The Next White Flight?

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:

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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.

Mega Church

OverlakeWhen 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:

Overlake Christian Church Provides Aids Test to “Remove Stigma”

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 Big Day

This is a big day…for those of us who grew up in shadows, hiding our desires and feeling like criminals for acting on them.  The shame of desire, the social orphan pariah…to have come out of the shadows, into the light of recognition and to have come even this far with the rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8 is nothing short of a miracle.

But I point to this as being a big day not for the actual decisions, but for the direction in which it is now pointing us.  As far as I’ve been able to read the opinions of the court, there is still a lot of gray area.  In fact, I feel as if the court has squarely kicked the ball back to us the people and in particular to faith communities.  WE need to figure this out.  There is no amount of legislation or “legaleze” that will transform people’s hearts.

So the real work must begin.  Lay people, faith leaders, communities, must now come together and have real conversations about how to live peacefully and supportively of each other.  I encourage you to have the tough conversations with each other, but first have the conversation with yourself to ask, not just what you believe, but how do your beliefs play out in a world that is built on love and not fear.  How do you love someone…and I don’t mean love the person/hate the sin, because being LGBTQ is not a sin…I mean how do you genuinely love someone through their difference from you?

May it be so.

Colonial Fool Part II: Let My People Go

“Have they ever hung from trees?” … “Were they ever slaves for 500 years, then I don’t think so. I don’t think [the issues are] equal … Simple as that.” – Rep. Monique Davis

[Rep. Jehan] Gordon-Booth said [same sex marriage] has “really taken a toll” on her and she will keep her religious background in mind when she takes a position. “I’m a Christian before I’m a black woman before I’m a Democrat,” she said. “Before all of that, I’m a Christian.“I have to live with what I do or don’t do. And so it’s a vote I have to take that I can be comfortable with the rest of my life. This is history.” – The Chicago Sun

“Today our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has won!” [Bishop Larry] Trotter wrote. “Pastor James Meeks, Bishop Lance Davis and I are so proud of the God fearing Black Caucus members who withstood the pressure of the LGBT forces and allowed God’s word concerning marriage to remain between one man and one woman in Illinois.” – Chicago Tribune

What the f**k?!

I have spent the last couple of weeks diving into research on what I consider to be the primary issue facing America today: Colonialism.  We are still living in a society that is defined by the conquest of a privileged ruling class where people who aren’t part of that ruling class are either enslaved by their position in society or they are systematically and deliberately eliminated.  This isn’t just about black and white, because America is much more than that at this point, although, it still very much has those shades; this is about cultural power and perceived wealth and concepts of everything from self esteem to personal identity…and yes, freedom.  Sadly, by the statements above by certain black leaders in the Illinois battle over same sex marriage, we once again see how the echo of colonialism, like the waves from a far off storm, have come ashore, yet again.

I love the depth of faith that some people in the black community share.  The commitment to a life lived in community and equality and to a life that is not just about what we ‘have’ but who we are.  In fact I applaud anyone who lives by what they believe, and I will not ask them to change their beliefs.  But a belief is just that; it is not a rule of fact for anyone other than the person who holds that belief.  We cannot experience life in other people’s beings; we cannot tell one another what is ‘truth’.  This is the most difficult part of being human…co-existing.  So when I read statements like those above I have to ask myself “what went wrong?”

Back when slavery was introduced in the Americas (1500’s) the first people bringing slaves to this country (Spanish) were overthrown by their captives. There is a long history of slave rebellion that gets very little airing.  We seem to be sadly content to think that captive Africans were docile and subdued relatively easily by the slave traders…but that’s another blog altogether.  On the contrary, slaves and indentured servants were not easily subdued by any  means.  There were three primary tools used to keep slaves enslaved.  First, it took the physical threat of guns and shackles to “keep them in line” although that didn’t always work.  Countless people died attempting to escape slavery.  This was a constant problem for slave masters and one look at the history of the Constitution of the United States makes it very clear just how big a deal this issue was/is.  The Constitution is the second tool.  The system of “government” that created this great land both embraced and promoted slavery and the classification of slaves as not holding full personhood rights.  This is most notably evident in language of the “Three Fifths Compromise.”

