of Jackson to participate in a dialogue. Go back and read the stories of what happens to gay and lesbian families who lack the security and protections of marriage. Go back and read about the prices they pay, and then come back and tell me where the “compassion” is in Jackson’s stance. His stance leaves our families vulnerable to discrimination so long as we don’t conform to his beliefs. In other words, in order to protect our families we must cease to be families.
In that sense, his idea of “loving the sinner, but hating the sin” has the same effect as outright hatred.
From a religious perspective, is it really possible to love someone that you don’t see as an equal? Is it possible to see someone as less than equal without hatred, or without at least contempt? If so, how?
From my perspective, either you see me as equal or you don’t. If you don’t, as far as I’m concerned it amounts to hate – and the actions taken to maintain inequality stem from hatred. I don’t care if it’s for religious reasons. If you can’t see me as equal – and treat me as equal- then you have to see me as (even slightly) less than human. You can’really see me as equal and still deny me equal treatment. That’s called having your cake and eating it too.
I’ve heard all I can stand of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” My gayness is not what I do. It’s a part of who I am – who I’ve always been. It’s what I feel – have always felt – in my heart. Even if I became celibate (giving up my partner and my son), I would still be the same gay person. I would still feel the same in my heart.
My gayness is not something I do. It’s part of who I am, and what is in my heart. Hate it, and you hate who I am. You hate what is in my heart. You hate me.
It’s that simple. Isn’t it?
Is it possible to treat someone with dignity and respect and discriminate against them at the same time?
Sometimes people who hate also want to think of themselves as good people, but let’s break this down a bit. Treating me and my family as“less than” in the constitution is not treating us with dignity or respect.
Attempting to invalidate even alternative arrangements that might allow us to be with each other in the hospital — as Virginia and Georgia have tried to do — does n’t add up to treating us with dignity or respect. Keeping Bill Flanigan from his dying partner,even though he had medical power of attorney (which the Virginia and Georgia laws could invalidate), had nothing to do with tolerance. the ocean County Freeholders treated Laurel Hester with neither dignity nor respect even as she was dying.
Denying our children the rights and protections afforded other families is not treating them or us with decency. Neither does invalidating our relationships to our children — as Oklahoma has tried to do — amount to anything resembling tolerance.
Jackson’s logic would be that if I want my son to have the security of having parents who could legally marry one another, then I should marry a woman. (And the most loving thing I could have done for my son would have been not to adopt him.) Never mind the irony that doing so would be the most dishonest thing I could probably do, and the most hurtful to the woman who would end up with a husband who isn’t attracted to her and isn’t’ in love with her.
But when it comes to the the question of love, I think Horace Griffin asks the ultimate question.
Although a black church Christian majority continues to view homosexuality as immoral, some find themselves conflicted with the traditional aspect of identifying homosexuality as a sin. Others attempt to sidestep the issue by resorting to a Christian view of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Many find this view illogical. If same-sex sexual attraction is or expression is what makes a person gay, then what is being loved? With sexuality being an instrisic part of one’s being, the popular saying has as much success in erality as loving brown-eyed people while hating brown eyes.
At the summit Jackson trotted out the usual “ex-gay” examples. Never mind that it doesn’t work for an awful lot people, and that the “ex-gay” movement is shifting away from the notion of changing sexual orientation and towards encouraging celibacy for same-sex oriented people. Jackson’s answer would probably then be that I should be celibate; thus, being gay — whether innate or not — means having to accept less from life.
What’s always struck me about the whole “ex-gay” thing is that even at their most benevolent, the best they can offer me is this: being gay means that I have to expect less and accept less from life. Being gay means I deserve less from life. I don’t deserve love, I don’t deserve family. Itdoesn’t even elevate celibacy or “living a chaste life” to the status of a calling, as it might for the priesthood or monastic life. Indeed,a gay man — “chaste” or not — would be barred from both, based on history. At best, it’s a lifelong burden that you didn’t ask for or do anything to acquire. (That’s pretty much led me to believe that any“god” who’d create such a set-up — on the one hand saying that we should’t exist, and continuing to churn us out on the other — would have to be one sick, sadistic son of a bitch.)
And for all Jackson’s obsession with sexual morality among African Americans — citing out of premarital sex and out-of-wedlock births — he fails to consider that encouraging committed monogamous relationships for same-sex couples would be just such a model of responsibility.
