Is gay the new black?
Varied panel debates heated question - with little agreement
by David Alire Garcia
Originally printed 5/6/2010 (Issue 1818 - Between The Lines News)
DETROIT - The Rev. Wendell Anthony of Detroit's Fellowship Chapel proved an unlikely patron for a historic discussion of gay rights in the black community in downtown Detroit's Cobo Hall on April 30.
Part of the ninth annual Freedom Weekend founded by Anthony, the lively and at times heated discussion played out over a town hall meeting given this provocative title: "Is Gay the New Black?" An overwhelmingly black audience of approximately 200 people attended the forum. Anthony, the eight-term president of the Detroit NAACP chapter - the largest in the country - didn't answer the event's title question, but he strongly defended the decision to pose it.
"One of the things I heard is, 'Rev. Anthony, why would you dare have something like this? Is gay the new black? Are you out of your mind?'" he said at the start of the meeting. "No, I'm in my mind. We believe in thinking," he added.
The assembled panel was then invited to take turns at answering the meeting's namesake question.
"I would say being black and gay is the old black because the black LGBT community is the invisible 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' staple of the black community," remarked Sharon Lettman, executive director of the National Black Justice Collation, a Washington, D.C.-based black LGBT advocacy organization.
Anthony Samad, a prominent columnist in the African-American press, criticized the question for ignoring black sensitivities - and for being imposed from outside.
"The mantra was developed by white activists to associate the gay movement with the black movement," said Samad, also a professor at East Los Angeles College. "It is offensive to most black people."
Only one member of the eight-member panel even entertained the possibility of answering the question in the affirmative: Rev. Horace Sheffield III of Detroit's New Galilee Baptist Church.
"I can see how it could be considered to be the new black in terms of who it is people in this country love to hate, just because of who they are," he said.
Charles Pugh, Detroit's first-ever openly gay city councilman and council president, was also a panelist. He pointed to his own electoral success last fall as proof of growing acceptance of gays and lesbians within the black community.
"Homophobia could have reared its ugly head in that campaign, but that did not become an issue," Pugh said, proudly ticking off the endorsements he received during the race from the Detroit Council of Baptist Pastors and the AME Ministerial Alliance.
The panel also included voices critical of any comparison between the LGBT community's current struggle for equality and the African-American community's civil rights struggle decades earlier.
"The gay agenda does not and cannot supersede the agenda for black people," said Minister Malik Shabazz, a Detroit community activist and leader of the New Black Panther Party.
"Can you define the gay agenda?" Pugh interjected. "Hold on Charles. This isn't a personal thing," Shabazz replied. "OK, but I still want to know," Pugh fired back.
Frankie Darcell of Mix 92.3 FM, who moderated the panel with Angelo Henderson from FM 105.7, asked why a gay person would want to "wear 'gay' on their forehead at work," saying it is inappropriate in the workplace.
Curtis Lipscomb of Detroit's KICK, the agency for LGBT African Americans, answered by saying, "It's not that we wear 'gay' on our foreheads, it's that we are who we are. I was fired because I am gay. Someone at work asked me if I was gay, and I answered honestly, 'yes,' and I was fired. What we want is simple equality."
Later, panelist Bernadette Brown, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation/Michigan Equality, the newly merged statewide LGBT advocacy organization, articulated her own shorthand gay rights agenda - complete with a Great Lakes State lament. "We want to be able to work and not lose our jobs because we're gay or lesbian," she said. "We want to be able to live somewhere and not be kicked out because we're LGBT, and in the state of Michigan that can happen."
On the issue of same-sex marriage, Samad asserted that socially conservative African Americans are being forced "to choose between (the gay rights) cause and their church." Disagreeing with Samad, Pugh argued that Christian leaders in the black community "need to be drawing gay people to church, to draw people to God and spirituality and a center." The comment was greeted by extended applause.
At several points during the discussion, Shabazz pointed to a problem he attributed to the growing acceptance of homosexuality in the black community.
"I'm very concerned about the number of sisters in our community who cannot find a black man to marry, a black man to be a father of their children," he said. "And it is wrecking our community."
"Sisters, you don't want to be married to a gay man. He will never be yours!" Lettman later responded.
As the discussion wound down, panelists offered ideas for continued progress.
"I would advocate more people to come out because we need more people just to be normal folk," Pugh said.
Lettman, meanwhile, cited the need to "create a healthy environment so that people don't have to go just on the down-low, but on the underground," she said referring to ex-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig and what she called "bathroom toe-tapping foolishness."
Brown summed up generational analysis that probably bodes well for the future of LGBT rights in the black community - and beyond - even if sounds harsh.
"We are really kind of waiting for a bunch of people to die," she said bluntly to a smattering of nervous laughter. "A lot of our solutions will happen when that happens, because the young people who are coming up - they get it."
- A Remembrance: Robert Clark
- New LGBT Tobacco Disparity Report For Michigan Released
- Representation: Trans Activism In Michigan Lame Duck
- Between Bass And Treble: An Alto Story
- Local Gatherings Against MiRFRA
- Call To Action: Petition Seeks To Stop MIRFRA
- Top Faith Leaders Discuss Religious Freedom, LGBT Inclusion
- The First Trans Helpline In USA Is In Michigan
- LGBT Judge To Speak At Ann Arbor Interfaith Service
- Gay Therapist Discusses Sexualities Of LGBT And Straight Men In New Book
- Affirmations Seeks LGBTQ-Friendly Healthcare Providers
- Ruth Ellis Center Celebrates 15 Years Serving LGBTQ Youth
- The Rise Of 'License To Discriminate'; The Failure Of LGBT Civil Rights
- State Civil Rights Amendment Dead, Says Speaker
- WCC Expands LGBT Protections
- PrEP Debate Continues As Advocates Hold Conversations In State
- 'KICK' Off The Holidays With Annual Gala In Detroit
- Foster Children's Charity Collecting New Toys, Gifts For Holiday Bazaar
- Right Reverend Wendell Gibbs To Speak On Marriage Equality
- Affirmations Hosts Information Session On LGBT Foster Parenting And Adoption
- Charles Alexander Studio
- Gutter Guard Systems
- LeafFilter North of Michigan Inc.
- American Mattress Gallery Inc
- Ross Mortgage
- Pet Day Care
- Club Pet Too
- Amy Claeys Photography
- Religious & Spiritual
- Central United Methodist Church
- Substance Abuse
- Al-Anon Office of Metro Detroit
- The Ark
Enter contests to win great prizes like CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and more
- Exclusive! 'Looking' Star Russell Tovey On Sex Scenes, His Famous Butt & That Rimming Cake
- Q&A: Andy Cohen On His (Almost) Tell-All Book, 'Nasty' Names Gays Call Him
- Divine Intervention: Bette Midler Talks Early Gay Support, 'Diva' Degradation & Twerking ('Girls, Please!')
- Creep of the Week: The Duggars
- Being Young & Coming Out To Bette Midler
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletters today!
A study published in the journal The Lancet HIV reports that there is a significant disparity in HIV prevalence between black and white men who have sex with men. The study was published on Nov. 18 and found a startling 32 percent prevalence rate for black men who have sex with men, compared with only eight percent for white men who have sex with men.View More World AIDS Day
This Week's Issue
Download or view this week's print issue today!
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletters today!