But one tool was more effective than the gun in making space for slavery to continue as long as it did: Christianity.  Christianity was forced on the slaves as much as the shackles and the unwanted advances of horny slave masters.  Slave masters, who were first reluctant to let slaves engage in worship, found that by imposing the Christian religion on them, they could in essence control their minds.  But being far more intelligent than they were given credit for, slaves learned to use Christian worship as a tool for communication, and sustaining themselves as a community.  The black church today owes its continued success entirely to the ability of early Africans in this country having the ability take poison and turn it into a poultice.  But that doesn’t change the fact that Christianity, for all of the good it does some people in the black community today, was unwillingly forced on the slaves.

But we are not living in the 1600’s.  We are not fighting the battles of oppression the same ways.  Specifically for black Americans today, the shackles are frequently financial and the guns we fear are those we turn on ourselves; and sadly the Christianity of the black church serves, in this case, to divide us more than bring us together.  In a twisted way, we have learned to do the work of the slave master to ourselves.  I think the three statements that begin this post exemplify ways in which the black community has turned the tools of colonial oppression on itself and is sinking fast.

Guns – Rep. Monique Davis sounds like a child who is using words she doesn’t understand.  If she doesn’t know or remember that Matthew Shepherd existed, that gays and lesbians have been beaten to death in this country this year, that trans-women are shot at point blank range for no reason, that the Holocaust targeted gays, that laws still exist worldwide that support murdering people for having sex with the same sex, then she probably doesn’t know about how well she fits the model of black people that D.W. Griffith portrayed in Birth of a Nation.  Ignorance like this kills.

Government – Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth doesn’t understand separation of church and state.  Truth be told, I’m not one to really make a big stink about this particular argument because I don’t think we can actually claim that there ever was or will be a truly secular system of government in America unless we chuck all of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and all of our legal procedures and our monetary system that use Abrahamic language, symbology and ethics.  However, If Rep. Gordon-Booth heard someone in the Middle East make this same statement in the name of Allah while quoting the Hadith in the Qu’ran where it makes reference to being stoned to death for sodomy, she might think again.

God – Bishop Larry Trotter hasn’t read a Bible. Last time I checked, Jesus Christ wasn’t fighting any battles and had nothing to “win.”  Language like this is straight out of that other great movement that oppressed people of color…the Spanish Inquisition.  He might want to take into account that the “LGBT(Q) forces” he is so afraid of are not outside of the church and that the same word of God that he’s referring to, saw Lot sleep with his daughters (Gen. 19: 30-36) and allowed (enforced even) slavery.

My point is twofold.  We cannot impose our beliefs on anyone.  The Marriage Equality Movement is not asking to impose anything on anyone, it is only asking to be released from restriction.  My favorite quote about marriage equality is: “if you don’t like gay marriage…don’t get gay married.”  Equal protection under the law, is not forcing people to do anything they don’t want.  We do not live in a society of restrictions.  If we did, we wouldn’t have the KKK or the Nation of Islam or free blacks in America.

My second point is, when are black American leaders going to wake up to the fact that we continue to see ourselves in relation to our colonial past.  The reasons that some black American’s cling to their religion is damaging our own success.  It is time for black American faith and faith in general to grow up.  Our faith can do remarkable work in building bridges, in giving hope, sustaining people through tragedy and helping us explain an inexplicable world…if it is faith that we want.  But faith and religion can and have done unthinkable damage.  No matter what, faith and religion cannot force us to love someone we don’t love; nor can it forbid us from loving someone we love.  Love is basic, and according to my beliefs (and I only take responsibility for my beliefs) love is God given as part of being alive.

