The stigma of black suicide is killing us

August 18, 2014 at 10:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

When the first news reports of Robin Williams’ death hit the media, few questioned the report that the country’s most beloved comedian had committed suicide.

This reaction stands in stark contrast to the reaction to the 2012 news of the death of “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius. Cornelius was found dead in his home after committing suicide with a firearm. Many African Americans believed Cornelius must have been murdered by an intruder, even after the official report.

Although one death involved a firearm, and distrust of the government runs deep in our communities of color, the myth that “black folks don’t get depressed, we get the blues” persisted. And, unfortunately, an opportunity to talk about suicide in the African diasporic communities was missed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that black suicide is not only on the rise, but that suicide claims at least one African American every 4.5 hours.

And black males have a higher suicide rate than their counterparts.

I can identify at least five factors contributing to suicide in communities of African descent which, for the most part, go unaddressed: untreated mental illness, homophobic bullying, religion, “Cop-Assisted Suicide”, and the “Strong Black Woman Syndrome”.

Untreated Mental Illness
The leading cause of suicide in African diasporic communities are not only the cultural stigma about mental illness, but also the barriers to mental health treatment. While health care disparities undoubtedly contributing to the problem, so, too, the dearth of mental health professional—therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. According to the 2010 data from the American Association of Suicidology “Just 4 percent of the nation’s psychiatrists, 3 percent of the psychologists and 7 percent of social workers, are black.”

Homophobic Bullying
LGBTQ African Americans residing in black communities are frequently the subjects of bullying, which often times lead to their death by suicide or gang violence.

In 2009 Ms. Walker found her son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of their home after he endured endless anti-gay and homophobic taunts by schoolmates, although Carl never identified as gay.

When I went to speak that year at the Anti-Bullying Community Forum and Vigil in reference to Carl’s death some kids in the black community of Springfield I spoke with about the incident said Carl’s gender expression was queer, implying that there existed sufficient rationale to taunt him.

In 2010, Governor Patrick signed landmark anti-bullying legislation , cementing the state’s commitment to changing the culture of bullying in schools, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) was involved in the drafting and legislative process from beginning to end.

Religion
Not surprisingly sisters of African descent are one of the largest religious demographic groups. A 2012 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey disclosed that 74 percent of African American women revealed that” living a religious life” was very important to us.

But our very religious life can also contribute to a cult suicide as Sikivu Hutchinson points out in her article “Jonestown Massacre: How Religion Kills Black Women.” And because suicide is such a taboo subject and kept on the “down low” in the community very little research among African American religion scholars and theologians have probed into just how conservative Christianity not only harms our LGBTQ brothers and sisters but also our grandmothers, mothers, and sisters.

“About 75% of Peoples Temple members were African American, 20% were white and 5% were Asian, Latino and Native American,” writes Hutchinson.

“The majority of its black members were women, while its core leadership was predominantly white. As per the cultural cliché, black women like (sole Jonestown survivor Hyacinth) Thrash were “the backbone” of Peoples Temple, the primary victims of Jonestown, and the population with the deepest investment in the philosophy, ethos and mission of the church.”

“Cop-Assisted Suicide”
Most black males in America feel they reside in a police state. The hopelessness it engenders among this demographic group has created a cop-assisted suicide culture.

And, sadly, it’s a suicide method very common among African American urban young males. It’s when a young brother deliberately engages in a life-threatening unlawful act that provokes a cop to shoot to the point of killing. Social stressors such as police profiling, constant images of unarmed black males being shot by police, high unemployment, incarceration and dropout rates, and family and community violence, to name enough, contribute to black male suicide.

“How many young men who put themselves in situations where it’s very likely that they’re going to get shot to death are actually committing suicide?” Poussaint asked in a recent interview on National Public Radio. “There is such a thing as what we call victim-precipitated homicide, which is suicide. The most classic example would be suicide by cop.”

“Strong Black Woman Syndrome”
In July 2010 a groundbreaking study titled “Black Lesbians Matter” examined the unique experiences, perspectives, and priorities of Black LBT communities. And sadly little was known about it.

The report revealed that LBT women of African descent are among the most vulnerable in our society and need advocacy in the areas of financial security, healthcare, access to education, and marriage equality. The study is akin to a census conducted over several months in 2009 – 2010 where 1,596 LBT women from regional, statewide, and local organizations in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver, and also through an on-line survey participated. The study focused on five key areas: health, family/parenting, identity, aging, and invisibility. One key finding of the survey revealed there is a pattern of higher suicide rates among us. Scholars have primarily associated these higher suicide rates with one’s inability to deal with “coming-out” to their faith communities.

