Soon I will be launching my second blog: All Out Adam. This new blog will be a space to focus entirely on gay men and race. My hope is to also use this as a collaborative space, where my brilliant friends and colleagues who are part of this conversation can contribute as well. Stay tuned!
I was speaking with a colleague from Detroit this week, lamenting our position as activist, black, gay men who are also clergy and we realized that we are often in situations where we are asked to choose our allegiance: are we working on/with black issues or LGBT issues? I also recently attended a meeting of local black LGBT leaders where the same question arose: black or LGBT? The way that communities of color and LGBT groups are so disjointed sometimes, leaves someone like me at odds. Too frequently, in black and brown spaces, we are asked to leave our LGBT selves outside, because it is felt that sexuality issues dilute the power of the race conversation, or that LGBT is a “white” issue. Likewise, in predominantly white LGBT spaces, people of color are frequently ghettoized (that is, called upon to speak for our entire race) or entirely left out of the conversation because of access (funding, location, cultural setting, etc.) Case in point, I also attended a presentation by one of our local LGBT politicians (a dynamic young man of color) yet I was the only African American in the audience, although there were a couple of Asian and Latino folks. Questions from the audience were all targeted at youth, marriage equality and local LGBT history; the only question on race was one that furthered the perception of local black communities harboring negative feelings for LGBT issues.
“What happens when the LGBT fight becomes predominantly black and brown?”
There is a disturbing threat on the horizon. As a gay man who cannot ignore the issues of race in the United States, I watch the events of Baltimore over the last few weeks as well as New York, Oakland, Chicago, Ferguson and Sanford over the last few years and I am worried about the very real potential for “LGBT White Flight.”
What happens when the LGBT fight becomes predominantly black and brown? When the Supreme Court rules to make Marriage Equality the law of the land, will the funding from white LGBT donors dry up? Will the white LGBT allies fail to show up at the marches or more importantly at the polls? Will we see an uptick in the number of LGBT folks who align with conservative fiscal policies that promote their personal wealth over the overal health and welfare of those who are marginalized? Right now, significant LGBT wealth is pouring into the fight for Marriage Equality. Even a cursory glance at major donors and supporters of this effort, shows how LGBT donors and organizations sometimes have significantly less connection to communities of color, and if they do, it is very narrowly focused. Yet organizations who are funding and supporting racial justice work, are much more likely to be public and financial allies of LGBT efforts. If the commitment is only marginal now, what will the motivation be to make it more equitable in the future?
The face of the Marriage Equality fight is overwhelmingly white. Although there are a handful of plaintiffs who are people of color, and a significant number of children of these families are people of color, the positioning of the benefits to be gained from marriage status (tax benefits, partner, employment benefits, community and social standing) are portrayed on the surface as benefits that are associated with white affluence in our country. Yet, when this one battle is won, the LGBT fight for opportunity will be far from over for people of color. In a recent study from Movement Advancement Project and Center for American Progress ( PAYING AN UNFAIR PRICE: The Financial Penalty for LGBT People of Color in America) the numbers are clear that poverty and lack of opportunity and lack of security plague LGBT people of color more than their white or non-LGBT counterparts:
A 2014 report from the Black Youth Project ( Moving Beyond Marriage: What Young People of Color Think about the LGBT Agenda) has some surprising numbers as well showing how a majority of young people of color think that the LGBT Agenda isn’t aligned with their priorities:
“This report demonstrates that while young people grant strong support to same-sex marriage, young people—especially young people of color—also believe that several other policies should have greater priority in the fight for LGBT equality. For instance, more than 80 percent of Black, white, and Latino youth support policies to guarantee employment rights, while 65 to 70 percent of young people support same-sex marriage….
Our findings also indicate that young people of color are skeptical about whether mainstream LGBT organizations advocate policies that are important for LGBT individuals in communities of color. Young people of color are perhaps uniquely situated to identify what policies are most likely to have the greatest impact on their communities.”
We cannot choose one identity or the other. We all live at crossroads of identity. The question is, will the same happy gay and lesbian couples who embrace and celebrate on the steps of the Supreme Court in victory for their ability to marry and share benefits, then be willing to turn around and travel the 29 miles up Interstate 295 to march in the streets of Baltimore to support their black trans* siblings who are targeted and murdered by police (Mya Hall)? Will the major donors to Equality California also fund safe spaces for Cambodian LGBT youth in Long Beach?
