Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Bob Roehr
WASHINGON – Leaders of the black LGBT community were shocked and dismayed at the rollercoaster of reconciliation and inclusion, then the last minute rejection of their participation in the Millions More Movement event on the Mall in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 15.
The event served to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March and reinvigorate community empowerment. This time the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam had the support of many other leaders of the African-American community who had shunned the earlier gathering.
In February, Farrakhan publicly welcomed the participation of gays and lesbians in activities, but a series of communications between the MMM and LGBT leaders resulted in little progress toward that end. There was a further setback in July when Rev. Willie Wilson, executive director of the event, made what many considered to be inflammatory remarks about the community while preaching at his church in D.C.
The National Black Justice Coalition took Farrakhan to task for continuing to exclude them from the event at a news conference on Oct. 11. That resulted in an Oct. 12 meeting with Farrakhan and Wilson.
“There were times when the discussion was very heated,” said NBJC executive director H. Alexander Robinson. Much of it focused on Wilson’s feeling that the gay community in Washington had attacked him, and “he still did not understand the hurtfulness of what he had said about us.”
“Rev. Wilson was a huge obstacle. He refused to shake our hands when we walked in, he yelled and screamed the whole time,” said NBJC president Keith Boykin. “Minister Farrakhan was very understanding, polite and respectful.”
According to Boykin, “Wilson said the gay community attacked him and he feels the same way about the gay community as he feels about white people – a few of them are alright but the rest of them, I don’t want to have anything to do with them.”
Boykin said that at one point Wilson pulled out some sleeping pills and a thong with candy on it and said that lesbians are making women take the pills and wear the thong, and suck off the candy. “And we were just looking at him, stunned.”
Robinson continued, “We had a very good conversation with Minister Farrakhan on a wide range of issues that we share. At the end of the meeting it was Rev. Wilson that suggested that Keith be the speaker, and Minister Farrakhan agreed. I left the [Wednesday] meeting thinking that we had some agreement on what would happen [on Saturday] and the potential for future conversations.”
“We showed up at 8 a.m. [on Saturday] to get VIP credentials for me, Alexander, and Donna [Payne, NBJC vice president and senior diversity organizer for the Human Rights Campaign], and they didn’t have any for any of us. We were escorted to the stage area to talk with Sister Claudette Muhammad who was our liaison to Farrakhan,” Boykin said.
“Rev. Wilson came over and said to me, ‘you will not be speaking,” said Payne. “He had a smirk on his face.” Wilson claimed the group had not responded in time and he walked off.
Boykin disputed Wilson’s allegation. He said, “We even tried to fax the organizers a copy of the speech I was going to give, so that he would not be surprised at all by what I was going to say.”
“I was very disappointed. I think Wilson is responsible for this. Minister Farrakhan has kept his word with us throughout the entire process, everything he has said he would do, he has done. But Rev. Wilson is a whole different character.”
“It appears that Rev. Wilson is up to his same old games – he says one thing in a meeting and you leave the room and find that things have changed,” Robinson said. “People are disappointed that they reneged on their promise, but frankly, they aren’t that surprised. Which is bad because it says that the rift between parts of the black family is so deep that people are not surprised by the dishonesty.”
There did end up being a surprise openly homosexual speaker at the MMM, but those on the Mall might not have realized it. Cleo Manago founded the Black Men’s Xchange. He is a controversial figure within the LGBT community in part because of his rejection of the word “gay” as being white, and use of terms such as “same gender loving” in its place.
The NBJC and D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays had organized a rally as part of the We Are Family Unity Weekend. They gathered on Saturday morning, a few blocks away at Freedom Plaza prior to marching to the Mall.
“Rev. Willie Wilson is a snake in the grass, and he must learn that his ignorance, arrogance, and backstabbing will not be tolerated,” Sterling Washington, co chair of the D.C. Coalition, told the rally. “If he wants a fight, then a fight he will get.”
“Homophobia and heterosexism remain major obstacles,” Washington said. “The Millions More Movement needs us. They may not understand that, but they need the gay community.”
Bishop Zachary G. Jones, Unity Fellowship Church in New York City, said, “In my family, I know that when those heterosexual couples have their little problems, and they need somebody within the family to kind of bridge the gap, and they need the gay uncle to participate with financial support, they know how to pick up the phone. That’s the inside voice.”
“My inside voice says, number one, we’ve got to stop being so dependent,” Jones said. “Too many of our organizations are dependent economically on government…there are far too many of our organizations on welfare; 90, 80 percent of their financing come from government. We must release the chains of dependence.
“As we move forward as a people, let us recognize what we must do to empower our people economically…that’s what talks in this country.”
Boykin was the last to speak. “This has been a challenging week, and yet, we are still not defeated,” he said. “We have seen the highs and the lows and we will not give up. We will continue to march. We will not let any one person stand in the way of our freedom or justice.”
He said the point of his prepared speech was to get beyond the past. “Today, because of one person, we are unable to do that.”
Boykin profusely praised Minister Farrakhan’s recent acts and statements of inclusion. He said, “The diversity of speakers assembled here today is a powerful signal that we in the black community will not allow ourselves to be divided by differences of opinion, religion, gender, class, or sexual orientation ever again.”
He raised the names of Bayard Rustin, Billy Strahorn, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Alvin Ailey as having added much to both the black and gay communities through their work. He said, “That’s why I am here today – to honor their legacy.”
“We share the same goals and aspirations of the rest of the black community, but none of us can accomplish those goals without unity and courage,” Boykin said. “We all need courage in out lives. It took courage for you to come there today. It took courage for Minister Farrakhan to invite me to speak today. It will take courage to heal the wounds that have divided us for far too long.”
The events prompted numerous postings on Boykin’s Web site. Most were supportive and few expressed real surprise at the final outcome. But Sidney Brinkley, the founding editor of Blacklight, had a harsher reaction. He wrote, “You were being ‘played’ from day one – and you didn’t even dig it.”
Terrance, also posting on the Web site, wrote, “I’ve heard the saying ‘you can’t go home again.’ Today’s actions not only prove that true, but suggest that ‘home’ was never really home in the first place, and might not be worth fighting to return to it.”
“There is no way we’re going to come together as a community if people are shut out,” said Robinson. “Minister Farrakhan has previously kept his word while Rev. Wilson has been anything but cooperative. Regardless of who’s responsible, it’s time for someone to step up and say enough.”
“The march’s goal was unity but the result was division,” said Payne. “Minister Farrakhan and Rev. Willie Wilson went back on their word this weekend. It’s past time for us to speak the truth and that means being honest about the diversity within the African-American community. We’re owed an apology.”