When news hit that the lovely 22-year-old Karyn Washington, creator of the uplifting and empowering online site, “For Brown Girls” committed suicide even “Ebony Magazine” had to ask “Is ‘Strong Black Womanhood’ Killing Our Sisters?” With the black community focusing primarily on the “endangered black male” and the dominant culture also not seeing, and hearing

African-American voices on this issue, unfortunately, our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. And, so too is our suffering.

It time to acknowledge that the stigma of suicide is killing us.

 

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
 Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

More Than One…

August 14, 2014 at 10:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Willie Bodrick II, M.Div

The debate continues over Governor Patrick’s announcement that Massachusetts would temporarily aid in the humanitarian emergency to shelter refugee children at our country’s southern borders. This came weeks after celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Museum of African American History, and the timing of such events prompted me to ponder about the upcoming elections in September.

From campaign ads to community meetings and parades, we have come closer to intimately getting to know each candidate one by one and name by name. There are some candidates that are new to political sphere and then there are others that are seeking political tenure. Despite all the political excitement there is still something strange about the 2014 elections in Massachusetts.

If you take a look at the candidates seeking statewide office at the highest level, one thing becomes clear: there are hardly any minorities on either party’s ticket. Cambridge City Councillor and Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Leland Cheung, remains the only person of color on this year’s ballot running for any statewide office.

In a state that just eight years ago stunned the nation by electing Massachusetts’ first African American governor, Deval Patrick, frankly this is an embarrassment. The United States is becoming more diverse year by year, yet there is still a severe underrepresentation of people of color throughout all levels of government. Let 2014 be a wake up call for anyone looking to advance minority rights in the future. Unless we work together, we will not be able to achieve equality and opportunity for everyone regardless their gender, race, creed, sexuality, or religion.

When Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, one year before the Civil Rights Act was passed, he hoped for a nation in which his children were not “judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” In that very same speech Dr. King also critiqued injustice and brought into question whether America’s living was reflective of her language. As a progressive beacon in this country, we too must keep in mind that our reality must reflect our rhetoric as we engage the state of race relations both in Massachusetts and nationwide, particularly regarding the lack of minority representation in government.

Some may argue that Councillor Cheung, who is the son of immigrant parents, does not qualify for the “person of color” tag because Asian Americans in this country have been repeatedly cast as the “Model Minority.” However, I would suggest that you have fallen into the racial trap that mediates the same particular stereotypes that insinuate that everyone who looks Hispanic is here illegally, everyone who’s Muslim is connected to terrorism, everyone who is Black is thuggish or ghetto, and that every Woman is emotional. These problematic frameworks operate as means to maintain and commodify racial division for power and profit. The sad reality is that Asians Americans often struggle with the same levels of poverty experienced by other minority groups, and they too are victims of marginalization, prejudice, vulnerability, and falsehoods.

Yes, there is still interminiority prejudice that is tied to a gloomy history of oppression and conflict that has created crude competition rather than cooperative coalition. Although we should never naïvely forgo such realities, we must overcome these hostile histories and begin enacting meaningful dialogue that will engage all minorities to get involved in governance. For example, the last mayoral race in Boston featured multiple minority candidates that could not find a way to build sustainable cooperative political alliances amongst minorities to address the mutual issues that many of our communities face. We may not have the same history, but this is the United States of America, the land of immigrants. Whether by choice or by force, we come from all corners of the globe and we need minority mutuality as we move America forward.

When I first spoke with Councillor Cheung, I was so impressed with our dialogue about the racial dynamics of this upcoming election that it was necessary to video and make accessible to our community at-large via You Tube. Just as we did with Deval Patrick, our minority communities should see 2014 as an opportunity to make Massachusetts a better, and more inclusive place, with hopes that America will one day be more than a land with space for only one.

