|I was recently involved in a public debate
on "Black Homosexuality" organized by members of the Nation of Islam. "The
Great Debate: The Origins of Homosexuality In the Black Community"
featured renowned Africentric health scholar, Dr. Llaila Afrika, and I
as opponents. Afrika believes homosexuality is a degenerative state
and a disease resulting from sexual addiction, white supremacy, diet (yes,
diet!) and institutionalized subliminal recruitment techniques. He
also believes that homosexuality was introduced to Blacks/Africans by European
invasions on Black/African life.
and Context Preceding The Debate:
Upon announcement of the debate, locally
and nationally, nervousness and suspicion among same-gender-loving (SGL)
Sisters and Brothers becamethick. Weeks prior, I received mail and phone
calls from people put off by its title - "The Origins of Homosexuality
In the Black Community." Some felt the debate was a set-up and I was being
lured into a stacked anti-homosexual (or homophobic) attack. Others
passionately recommended, "Don't participate in this, Cleo, you are too
intelligent for that!" When asked why I agreed to do it, I responded
with, "Regardless of how they present the topic or their questionable motives,
I can hold my own! The dialogue must happen in *our* community.
So far, at least in my lifetime, it hasn't - really - except for a few
gay-identified Blacks who have talked *at* the Black community about gayness
using white gay symbology, ethos, culture and rhetoric to defend 'Black
gayness and lesbianism.' I've seen gay-identified Black 'leaders'
booed off the stage when talking to Black audiences about gayness. Then,
an article in the gay/white press followed implying, with no cultural context
of course, that the Black community is particularly homophobic. In my opinion,
Blacks are not particularly homophobic, but react to how culturally irrelevant
and insensitive the "gay" movement is. There is an unspoken self-consciousness
and humiliation about the disruption of Black male lives and manhood in
this country under white supremacist systems. Many Blacks see homosexuality
(particularly among Black males) as a disturbing by-product of this circumstance."
I later address why the lives of SGL women tend to be excluded from these
Blacks are responding to realities many
of us are maybe too "gay" to address. Black maleness, responsibility, well-being,
and manhood have been consistently disrupted by slavery, lynchings, sexual
rape, police brutality, high unemployment, incarceration, assimilation
and dehumanizing media images. Brutal assaults on and murders of
Black men (i.e. Garnett Johnson - beheaded, burned alive; James Byrd
Jr. - chained up dragged to his death; and Ennis Cosby - murdered by a
young white male who bragged: "I just shot a nigger and it's all over the
news.") continue. Mindful of the tragic history and contemporary
horrors Black males endure, many are disconcerted when we show up as homosexual
or transgendered. Without dialogue this appears as a symptom of Black
males succumbing to ultimate failure perpetuating the demise of the Black
community and family.
Black 'homophobia' is often a veiled reaction
to a brutal history of forced submission of Black men who now appear to
be getting voluntarily "fucked" by White men - as homosexuals. This
interpretation causes a strong reaction.
Numerous parents of SGL Black folks have
expressed this concern as depicted by Keith Boykin in his book 'One More
River To Cross.' Upon announcing his homosexuality to his parents their
initial concern was: "Is he [your sex partner] white?" I personally have
heard this a billion times! In fact, typically when Black SGL persons
are depicted in film and/or gain national exposure as "leaders," they have
white 'lovers' or are never seen raising issues relevant to Black life
in general. They act as if gay [white] is more important.
Given the lack of dialogue on all of these
issues and how SGL Blacks are portrayed in the media, I see rational concern
and judgement in the community. The historical context behind what
appear to be so-called homophobic attitudes among Blacks is rarely deconstructed
Instead, gay identified Blacks have been
silent, reactionary, separate from the community or defensive. *All
sides of this issue have justifiable points of view.*
Typically, I followed these comments saying,
"Many among Black consciousness and/or Africentric movements are hyper-sensitive
about introductions of European/White ideas into our community - and gay
is seen as just that. I agree! Strong reactions to gayness are connected
to a core purpose in Black/African movements to resurrect independent Black
'manhood.' This explains their patriarchal, homophobic and sexist tendencies.
