The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Long Dark Night of Eddie Long, Pt. 1

Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light

~ “Run On (For A Long Time)”

The last line in the quote above is one my mother repeated often when I was growing up. She meant that those things we tried to hide, out of shame or deceit, would be found out eventually. Thus, it behooved us to live honest lives, with nothing “done in the dark” that we feared would come into the light.

My mother’s phrase came to mind this weekend, as I caught up on the sexual misconduct allegations against Eddie Long, minister of a black mega-church in the Atlanta area.

Spencer LaGrande, 22, filed suit against Long and his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and, like the other three alleged victims, accused the powerhouse pastor of forcing him into a sexual relationship while treating him to trips around the world, travel in private planes and stays in luxury hotels.

…LaGrande’s lawsuit alleges he met Long in March 2003 during the very first service at a branch Long’s Georgia-based church that opened in a suburb of Charlotte, N.C.

LeGrande said Long agreed to be a father figure for him because his own father was an absentee father, according to court documents, and that Long began asking LaGrande to call him “dad.”

LaGrande was 17 when, according to the lawsuit, Long first made sexual contact with him during a trip to Nairobi, Kenya. The lawsuit alleges several more instances of sexual contact, both before and after LaGrande graduated from high school.

Long’s accusers have said they believe the bishop abused more young men that eventually will come forward. Many people at the church knew what was going on but covered for Long, victims claimed.

Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg were the first two accusers, followed a short time later by Jamal Parris.

Parris alleged in the documents, obtained by ABC News, that the bishop would request he be nude while in his presence and would request “sexual massages” and “oral sodomy” when they traveled.

Eddie Long would probably say that my life — a suburban life, with a husband and two children — is one lived in darkness. He would probably invite me to live in the “light.” That is, the “light” as he defines it.

I cannot speak to the veracity of the claims against Long, though the sheer number of allegations makes it hard to believe there is no truth in any of them. (Some reports say that as many as 30 men have come forward. But those same reports said Long would step down on Sunday, and he didn’t appear to do so.) Thus, in this post I will not write in terms of Long’s guilt or innocence, but only in terms of what he is alleged to have done, what he has been accused of doing, and what he may or may not have done. The rest is for the courts to determine.

But whatever the outcome of the case against Eddie Long, there’s a lot about black churches, and black churches and homosexuality, that make inevitable stories like the one in which Eddie Long is embroiled.

Whether the accusations against Long prove true or false, it’s a sadly safe bet that what he’s accused of is happening in other church’s right now. And it’s happening because of conditions that pastors like Long and the congregations that support them happily and even proudly perpetuate.

Going There

It has been a long time since I’ve written about this subject. I realized this as I went back to older posts I wanted to reference in this one. In fact, it was right after the 2008 election, and the passage of Proposition 8 that I consciously decided not to write about it anymore, because I couldn’t or wouldn’t toe what seemed to be the accepted line.

In the controversy over whether or to what degree the African-American vote contributed to the passage of Prop 8, the discussion of what happened, why, and who or what was to blame was a fairly wide-ranging one. Except for one thing. Clear boundaries were drawn around one subject and effectively labeled “Here Be Dragons,” as a warning to all, meanin- “Don’t go there.”

The verboten subject was the existence and nature of homophobia in African American communities. Please note, I said “communities” — plural, not singular — so as not to suggest that African-American communities are monolithic, and thus all essentially the same.

Nor am I suggesting that African Americans are “more homophobic” than other groups As I wrote not long ago, African Americans are no more homophobic than any other group, but that isn’t the point.

The point isn’t whether or not blacks are more homophobic than other groups. Of course African-Americans are no more homohpobic than any other group in our culture. Just as we all live in a culture that still has a strong element of racism that we all absorb to varying degrees, so to do we live in a society with strong elements of sexism and heterosexism that we all absorb. That’s true of everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

So, no, black people aren’t any more homophobic than whites, or any other group. Having been tagged with ever other negative characteristic the dominant culture can dream up, some African-Americans are naturally defensive when it comes to being labeled with one more.

…African Americans are no more homophobic than any other group, but there’s an argument to be made that our history requires more from us than falling back on the same arguments and actions that were “first texted and perfected against us.”