A few sources:

Slave Rebellions

US Constitution and Slavery

Holy Qu’ran

Christianity and Slavery

All of Me

When I look at all of the hubbub about next week’s impending ruling on Marriage Equality, I find myself aksing…does this matter to me?  I also find myself asking that question when we are engage in conversation about the economy and the real life impact surrounding Sequestration…again, does it matter to me?  When I hear about immigration reform, I also wonder…what does it matter to me?  And looking at the flurry of conversation out there about the newly elected Pope Francis, I wonder what do any of these issues have to do with me?

For the record, I am a single gay man.  I am also a graduate student in Seminary and I have steady well paid work with a non-profit.  I am a born US citizen who as the child of an immigrant, grew up with great respect for my born nationality.  I am also a Unitarian Universalist which means I am spiritually liberal to a fault.  My bills are paid, I have a nice circle of friends, I have paid for an expensive Ivy League education, I have a car and a roof over my head, good health…in short, an abundance of privilege.

I also however, have brown skin.  I also have, in the past been denied work, purchases and even housing for both my perceived sexual orientation and my race.  I lived with and loved and ultimately split from a relationship with someone who was undocumented here in the states.  I am also a Christian in a denomination that although it has Christian roots, has many members who are quite vocally anti-Christian. To that end, it does not serve me well to ask the question “what do these things matter to me” but rather, “what do these things matter to ALL of me?”

Next week when the Supreme Court hears cases on the un-Constitutionality of Proposition 8 and DOMA, they will be hearing cases that do not affect my current condition.  But rather, these cases and all of the issues I present in this post affect something much more precious than my immediate self.  These issues all affect my dreams.  I aspire to a committed and monogamous relationship with the person I love, who I know will also be male.  No government should be able to dictate or indicate the “validity” of that relationship.  If couples are being rewarded for steadfastly serving as pillars of their communities, either with or without children, but certainly by setting an example of fidelity and constancy, then I want to be able to garner that benefit as well.  I do not want to be singled out as a social pariah because of the gender of who I love.  I want to dream, dream big and know that somewhere, somehow, that my dream might just come true.

This goes for my economic stability as well.  I am not just someone who has had financial privilege, but I am also someone who has been intimately involved in navigating the social systems around aging parents; trying to dance between the goals of being a good son and the financial collapse of 2008 that took the value of our family home and a couple of family jobs with it.  All of me is disgusted by legislators who feel it is more important to spend 5 years posturing and avoiding solutions (while they continue to collect 6 figure salaries) as I bounce from job to job to pay for everything from bankruptcies to funerals and still try to eke out a weekend here and there to feel human.  I dream of security.

All of me feels the heartache of living with a partner who despite his love for me was paralyzed by the fear of being undocumented; someone who has made a good living since his arrival, never done anything dishonest and made a wonderful life for himself, but the system doesn’t work for him.  There is no clear path to resolving his issue and I have to live with the conflict and shame of leaving that relationship in part because of the anxiety and fear and limitations that this situation required we live under.  I dream of a place where two people who love are not asked to make a choice between their homeland and their life partner.

Lastly, all of me means that not only do I personally identify as a Unitarian Universalist and thereby embrace a strong sense of humanism and rational perception of life, but I identify as a Christian.  So within Unitarian Universalism I must always bring these two characters into balance.  Turning to the three legged stool of Episcopalianism (scripture, reason, tradition) I look at the Catholic church with both respect for its adherents and deep sorrow for some of its misguided leadership.  I dream of being able to embrace all of my religion without shame.

So although I am single, Marriage Equality matters to me.  Although I have money, resolving our national budget matters to me. Although I am a natural US citizen, Immigration Reform matters to me, and although I am a Unitarian Universalist, the Pope matters to me.  My challenge to you is this: ask yourself honestly as our world lurches toward important decisions this year and even as soon as next week, how does the world matter to you?  How does the world matter to ALL of you?