We cannot let the LGBT movement turn into a cultural Detroit, Oakland or Cleveland…abandoned by the people who can now afford to disappear into the suburban mainstream.
In honor of Black History Month, I’ve created this little video as a call to action in the LGBT community. We have enough challenges without labeling each other and speaking to each other in “types.” To call the LGBT movement the “New Civil Rights Movement” without addressing the rampant racism within the community is a travesty. And this isn’t just a black white issue: it influences relationships for every person of color in the LGBT community. If we want both self respect and the respect of society at large, let’s end this game of internal oppression and deal with our own deep failings.
End LGBT Racism NOW!
When I walked into Overlake Christian Church, I half expected the walls to come crashing in. OCC is what you would call a modern day “mega church.” In a building that more resembles Costco from the outside than any other kind of structure, it is a teeming city within, just as any of the more ornate ancient Gothic mega churches such as Notre Dame de Paris or Chartres Cathedral were in their day. There are legions of volunteers, several varieties of youth spaces including a youth chapel and a fully staffed nursery, a full gymnasium, meeting rooms, offices and a cafe with (this being the suburbs of Seattle) what seemed like endless gallons of coffee.
But also like the ancient cathedrals, Overlake is serious about the business of faith. The sanctuary put me in mind of the largest theaters I’ve performed in with capacity for some 5000+ people. I imagined that when full, as I was informed that the space gets for the later service, this place was off the chain. This church sits in the heart of the evangelical nouvelle vague where young families in increasing numbers are flocking to a message about Christ that doesn’t judge them because they are struggling to make ends meet or because maybe they didn’t finish school or because they believe in traditional conservative values. This is a place where these particular young people find community that offers them unconditional support and love in a language they can readily understand. Yes, there were surely gun owners; yes, plenty of McCain/Palin supporters; probably a lot of anti Obamacare people as well…and me.
If you have read any of my other posts, you know immediately that I did not support McCain/Palin, I don’t believe in any kind of gun ownership (private or otherwise) and I am a rabid supporter of the Affordable Care act. I am also black and very, very gay. Walking into Overlake or any conservative community, I know that by the simple appearance of my skin, most people will assume my political positions, but the one thing they can’t and usually don’t assume is my sexuality. This is a squirmy discomfort that I’ve lived with my entire life, whether it was as a teen meeting people who would ask me if I had a girlfriend yet or in a locker room where guys talk incessantly and rather defensively about sex with women (hmm, there’s a blog post in there) or as a cruise director where the singularly most frequent question I was asked was if I was married. For some 35 years, I have had to “come out” to every single new person I meet. One of the reasons I am pro marriage equality, outside of personal interest, is because maybe by “normalizing” same sex relationships it will chip away at the assumptions that force someone like myself to have to repeatedly go through this public explanation process that more than being embarrassing is just plain exhausting. This kind of daily “coming out” is heightened even more in a church setting…let alone an evangelical one. But, as I said, I’ve been doing this dance for many years so when I was invited by my dear friends to attend their church, it was easy to put my own disquietude aside and let myself feel deeply flattered that they wanted to include me in their spiritual experience.
After dropping off the kids, we made our way through the throngs of beaming faces to the sanctuary where the house band was already in gear. The music was youthful guitar heavy rock. The voices were clear and again…the beaming faces. In the house, many people swayed and sang along (the words were projected on the largest of the flat screen monitors…a 20×30 foot jumbotron at the back of the stage) and many stood with their eyes closed and palms turned upward to receive the spirit…with beaming faces. The music built a certain frenzy so that when the pastor, Mike Howerton arrived on stage you wouldn’t expect anything less than being inspired. His message, “Hope Restored” was clear and hip (he wore jeans and converse sneakers) with no “thou shalts” and “wherefores” other than what might appear in specific scripture. The service ended with a tricked out version of “Oh Come Emmanuel” that was just plain fun to sing. The experience was, in a word, thrilling and I left feeling inspired and elated. I thought to myself, why can’t Unitarian Universalists do this? Wanting to stay focused on my time with my friends, I didn’t stay to socialize or chat. But on my way out, I made note of what seemed like a whole lot of nice people enjoying church the way they wanted to enjoy it, giving their families the grounding that they felt was important to being successful and balanced people. I should have been content with that.