My concern is the existence and nature of homophobia among African Americans — for I believe it’s a phenomena inextricably tied to our shared history.

I “went there”, dragons be damned, and I got burned. Reports that some white gay activists lashed out at African Americans in the wake of Prop 8’s passage with accusations and racial slurs effectively took any discussion above. I found myself accused of “facilitating racism,” and giving license to racist behavior like that mentioned above, by breaking another cardinal rule of being a minority in America and “washing the dirty linen in public.”

Washed Clean?

It wasn’t until May of last year that I tiptoed back into that forbidden territory, when I was invited to guest post at Jack and Jill Politics about the anti-marriage equality protest in D.C., and finally clarified my point about those dirty linens.

I quickly learned the acceptable parameters of the debate when, in private forums, I broached the subject of homophobia in some African-American communities, and found myself accused of giving license for people to engage in racist behavior. I’d violated the longstanding-but-not-often-spoken prohibition against “airing our dirty linen in public.”

I found myself attacked publicly, not just for my political views or for my views on marriage equality, but for my relationship – for being a black gay man married to a white gay man. (Thus my support for marriage equality, which is exclusively a “white gay issue.” Never mind the black gay and lesbian couples who were plaintiffs in the California, New Jersey, and Maryland court cases.) I’d lost another round of that favorite political game, “blacker than thou.”

The only way not to lose that game (and everyone loses, eventually) is not to play.

And having learned the accepted parameters of discussion post-Proposition 8, I chose silence. White racism was up for discussion. White gay racism was up for discussion. White homophobia was up for discussion. And homophobia among religious whites was up for discussion. But the subject of homophobia among African-Americans was off the table, except for the requisite assertion that black people are no more homophobic than any other group, but saying much else was risky. Anything else is not for mixed company. Our dirty linens should be washed behind closed doors. By us.

As an activist, how do I fight what I cannot name? How do I effectively oppose what I cannot publicly address? So, I chose silence.

If I don’t say anything, there’s no chance of airing that dirty linen in public. But every time I look, it seems those linens are still dirty.

African Americans, perhaps as with other minorities, have an unwritten rule against “washing the dirty linen in public,” or saying anything critical of African Americans (however true it is or isn’t) out of fear that it might be used to back up racist beliefs that are already out there, or as an excuse for racist behavior or actions, but also because of a fear that it might “prove” the worst centuries-old racist beliefs that we’ve all been – consciously or not – trying to disprove in just about every aspect of our lives. Thus, it’s taboo. The common response is “This is something we need to deal with among ourselves, not in public, in front of other (white) people.”

They’re apparently not getting washed behind closed doors. How do I know? Because I see people proudly wearing those soiled garments in public. The spectacle after the D.C. city council vote was just the latest.

And now, whatever Eddie Long did or did not do, our dirty linens are being aired in public again — on national television and all over the web, no less — and they still haven’t been washed. In fact, they’re dirtier than ever. Can washing them in public do any more harm then airing them in public, unwashed?

It seems to me that the scandal surrounding Eddie Long is an opportunity not so much to discuss his potential guilt or innocence, but to begin to address the realities that make similar stories more real and more frequent that perhaps we know or want to believe. It seems like a good opportunity to discuss the circumstances and beliefs that sentence some us to live in a kind of moonless, starless, permanent midnight, and leave our families and communities more in the dark than perhaps anyone wants to know.

This post, and series, is titled “The Long Dark Night of Eddie Long,” but the title and Long are merely symbolic here. The long dark night in question encompasses all of us. It’s time we acknowledged that it is a self-enforced darkness, and chose to end it, for ourselves, our families and our communities.

One Comment

  1. I can think of other topics that mentioning brings out the “dirty linens” finger-pointing brigade. Naturally, I won’t mention them. 😉

    African-Americans are not the only ones with soiled smallclothes, although we seem to be more ashamed of it. Frankly, I’ve never understood embracing ignorance as being particularly productive, but outside of my skin, my ancestors, and a peculiar richness of vocals, I may not be considered black by your antagonists. Unlike them, however, I know who I am.

    I’m looking forward to this series. Let the chips fall!