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Workshop discusses media’s role in battle for visibility, equality

By |2018-01-16T16:43:10-05:00August 4th, 2005|News|

DETROIT – The title of the workshop was Empowerment Through The Media, and the real question was how black LGBTs can achieve it. About 20 folks attended the session last Thursday, which took place at Hotter Than July’s host hotel, the Hilton Gardens in downtown Detroit.
Considering the issue were panelists Stanley Bennett Clay, author of the book “In Search of Pretty Young Black Men;” Katina Parker, people of color media manager for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Donna Payne of the Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition; local media personality Charles Pugh of WBJK Fox 2 and WJLB FM 98; and Katrina Redd of Redd Films.
Author and lecturer Keith Boykin, Martone, host of the new entertainment show “Ahh,” and former editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine Emil Wilbekin were previously advertised as panelists but did not attend. The forum was moderated by Lamond Ayers, president of Men Empowered.
Ayers began by asking panelists to think back on the first gay or lesbian public figure or film or television character they could recall. For Pugh, it was Steven, Blake Carrington’s son on the television show “Dynasty.”
“I should have known I was gay because my favorite show was ‘Dynasty’ and I was nine,” he said with a laugh. “All the people [on television] that I identified as gay were white. But I had some actual role models in my life.”
Payne recalled the flamboyant disco diva Sylvester, who often dressed in various stages of drag before taking the stage.
“People loved Sylvester but they didn’t take him seriously,” she said.
Pugh suggested one way to achieve empowerment through the media would be for more black gay and lesbian celebrities to come out.
“We need more of celebrities like, god bless him now, Luther Vandross to come out and say, ‘I’m gay, accept me for who I am,'” Pugh said. “We need more celebrities, more people of note, to come out.”
Payne agreed, and said she’s been talking to several who are reluctant to do so.
“I want to see an African-American come out,” she said. “I want to see that, but the overall feeling is they don’t want to lose their power.”
Clay pointed out most celebrities don’t consider it wise to be politically active.
“Most entertainers, by and large, are a-political,” he said. “They’re in it for the money, the fame and glory. They’re not going to jeopardize that.”
Many in the audience had their own opinion on the issues, and at times the crossfire between panelists and the audience grew rather heated. Lewis Smith said he feels black gay men get a bad rap on sitcoms, and only end up in them if they’re flashy and overly feminine. Black lesbians, he said, fare better on the boob tube.
“We’re the Sambo,” he said, “and the black gay women have their stuff together.”
Redd blamed age-old stereotypes.
“Black males are supposed to epitomize masculinity, strength,” she said. “They’re not supposed to have any feminine characteristics.”
Finally, Ayers attempted to get to the heart of the matter.
“Does visibility equal acceptance?” he asked. “I don’t think the two of them equate.”
Opinions on the panel varied.
“I believe visibility is key, especially politically,” said Payne. To be out is “not enough.”
Parker summed it all up rather elegantly.
“Visibility is not equal to acceptance,” she said. “[But] it’s a point of entry. We’re at a critical point in American history. We’re in the midst of a civil rights movement of GLBT people.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.