There are thousands of same-gender-loving people within the congregations of black churches. Because I have ministered from their pulpits for more than 40 years, I am very aware of how these churches’ refusal to address issues such as HIV/AIDS has gravely crippled us. But there are other more commonly overlooked culprits.
When black newspapers ignore and overlook the importance of pertinent issues that impact the lives of gay African-Americans, they tacitly approve and condone acts of hatred and homophobia. Black publications depend heavily on financial support from religious institutions, and indirectly these papers must shoulder some of the responsibility for the spread of the virus because an innumerable amount of antigay sermons have been preached from their pages.
In my new book, Love Won’t Let Me Be Silent, I call out the tremendously negative influence that hip-hop has had on the nation in regard to the LGBT community. Although much of the homophobic language has been toned down in contemporary rap lyrics, there remain cleverly disguised, subliminal homophobic messages that make it absolutely clear being gay is totally unacceptable and definitely not manly.
Personally, I feel that most hip-hop artists will never truly fully embrace same-gender-loving people publicly. What’s more, some gay and lesbian hip-hop artists conceal their orientation, as asserted by Terrence Dean, author of Hiding Within Hip-Hop. The silence contributes to the rise in attacks on both HIV-positive and -negative same-gender-loving people.
To see the tragic consequence of anonymity on display, one need only recall Oprah Winfrey’s disturbing interview with J.L. King, author of the controversial book On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of Straight Black Men Who Sleep With Men. King’s alarming confession of what life was like on the down low immediately garnered him national fame, and King became a trusted HIV prevention activist and educator, especially to black America.
Immediately after that interview, a series of articles published in Essence, Vibe, and The Washington Post attempted to expose a secret sexual cultural phenomenon called “the down low.” Although those articles caused somewhat of a stir, none were as troubling as the cover story of the August 3, 2003, issue of The New York Times Magazine titled “Double Lives on the Down Low.” Written by journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis, the work sent a shock wave through the African-American community as the article aired some very dirty laundry.
Among the story’s many shocking insights, the article revealed that after 25 years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, not only had HIV infection rates steadily climbed for African-American women, but black religious institutions, in particular, created and supported homophobia within black communities. The result of this homophobia, according to the article, was the birth of a subculture of dishonesty and denial with respect to black masculinity, desire, and sexuality. This subculture sabotaged any attempts at HIV prevention or treatment, the article said.
Is it any wonder then that the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ researchers recently published a report that found LGBT people of color were subjected to a disproportionate number of attacks — 70% of the 27 murder victims in 2010 were LGBT and HIV-affected people of color. That was part of a 23% increase over the previous year in murders of LGBT and HIV-affected people across the United States, the second highest yearly total ever recorded.
Last week I awakened to find this startling message in my Yahoo! in-box: “Iowa student dies after brutal beating in which attackers shouted gay slurs.” While this heinous act does not surprise me, it does sadden me deeply to see another young black man brutally murdered. Police say it was not a hate crime, but not in dispute is that Marcellus Andrews, 19, was heard being called “faggot” while a group of attackers beat him on his own front porch.
Simply put, even though Americans pride ourselves on living in a technically and socially advanced democratic society, in many ways we are hypocrites. America has allowed bigots and religious extremists to enshrine countless unethical laws that illegally deny same-gender-loving people equal rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Too many religious leaders and right-wing politicians are allowed to use the Bible to justify their outlandish actions. What’s worse, many of them feel no remorse for their homophobic statements that fuel attacks on innocent people of all sexual orientations, and of all races.
Nowhere is this attitude of attack and ignore more prevalent than among our presidential candidates, many of whom extol divisive and inflammatory rhetoric while the country reacts with barely a notice.
We, as the black community must evolve. But we, as a nation must evolve, as well. We must move forward and embrace the more noble aspects of our humanity. Needless to say, it won’t be easy; it never is! Nor is living easy, particularly for HIV-affected individuals who are reading this and who will become victims of assault, or for the thousands in the LGBT community, white and black, male and female, who desperately and simply want to live as God created all his children to live — happily and freely.
Terry Angel Mason is a gay HIV/AIDS activist and author. His book Love Won’t Let Me Be Silent speaks about homosexuality and homophobia in the black community.