But after I got home the next day, I did my usual skeptical due diligence to see where this community stood politically. It was not enough for me to see them first hand and accept them in their natural habitat. I had to see if they would have strung me up had they known I was a card carrying ‘homosexualist!’ A simple Google search (“Overlake Christian Church LGBT”) turned up the following article from the Christian Telegraph:
The article is very definitely anti-Gay (a clue should have been seeing AIDS not capitalized.) But looking past the article at the actual act of an evangelical church asking members to take an HIV test, I was blown away. Again, I found myself asking, why can’t Unitarian Universalists do this? At the center of this article were Linda and Rob Robertson who lost their gay son in 2009. I did a bit more research and came across, or rather was reminded of Linda’s blog, Just Because He Breathes. Their family story of transformation through their faith to embrace their son in all of his beauty as a gay Christian before his death is extremely powerful. I had read her article in the Huff Post in July and suddenly felt ashamed that I was in her church and didn’t know…or feel comfortable to seek her, or someone like her out. I immediately reached out to Linda through her blog and to my amazement, she wrote back. I am hopeful that I will be able to continue a dialogue with her, not only to support her work, but also to learn from her. I see a lesson for progressives and liberal church goers as well as Atheists and non believers here. Linda is a Christian. She lives what she believes. From the most painful experience that any parent can undergo regardless of their faith, she learned that she cannot judge. As a Christian, I imagine that she knows that judgment is in God’s hands. But that is not to say that for those who are not Christian that they must play by those same rules; judgement, peace, balance are what we come to in our own experiences and we cannot require that others accept something just because it works for us…and ultimately, it is out of all of our hands. Just as someone who is LGBT cannot be judged by the rules of heteronormativity and just as Christian evangelicals should not all be judged by the same rules of liberal intolerance.
Personally, I am tired of religious irony. My own snarky, judgmental attitude about a Christian mega church, no matter how much in check I was able to keep it in the moment, almost kept me from making a beautiful discovery about the depth and capacity of the human heart. Every religious leader or aspiring religious leader should be so lucky as to be able to float in the warmth of what I witnessed at Overlake, and every religious or faith community should be able to provide that warmth to whoever comes into their midst, whether it is a liberal black gay guy in an evangelical church or if it is an evangelical in a community of Pagans. We are in the business of creating community and those communities are built on “common unities”…shared experiences of our worlds. There is no possible way that everyone is going to have the same common unities…and we shouldn’t really want to have the same ones. But it is the impulse to gather and share those common unities that is the same among all of us and that is something in which we can all share; that impulse is love. I am a Unitarian Universalist and I will celebrate your joy at commemorating the birth of Christ. You are straight and I hope you can celebrate my thriving in a relationship with the man I share my life with. We are Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Atheist, Lesbian, Transgender, Cisgender, HIV+, black, Latino and white and we can celebrate one another and be much better for it.
Blessed be…he said with a beaming face.
The work around black men in America is very much in the news these days. The Obama administration has made a bold statement of acknowledging the unique challenges faced by this population and making a commitment to promoting advancement and achievement among black men. My home state of California has led the way with groundbreaking legislation including a unique House Resolution (HR 23), committing to changing the outcomes for black men and boys as well as all men of color. PolicyLink, where I currently work on the program team, has been intimately involved in black male achievement work and will launch a new website and blog devoted to these efforts later this month.
The Leadership and Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement has declared the month of October to be Black Male Achievement Month (#bmaoct.) At the same time, October is also recognized nationwide as LGBT History Month and includes National “Coming Out” Day on October 11. Far from being at odds, this coincidence is a terrific reminder that while we seek to promote and support efforts to create better outcomes for black men and boys in general, we cannot forget to have the conversations within the black community about gender justice, sexuality, orientation and what it really means to be male identified and black in our world today.
LGBT communities celebrated earlier this year with great gains in terms of marriage equality; but the excitement was tempered for black LGBT people with the decision coming down in the wake of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act. This juxtaposition of political concerns exemplifies how black LGBT people often sit at a difficult crossroads of race and social orientation in America. Similarly, it is well established that black men find themselves in the most vulnerable positions in American society at large and the same holds true for black GBTQ men. But the broader injustices of racial profiling, barriers to employment and advancement, health concerns and being targeted for violence, are only made more bitter when black GBTQ men are demonized within black communities and are seen as a “weak link” in the strength of the black family or somehow buying into a white centered and therefore counterproductive view of black male identity.