Relatively speaking, Black women have been encouraged to retain their "manhood",
being the heads of many households and more employable (under White male
controlled systems) than Black men. Strong concentration on Black
male disruption is also connected to why women-loving-women is rarely considered
when issues of Black homosexuality are written about or raised by critics."
The debate was no exception.
I also informed those who questioned my
involvement in the debate that, "I have yet to see the issue of homosexuality
in the Black community addressed in ways resonant with Black culture, life
and history. These issues are connected to 'homophobic' attitudes in the
Black community and cannot be and have not been sufficiently addressed
through gay-identified Black based discussions in the Black community.
Regardless of the strange title of the debate it is with this point of
view in mind that I will address the issue.
Not doing so has kept ignorance, fear,
self-hate, abuse and confusion alive." After such a long explanation,
some understood. Others could not imagine people would listen and
still assumed the worst. While others (in support, to help ensure
I was prepared) sent me information on indigenous African spiritual practices,
including rituals that could be identified as homosexual in the western
Suspicion amongst SGL supporters and others
grew when it was discovered that the debate would be preceded by a panel
discussion. Panelists included "religious leaders" from the Nation
of Islam, Christian and Jehovah's Witness sects; among them Minister Tony
Muhammad, Reverend Colin Akridge, and Firpo Carr, an anti-homosexual author
of "Are Gays Really Gay?" These gentlemen are known to be extremely anti-homosexual.
Learning of the panel, I called Malik, bookstore owner, member of the Nation
of Islam and sponsor of the debate. I expressed concern that the
event appeared stacked and one-sided. Women were not present in the dialogue
- at all. Malik then mentioned that he had asked Carl Bean (Black gay activist,
minister and leader/founder of Unity Fellowship Church) and members of
his organization to attend, but never received a response. Reluctantly,
Malik offered me the opportunity to invite others from the community who
could add balance to the panel. Immediately I thought of Reverend Victoria
Lee-Owens (a local writer, orator, minister, proud Africentric SGL Sister
and mother); Tashia Asante' (filmmaker, activist, writer); and Charles
Hamilton (activist, writer, leader and force in the Black Men's Xchange,
Black affirming thinker and law school graduate). Before selecting
additional panelists, I canvassed the community for others who could speak
proudly and confidently on the issue of Black homosexuality. It was
important that they have the capacity to speak in ways resonant with Black
affirmation and culture (not gay/white affirmation and culture).
Few were recommended beyond those I already considered. So, Reverend
Victoria Lee-Owens and Charles Hamilton were slated to speak on the panel
with the "religious leaders." Further, the Mooney Twins (heterosexual
Brothers, who, through their work with the AMASSI Center, have become strong
allies on behalf of same-gender-loving Sisters and Brothers) were also
on the panel playing a key role in advocating that the debate take place.
Raising the Stakes
on Black Talk-Radio:
It became evident that the community was
talking about the debate. During the week of the debate Dr. Afrika
and I appeared separately on local Black radio talk shows. These call-in
shows provided opportunities to engage supportive people and those with
judgmental and misguided attitudes (often referred to as homophobic) in
discussion. Callers raised implications of child molestation, breaking
laws of the bible, and participation in the destruction of the Black family.
On the bright side, many calls came in from SGL, bisexual, transgendered
and heterosexual allies who affirmed the dialogue and mentioned that they
learned from it.
Black SGLs Stand
Proud Among The Black Family
Saturday, July 27, 1998 the eagerly anticipated
day of "The Great Debate" arrived. The afternoon began with the panel
discussion moderated by Jahmal Goree, co-host of KJLH's (owned by
Stevie Wonder) "Front Page" radio talk show. The "religious leaders" were
quite clichéd in how they addressed the subject of Black Homosexuality.
They spouted scriptures and stereotypes -- like homosexuals molest children,
recruit, are an abomination and that old stand by "God didn't make Adam
and Steve, but Adam and Eve!" They said little that hasn't been said
numerous times before. At the risk of appearing biased, Reverend
Victoria Lee-Owens, Charles Hamilton and The Mooney Twins were eloquent.