 

Rev Willie Bodrick IIRev. Willie Bodrick, II is a 2010 graduate of Georgetown University and a 2014 Master of Divinity graduate of Harvard Divinity School. He is an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition and finds interest in Political Activism, Community Organizing, and Social Entrepreneurship. He is currently the Youth and Young Adult Pastor at the Historic Twelfth Baptist Church and a resident of Roxbury.   Twitter: @willbeamer

Maya Angelou recites her poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” at the Clinton Inauguration

May 29, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(Courtesy: William J. Clinton Presidential Library)

 

Military’s ban on nappy hair

May 8, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Photo of female hair styles considered "unauthorized" by the US Army.   (Photo: US Army)

Photo of female hair styles considered “unauthorized” by the US Army. (Photo: US Army)

Guest posting by Rev. Irene Monroe

African American female service members comprise the highest percentage of women in the military. And with these sister servicewomen enlisting in the military at higher rates than their white, Asian and Latina sisters to serve and die for our country, the last thing the military should be squawking about is our hair.

In March the Army released an updated policy on appearance and grooming, titled “AR 670-1,” limiting or banning hairstyles- braids, twists, cornrows, and dreadlocks- inimitable to African American women.

The Congressional Black Caucus outraged sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stating ” that the Army policy’s language was ‘offensive’ and ‘biased.”’

In 2007, Imus who has always been an equal opportunity offender with his no-holds-barred humor has assailed broad demographics of the American public, from heads of states to homeless citizens. When Imus ridiculed the Rutgers women’s basketball team he hurled a gender specific racial invective about black women’s hair that struck a raw nerve in the African American community. He ridiculed the Rutgers women’s basketball team by not only calling them “hos,” but by also calling them “nappy-headed” ones.

The other n-word in the African American community.

In 2010 Gabrielle Christina Victoria “Gabby” Douglas was one of that year’s Olympic darlings.

As a member of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team, Gabby is the first African American gymnast and women of color, in Olympic history, to win gold medals in the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. When she won the gold the blogosphere blew up expectedly with a torrent of congratulations. But the blogosphere blew up unexpectedly with a deluge of condemnations, too. Douglas’s hair had been the topic of a ton of e-chatter since she stepped onto the Olympic world stage. If Douglas wasn’t privy to what the condemnations was about it, she quickly learned; and it lied at one of the roots of the universal denigration of black beauty – our hair.

This issue of black women’s hair texture is inescapable and continues to dog us women all throughout the African continent and African diaspora -young and old.

When a tsunami of criticisms pored in about Gabby’s over-gelled and under-tamed ponytail, and -yes, that very touchy subject for African American women- her nappy edges, it dredges up and fosters the misperception of how could any put-together and accomplished black woman with fleecy wooly wild hair be happy being nappy.

While many sisters today might use a hot comb on their hair, hot combs also called straightening combs were around in the 1880’s, sold in Sears and Bloomingdales catalogs to a predominately white female clientele.

Madam C.J. Walker, the first African American millionaire for her inventions of black hair products, didn’t invent the hot comb; she popularized its use by remedying the perceived “curse” of nappy hair with her hair- straightening products that continues to this day bring comfort to many black women.

While the etymology of the word “nappy” derives from Britain meaning a baby’s cotton napkin or diaper, in America the word became racialized to mean unkempt, wild and wooly hair associated with people of African descent. And used to demean and to degrade African Americans.

But even with good intentions the land mine can be detonated. In 1998 Ruth Ann Sherman, a white third grade teacher, who taught in a predominately African American and Latino elementary school in Brooklyn, learned that lesson when she read African American author Carolivia Herron’s award winning children’s book “Nappy Hair, ” a celebration of black hair.

And let not forget, the Sesame Street controversial song “I Love My Hair,” a remix of “Whip My Hair” sung by Willow Smith, daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Intended to promote self-pride, the song received mixed reviews within the African American community with some critiquing it as a black accomodationist version of white girls flinging their tresses.

Renowned African American feminist author Alice Walker spoke about the constraints of hair and beauty ideals in African American culture. In her address “Oppressed hair puts a ceiling on the brain” Walker, at the all-women’s historically black college Spelman in Atlanta in April 1987 stated the following:

“I am going to talk to you about hair. Don’t give a thought to the state of yours at the moment. This is not an appraisal…. it occurred to me that in my physical self there remained on last barrier to my spiritual liberation: my hair…. I realized I have never been given the opportunity to appreciate my hair for it true self…Eventually, I knew precisely what hair wanted: it wanted to grow, to be itself…to be left alone by anyone, including me, who did not love it as it was.”