If it were indeed true that black GBTQ men were a weak link or counterproductive, we would not have the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the writing of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, or contemporary media voices like CNN’s Don Lemon, ESPN’s LZ Granderson or author Keith Boykin. And of course, we would never have had the grand vision and epic social organizing skill of Bayard Rustin to bring together the 1964 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the setting for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Through black male achievement work, we have an opportunity to really grow. Leveraging the insight and creativity of organizations like Brown Boi Project and by exploring deeper connections with broader gender justice movements including women and transgender people, black men can not only lift up what makes them uniquely valuable to our society, but also explore the depths and breadth of the masculine of center orientation. An affiliation with these other efforts will not “de-masculinize” or “ghetto-ize” the crucial work around black men. Rather, these movements should serve as examples to declare a fully developed and enlightened masculinity for black men that does not oppress others to achieve its place in society. This is a male identity that takes responsibility for ending rape; it is a manhood that does not deny or shame same gender love; it is a masculinity that embraces its own femininity. It is father, protector and provider as well as being fathered, protected and provided for. It is, in short, what it means to “come out” as a whole, healthy and complete black male.
One of the most challenging aspects of being LGBTQ over the last 40 years has been “coming out.” Until Stonewall and the Gay Rights movement, it was assumed that if one led “a certain lifestyle” that one would simply stay quiet about it. Rock Hudson, Paul Lynde, Langston Hughes and even people like Eleanor Roosevelt lived lives that clearly included same sex love, but they were not “out” in our modern sense of the word. This was a potential way of navigating the world that was shared with me early on and with all due respect, it was one of the more painful options presented to me when I did ultimately come out to my family. But we live in a different time now.
Right now, it is Easter for Christians and Passover for the Jews. This is a time of gratitude; gratitude for sacrifice and gratitude for liberation. It is the intersection of these two kinds of gratitude that I think makes the coming out experience of LGBTQ people the perfect Easter/ Passover subject for reflection.
In many ways, Christ was faced with coming out, time and time again. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus reveals himself and is revealed as the Son of God. I love this from John 4:25,26:
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
This simple private confession is not a grand proclamation. There is an intimacy here that reminds me of the kind of conversations that BFFs have where coming out can be matter of fact and really just a confirmation of what both people already know. This is the way we would love all of our coming out stories to go.
But then in Matthew 26:63-66:
But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’
Frequently, this is how many people, particularly LGBTQ people of faith, feel like their coming out will go and unfortunately, too often this has been the case. Jesus cannot change who He is, nor does he want to, yet the non-believers wish to deny him his reality. When we come out, this is what questions and statements like “are you sure” or “how can you know” or worse “you are not my child/friend/ family” can make us feel. These are the attitudes that deny and condemn. They put us to death.
Ultimately, Christ’s “coming out” leads to the ultimate sacrifice. But it is this sacrifice that fulfills the prophecy and brings salvation by living (and dying) for a divine truth. Through the lens of the LGBTQ coming out experience, there is a death (of hidden ways and secrets ) that also brings with it the promise of rebirth and an eternal life and legacy in who we truly are.
The Passover tradition, of which I am less familiar, but have been surrounded by since early childhood, may also hold great inspiration for LGBTQ people. The entire story of the Exodus is one of great tenacity and dedication, but Passover, specifically says something. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, in its simplest terms, the Jews’ ‘first born’ are spared during the worst of ten plagues that are brought to test the Jews for their release from slavery by the Egyptians. The first born of the Jews are spared by marking their doors with the blood of the slaughtered spring lamb as a sign to the spirit of the Lord to “pass over” their homes. There are many lambs in the Bible (Old and New Testament). But I draw inspiration from the the symbolism of sacrifice in the Passover tradition where something has been sacrificed so that something else may live, whether the sacrifice be of good things or bad things (true or false gods.) LGBTQ people continue to have to sacrifice relationships, family, jobs, living situations and many other things to simply live freely as they must. These are the sacrifices that are in addition to those that are faced by all people and that remind us to be grateful for being led to our personal Exodus in addition to the historical Exodus of some of our faith traditions.