In other words, it doesn’t matter that I’m a gay man in a committed, monogamous relationship, taking responsibility for raising my son day-to-day. It doesn’t matter that I’m gainfully employed, and not on drugs. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t fathered a string of children that I can’t or don’t take care of. Being a gay man in a relationship at all puts me in the same category as men who actually do the above. Actually, I may be even worse, because at least those other men are heterosexual.
And if they turned around and did everything that I’m already doing, that would actually make them more “moral” than me, because my orientation and my effort to incorporate responsible expression of my sexual orientation into my life renders me immoral. No matter what I do. As E. Lynn Harris put it:
“If that’s the case, we’re applying that to everybody in the church because all of us are sinners,” says Harris. “They make it seem like being gay is such a despicable sin, there’s no way to recover. I could go more nobler than the pope and Mother Teresa put together in my service to mankind, but this one thing is going to keep me out of heaven.”
It doesn’t matter if I am a contributing member of my community, a law abiding citizen, faithful spouse, a loving and responsible parent, and a good neighbor. It doesn’t even matter if I give my life completely to serving others. It doesn’t matter if or how much I love. I can do all of these things, but if I am not heterosexual (or a “repentant,” “chaste” homosexual) the doors of the church and the community remain shut.
Never mind heaven. It will keep you out of your community and away from your family, if you want to live your life with any kind of honesty and integrity. Jackson, during the discussion, says that people don’t see enough same-sex relationships in the church to understand them, yet remains blind to the fact that attitudes like his make it unlikely that people will ever see examples of same-sex relationships.
How can they in churches where gays and lesbians are required to be closeted or “chaste”? What self-respecting gay or lesbian couple would subject themselves to having to sit in church, a place where they come to nourish their spirits, and hear their — loving, committed, monogamous — relationship equated with rape, murder, drug abuse, etc.? What responsible gay or lesbian parent would subject their children to listening to just what Jackson says black ministers should be preaching?
I don’t mean to be completely negative, though. There are examples of African Americans who are miles ahead of Jackson. Celebrities like Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Al Sharpton and Kanye West have made supportive statements due to their experiences of having out gay and lesbian relatives, though sometimes stumbling and struggling with having been brought up listening to people like Jackson. It’s been noted that the Congressional Black Caucus has been very supportive of gay and lesbian equality.
But the people I just mentioned above are not representative of most African Americans on gay issues. My experience is that Jackson, though a little extreme, is probably much closer to the views of the great majority of African Americans. And in that sense, Jackson and those like him may not be more homophobic than some white. Jackson is probably not more homophobic than James Dobson, Pat Robertson, or Jerry Falwell. But in the same sense, Jackson and others like him are more homophobic than the growing number of Americans who support gay & lesbian equality, and legal status for us and our families.
In that sense, I’m afraid the answer to the question in title of the post is “Yes.” The next question is: What can be done about it?
So, I’m afraid I have to disagree with Keith on this.
Yes there are some well-known black homophobes out there who get a lot of attention and a lot of criticism, as they should. But let’s not use those examples to prove that all blacks are much more homophobic than whites. The irony is that the famous black homophobes are taking their marching orders from the homophobic white society that taught them. Solet’s stop asking why black people are so homophobic. Black Americans didn’t invent homophobia; they copied it from the white society in which they live. And if we focus only on the black homophobes, we lose sight of the more influential white bigots in power who quietly perpetuate the status quo every day with their words and their policies.
He’s right in terms of black homophobia having its roots in the homophobia of the dominant society, just as Horace Griffin traces it back to the “queering” (as I imagine Dyson might put it) of black sexuality going all the way back to slavery and the inculcation of black slaves into a conservative, biblically literalistic Christianity during a sexually repressed Victorian era.
However, I think that only means that there’s even more of a need to focus on homophobia in black communities. There’s even more of a need to point out that black churches are in many ways aligning themselves with the same political forces that used religion against black people, as a means of justifying slavery and segregation, because the leaders of those movements know that religiously-based homophobia is one area of common ground they have with religious blacks. And those same political leaders employ religion to justify economic policies (among others) that negatively impact many African Americans.
But as long as it’s done in the name of Jesus, a great many black ministers and other congregations will support it, to the detriment of their own communities; as though God is glorified when pain is inflicted on someone else, or on their own; or even on themselves, so long as they don’t know it. In that sense, black homophobia hurts an awful lot of black people; too many not to talk about it.
Black people may not have invented homophobia, but too many have embraced it, and wield it as a weapon without realizing that it is one that hase been used against them in the past and is being used against them even now. The difference is merely that the weapon has changed hands. After all, one can whip a slave to keep him in line, but the real victory is when that slave is succesfully convinced to whip others and himself.