Black America's Gay Problem

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The first of its kind, the summit featured the Rev. Al Sharpton, who made good on his 2005 promise of fighting homophobia in the Black church. This meeting comes on the heels of a meeting between Black lesbian and gay leaders and Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan to discuss the inclusion of gays during last year's Million More Movement March.

After two years of public hatred toward gays from Black ministers around the country, attitudes toward gays may finally be changing in the Black church. But will cooler heads prevail as another contentious presidential election draws closer and dollars and pulpits are again up for grabs?

Fearing a repeat of the 2004 presidential election, and in an effort to counter the divisive messaging from the Republican Party and white Christian evangelicals, the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation's Black gay civil rights group, hosted in Atlanta on Jan. 20-21 a summit of Black ministers and Black gay activists from around the country to discuss publicly the widespread prejudice against gay men and lesbians within Black churches.

The first of its kind, the summit featured the Rev. Al Sharpton, who made good on his 2005 promise of fighting homophobia in the Black church. This meeting comes on the heels of a meeting between Black lesbian and gay leaders and Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan to discuss the inclusion of gays during last year's Million More Movement March. Although there has been relatively little action on part of Congress or the president to move forward with a ban against same-sex marriage, many Black gays are worried that conservative groups will attempt yet again to woo the Black vote by using them as scapegoats.

Maryland Senate hopeful Kwesi Mfume recently came out in support of extending equal rights to gay and lesbian couples but stopped short of endorsing gay marriage. Before California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have provided his gay constituents with equal rights, five of the six members of the California Legislative Black Caucus and the California NAACP all voted in favor of the bill.

So perhaps attitudes are changing in a U.S. community that many believe to be the most homophobic of all the races. In a November 2003, a Pew Research Poll found that Blacks oppose gay marriage by roughly 2-to-1. In the aftermath of Katrina, the war in Iraq, the Medicare nightmare and the issues with Social Security reform, maybe Blacks have realized that they have bigger fish to fry than worrying about two men or two women wanting to provide for their families.

At the end of the day, the national crisis for Blacks is not gays getting married. The real issue for Blacks is how easily we allowed ourselves to be distracted and bamboozled into thinking that it was.

While I don't think the Black church is going to do a 180 on gay marriage overnight, it is very possible that Sharpton and other progressive Black ministers can lead by example.

However, for gays, this is going to continue to be an uphill battle. Even though most Black gays and lesbians attend Black churches, they are still outsiders. Many Blacks still consider homosexuality the mother of all sins, though many have a family member who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. When you add to that the common misperception that the fight for gay rights is a "white thing," there's the very real potential for another nasty campaign season. And while gays may have Rev. Sharpton, Mfume and a few civil rights organizations on their side, they have relatively little clout in influencing policy compared to the voters. That's why white conservative groups are sparing no dollar in trying to entice support from Black ministers.

More than a few mega-church pastors have already teamed up with powerful conservative groups to cajole and lobby Black voters into supporting anti- gay initiatives and the Republican Party. Utilizing the media, these pulpit bullies are spreading their hate doctrine via television, radio and the Internet.

One thing is for sure: Silence is not going to be an opportunity afforded to Black leaders and elected officials, including members of Congress this time around. We are going to have to talk about the Black community's gay problem and deal with this issue head on. We've already seen the mayhem that can come from the wrong message at election time.

The message this time around needs to be one of common sense. Gay marriage is not going to put us in a costly war or solve our healthcare problems. However, if we let gay marriage take our eyes from the prize, we will ensure that Blacks -- gay and straight alike -- will stay at the bottom of the totem pole for another four years.
Cannick is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and can be reached via her website at
www.jasmynecannick.com.

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