They were authentic and heartfelt spokespersons on behalf of Black Love,
self-Love, affirmation, spirituality, integrity, and Black people embracing
the whole for the empowerment of the collective! Among panel highlights
were Reverend Lee-Owens' response to comments from one of the traditional
fire and brimstone preachers, stating that his "tactics" would not intimidate
her. She was eloquent, compelling and brilliant, so much so, that the minister,
apparently feeling eclipsed, stood up exclaiming non-sensical verbage ending
with "I got the fire under me." He then prematurely deserted the dais apparently
too conflicted to continue the dialogue. Charles Hamilton, dressed
for symbolic drama in military fatigues powerfully articulated the importance
of Blacks not being divided by internalization of racist white thinking.
Following the panel discussion Dr. Llaila
and I were introduced. I was the first speaker. Proudly, members
of the New African People's Organization (a Black nationalist organization
once "homophobic" but transformed through respectful dialogue) escorted
me to the stage. They were at my side throughout the debate modeling
the power and importance of actively embracing our community's diversity.
Because of limited
space I'll be brief:
I spoke of the issues I said I would when
questioned why I chose to participate in the debate. I introduced
Kabaka Mwanga, the Gatekeepers
of Burkina Faso, The Adodi, et al. I also spoke of monsters like
Jeffery Dahmer who morbidly opportunized off the lack of acknowledgment
and affirming spaces for SGL people in the Black community. In addition
I addressed how homosexuality does not stem from white and colonial influences.
But that homophobia stemmed from these influences. I used history
and transparencies depicting the life and death of Joan of Arc, the European
Inquisition against those perceived as homosexual, the mass murder of homosexuals
and the history of the pink-triangle during Hitler's reign in Germany.
I introduced an African-based emblem symbolizing same-gender-love and cosmology.
I also spoke of internalized white supremacy and of ancient African same-gender-love
in Egypt exemplified by Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep an SGL male couple of
the palace of King Niusere of the Fifth Dynasty. And there was much
Then, Dr. Afrika commenced with his presentation.
It appeared that my opponent was so taken aback by my presentation (I suspect
he expected me to do a traditional European, pink triangle-laden gay, rainbow
flag diatribe) he fumbled papers altering his prepared presentation mid
stream. He offered a fragmented primarily white-faced presentation
that had little to do, directly, with homosexuality among Blacks.
He used theories, graphics and histrionics, practically never addressing
what I presented, the issue, or me - except to ask, "What do you do in
bed?" More occurred than I can fit into the space of this column.
So, I'll summarize by saying: Dr. Afrika did not prove his theories.
I addressed homosexuality in the context of Black life in a way that apparently
was resonant with many in the majority Black audience. I was never
booed, attacked, shunned or disrespected. Moreover, following the debate
I was mobbed with affirmation from a cross section of our community.
The mail, phone calls and appreciation (including from former foes) have
yet to stop. Oh yeah! Dr. Afrika, came up to me, put his hand on
the small of my back, then embraced me saying: "Pardon my theatrics.
I agreed with what you were saying: We
need to work together to save our community." He then handed me information
on how to contact him. Later that evening we were on a radio talk
show together where Dr. Afrika made not even one specifically "homophobic"
Black same-gender-loving (SGL) Sisters
and Brothers, and other members of the community experienced that myths
often leading us to self-hate and to question our worth were unsubstantiated.
SGLs were able to revel in the realities of our contribution, legacy, purpose
and value. This occurred in the presence of a diverse Black community.
I doubt if everyone present had transformed, but several were empowered
This historic event indicates how crucial
it is that our community demystify our differences, and discover its human
riches, for the wealth and health of us all.
The "Great Debate" was videotaped and recorded
on audiocassette. Video and audio recordings are available for purchase
through the National
Body of the Black Men's Xchange (NBBMX). Acquire it, make your
own decisions and be empowered.
We invite you to do so. To order your copy
contact NBBMX by phone at 310-419-1961, email at BlkMensXX@aol.com
or at the "Great
"The Great Debate on Homosexuality in The
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