By |2003-02-27T09:00:00-05:00February 27th, 2003|Uncategorized|

Boy, I’m fired up this time! As a journalist, rarely have I covered a story that has so inflamed me. It seems that on February 10, a group of remarkably brave LGBT students at Wayne State University constructed a display of black gay historical figures under the banner “Historically Black, Historically Gay,” said title being derived from the bi-weekly feature I’ve produced in Between The Lines since last February. This honors me as much as it pays tribute to our brilliant foremothers and fathers. Included were the “usual suspects,” Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Alvin Ailey, and Detroit’s own beloved matriarch Ruth Ellis, as well as more “shocking” figures, like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker.
The problem came about when a Student Council member named Mohammed Luwemba, a self-described revolutionary, appointed himself the vanguard of black heterosexual morality and excoriated gay students for exercising their right to free speech. He is alleged to have attempted to incite a crowd of students to intimidate, if not outright attack, them. He berated the title of the display as “blasphemous.” My very own work, research, and integrity were being called into question. As you might imagine, I took this very personally.
I had the occasion to interview Mr. Luwemba for half an hour. I heard things come out of his mouth that I quite frankly couldn’t believe. It began with a diatribe denouncing homosexuality on moral and biblical grounds and swept into relentless denial that anyone in the display could be even possibly be gay. He stated that, short of resurrecting these individuals and obtaining signed affidavits or confessions, as though some crime has been alleged, there is no threshold of proof, no secondary source nor anecdotal testimony unimpeachable enough to persuade him.
He referred to one display creator, a young lady named Natasha, as “Sister Lost,” a sellout and betrayer of the black race. What really put him over the top was a poisonous statement he made comparing homosexuality to crack addiction. “People choose to be drug addicts,” he said. “Once they get hooked, that’s it. It’s the same with homosexuality.” My jaw hit the floor. As Bugs Bunny so eloquently put it, “You realize, of course, this means war.”
Playing devil’s advocate, I politely attempted to debate him on some of his more disturbing points. He conceded that Baldwin and Langston were definitely gay because everyone knows it, even though Hughes’ own family denies it to this day and there has never been a “smoking gun” in any of his voluminous published correspondence to other openly gay figures of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a slippery cat who apparently played his cards very close to the vest. Suddenly, however, Luwemba’s burden of proof becomes a slippery slope.
He took pride in his role as a mentor who teaches children to read. I guess those lucky kids under his tutelage will grow up in a world devoid of the contributions of some of our finest literati – Langston, Lorraine, Zora, Baldwin, Countee, Walker, Delaney, or myself, for that matter.
Luwemba contends that the “so-called gay struggle” (his words) cannot be compared to the “legitimate black struggle,” because gays can hide who they are and blacks cannot. Apparently, he believes oppression and human suffering are only of significance if they are happening to him. Moreover, that’s the point. Why should we have to hide-because we make him uncomfortable? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Mohammed, but I’m one fag who won’t live by your rules. God has never mentioned you as someone I should break my neck to obey.
When you wonder what being gay has to do with the black struggle, I say ask Bayard Rustin, who organized the most important civil rights march in U.S. history but was forbidden to speak up for himself because he was gay. Ask the thousands of black gay men who attended the Million Man March. I submit that anyone who would deny rights to others, for whatever reason, does not deserve them for himself.
By that same token, Luwemba dispatches the NAACP and all the other premier civil rights organizations that have embraced gay rights as part of their charter as irrelevant. The same with Coretta Scott King, who has taken up the cause in her slain husband’s name, and presumably all the hundreds of millions around the globe and throughout history who have embraced his message.
Luwemba took issue with the inclusion in the display of Angela Davis, whom he embraced as a “sister of the revolution.” When I explained that Davis has come out as a lesbian and even lectures on the subject, he again became dismissive and moved on to the next target. I guess she’s now just another “Sister Lost,” as though all he admired about her has suddenly been de-legitimatized and dissolved away.
He claims that he has done exhaustive research on the Internet and found nothing on the sexual preferences of most of the figures. A simple Yahoo search inclusive of the words “gay” or “lesbian” after the individuals’ names will usually make your computer screen fill up. But then, I don’t imagine someone with Mr. Luwemba’s impeccable heterosexual credentials would be caught dead surfing a gay website. And if he did, he would simply dismiss the volumes of information as mere “propaganda designed to tear down the black race.” In fact, he is prepared to denounce anyone, even his own brothers and sisters of color, who are gay or their allies. Who exactly is selling out whom here?
The definition of a tragicomedy is a situation so ridiculous it would be laughable were it not so deadly disastrous. Incredibly, and with a (pun intended) straight face, he claims not to be anti-gay. He just thinks we’re all social deviants, that’s all. If Luwemba’s strident sentiments do not meet the criteria for homophobia, then indeed, there are no homophobes. That he operates in a leadership capacity is all the more reason for alarm. He lives in a world where logic, reason and rationality bear no relevance if they do not conform to his warped worldview. Furthermore, he strikes me as one of those persons – you know the type – loudmouths who believe they have made a point or won an argument simply by belittling or over-talking you.
The need to identify positive black gay role models seems self-evident. It’s okay for heterosexuals to drag the gay card out of the closet when there is some negative aspect to a news story, like with serial killers Jeffery Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy. There’s a line in my second book, “This Time Around,” which addresses this concept. The main characters are discussing the paucity of information in traditional history books regarding the sexual orientations of historical figures. The elder replies, “What purpose would it serve the homophobic heterosexual society to acknowledge that not only do we exist, but we are also capable of achievements beyond sucking dicks and molesting their precious little children?” God forbid should homosexuals try to honor, for example, September 11th heroes such as Todd Beamer or Mychal Judge, we get accused of having a “gay agenda.” Don’t get me started on that one. I’ll show you a fagenda!
The final straw had to have been when Luwemba asked me if these gay students were so full of pride, why weren’t they man and woman enough to identify themselves to him? I explained to him that it was people like himself that made so many homosexuals terrified to come out of the closet. Interestingly, no less than six people in a row whom I attempted to interview for my story, all presumably heterosexuals based upon their comments, were unwilling to go on the record with their opinions in support of him. Where is heterosexual pride when you really need it?
I marvel at the single-minded ability of such individuals to look reality dead in the eye and say, “Begone, ye foul truth! Thou hast no place here!” It’s the same idiocy that clings desperately still to the fallen myth that AIDS is a gay disease, even while the entire world, straight and gay, male and female, young and old, black, white, Chinese, Hispanic or otherwise, melts down before their very eyes. They are going to be right, goddamnit, even if it means riding the Titanic all the way down to the ocean floor.
To the Mohammed Luwembas of the world, I say this: If your house is ever on fire, I pray you don’t waste valuable time asking the fireman if he passes your heterosexual litmus test. How will history judge these deep thinkers, so adept are they at celebrating ignorance with zeal and vigor?
To Natasha, Mike and Liz – you kids are awesome. You have inspired me as I have inspired you, and have made a little history yourselves. Know that the black gay community is very proud of you. Fight the power.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.