So this Passover/Easter season, a time of sacrifice, rebirth, gratitude and liberation is a perfect time to also embrace the journey and experience of coming out whether it is past, present or future; whether it is you or someone you know. What is your coming out story?
“Should we create a covenant?” These are familiar words to Unitarian Universalists. I’ve found that in UU circles covenants are as common as coffee and dounts. Bless our bleeding, left leaning hearts, it seems that UUs more than any group are always determined to be in “right relationship” with one another, and we frequently begin any kind of process or group exercise with a “covenant.” Although I admire this eagerness to have level playing fields and understand how this can be a useful tool for helping groups stay on point, the specific use of the word “covenant” is a bit of a hot button to me. As I delve deeper into understanding faith traditions and magnify that understanding in the lens of our modern world, I caution us all not to miss the point of true covenant or how the assumptions built into social covenants can actually harm us.
The covenants that most people are familiar with are those from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament. The covenants entered into between God and Noah, God and Abraham, the Mosaic covenant, the covenant beween Jonathan and David and the Covenant of Christ are those which inform much of our modern interpretation of the word in Judeo-Christian culture. I do not have the scholarly or linguistic heft to venture into a sufficiently deep explanation here of each of these examples, but suffice it to say that these are solemn agreements with God that assume two important absolutes: a) that one believes in God; b) that one believes in a God that believes in them. Again, this is a much longer conversation…
I believe, however, it is useful to explore how in modern relationships, we take for granted a certain culture of covenant that has its own built in assumptions. One of the basic definitions of a covenant is as an agreement. It is first and foremost an agreement that two parties will fulfill certain obligations to one another. One could call a covenant a “contract” of sorts. One key difference however, is that a covenant is entered into between people or entities, or groups who know one another and hold a common goal or purpose, whereas a contract is generally between people who only have that agreement as their primary means of relationship. A covenant serves to bind or enhance an already existing relationship.
The Biblical agreements that I mentioned before are definitely not just contracts. Often involving blood commitment, God (for those who believe and/or follow Abrahamic scripture) surely “knows” mankind. God “knows” Noah, Abraham and Moses. David and Jonathan “know” one another intimately and because of that intimacy, enter into their covenant. The Covenant of God made through Christ, giving his Son for the forgiveness of man’s sin is one made based entirely on God’s omniscience, Jesus’ knowledge of his predestined mission and the acknowledgement man is willing to make in recognizing Christ as savior. There is a lot of “knowing” going on here.
In today’s environment of deep political and social divide, it could be argued that we are in need of a covenant. We are in need of an agreement that obliges us to protect one another and serve a common good. Of course, we already have many agreements that are intended to do this, from the US Constitution to the Kyoto Protocol to NAFTA…and certainly the Judeo-Christian covenants I point to should serve the purpose of making our world safe and nurturing. We put on a good show in treating these agreements like covenants. We see entire governments shaping the course of history based on some of these agreements. We watch people protest for their rights based on their spiritual covenants. But in a world that stumbles along on fractured social relationships…fractured by inequities and ignorance and fear and broad assumptions…even these solemn agreements with God become merely contracts that are too easily broken.
We all know what assumptions make….
The conservative LGBTQI hating Christian assumes that the world should want to function in their paradigm of truth. The rich American capitalist assumes that everyone wants success in the way they see it. Likewise, some of the the best ultra liberal Unitarian Universalists assume that the most damaging force to people of color is white privilege. These are just examples. The point is that “right relationship” cannot happen until you are actually IN relationship with the other party. How well do you know me? How well do I know you? How deeply do our communities of trust actually engage one another in today’s world? Are we willing to sublimate our personal desires, agendas, guilt, etc. to acknowledge the world as it is seen through the eyes of others long enough to offer them the respect and love that would allow us to enter into a true covenant of human dignity? A covenant is not a contract, so much as it is a commitment. It is a commitment to be not just in right relationship, but to be in genuine relationship with one another.
Pardon the mixed cliches here…love your neighbor, but do not suffer fools. If your neighbor is not willing to genuinely know you, and you are not willing to genuinely know your neighbor, you never stand the chance of embracing the true covenant of peace.