While many African American women today wear their hair in afros, cornrows, locks, braids, Senegalese twists, wraps or bald, our hair -both symbolically and literally- continues to be a battlefield in this country’s politics of hair and beauty aesthetics within and outside of the African American community.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

 

The Other “B” Word…

March 17, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Credit: #BanBossy

Credit: #BanBossy

Commentary by Callie Crossley, host, “Under The Radar with Callie Crossley”
Originally broadcast on WGBH Radio, 89.7 – March 17, 2014

Girls start to hear it in their early years, and women hear it all their lives. The b word. No, not that one, b for bossy, the other equally offensive b word.

Little girls who are assertive are called bossy, little boys, leaders.  Research confirms that between elementary and high school, girls self esteem drops 3 and half times more than boys. Girls seem to worry that asserting themselves will make them seem bossy, even as they are less likely to be called on in class, and more likely to be interrupted. Evidence is they self censor, move themselves out of leadership roles, and eventually silence their voices in an effort to be liked.

Now a high profile campaign—called ban bossy– is aimed at changing that. Leading ban bossy–Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, and founder of the nonprofit organization leanin.org, and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. Writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the two recounted being branded bossy early on. In elementary school one of Sandberg’s teachers told her friend to stay away from her because “nobody likes a bossy girl.” Chavez remembers telling her playmates that she wanted to lead their game, and being told, “ you are really bossy Anna.” Both women point to evidence that shows labeling diminishes how girls and women see themselves as leaders, and equally important, how others dismiss their leadership abilities.

By the time these ‘bossy’ girls become women, they are regularly assaulted by an arsenal of jagged verbal stones, which include stubborn, difficult, angry, pushy, aggressive, and the all-encompassing bad attitude. Verbal assailants also use profanity as a weapon; they attack using the other b word former first lady Barbara Bush famously described as rhyming with witch.

Being called bossy could have shaken my sense of self, but I was lucky to come from a long line of women who were not easily cowed, and taught me to stand up and speak up. My mother, grandmother, aunts, and cousins celebrated women’s leadership, as did my Dad. He married the outspoken woman he wanted his two daughters to be.

High profile women, including three world leaders, two Supreme Court Justices and A list entertainers have helped the ban bossy campaign go viral.  Superstar Beyoncé’s empowering message  “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.”

Add my name to the more than 100 thousand who’ve have taken the pledge. These last weeks of women’s history month, let’s honor the girls and women — now formerly known as bossy, with new words– audacious, brave, bold, confident. Ban bossy. Pass it on.

 

Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 1.42.59 PMCallie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, which airs on Sunday evenings from 6:30 to 7 p.m. on WGBH, 89.7 FM. Crossley was formerly the host of the daily mid-day radio program, The Callie Crossley Show, which aired on WGBH 89.7FM for 2 1/2 years for which she was the host/executive editor.

Crossley is also a public speaker and television and radio commentator for national and local programs. She is a regular contributor on National Public Radio’s The Takeaway and Fox 25 Boston’s Morning Show, and she often guests on CNN’s Reliable Sources and PBS NewsHour. Crossley appears weekly on WGBH-TV’s Beat the Press, a media criticism program that examines local and national media coverage, and Basic Black, a public affairs show focusing on current events and cultural issues concerning black communities. Ms. Crossley was a producer for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, the critically acclaimed documentary series, which earned her an Oscar nomination and major film and journalism awards, including a National Emmy and a DuPont-Columbia Gold Baton Award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of broadcast journalism.

Crossley has been awarded two Harvard Fellowships: a Nieman fellowship and a fellowship at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, and holds an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Pine Manor College and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Cambridge College.

She was one of the six women in 2011 to receive the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts’ Leading Woman Award. She is also one of 125 women featured in the 2011 book “Boston, Inspirational Women,” photographs by Bill and Kerry Brett, text by Carol Beggy.

 

Que(e)rying Michael Sam’s Timing to Come Out

February 19, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Michael Sam

When NBA center Jason Collins came out last year, it was the moment the professional sports world had been waiting for —a gay athlete currently playing in a major league who comes out publicly.

And what many may not have known is that the professional sports world had also hoped it would be an African American male.

What the African American community and the professional sports world of football and basketball (which is comprised of a brotherhood of predominantly men of African descent) desperately needed was an openly gay male professional athlete. One who would bravely dispel the myth that there are no queer athletes in those sports, while assisting the NFL and NBA leagues in their attempts to denounce homophobic epithets, bullying and discrimination.

With Jason Collins, the NBA got their Great Black Hope.

And if Collins had any worry of what his coming out moment would do to him career-wise he didn’t say. He was 34 and had been in the sport since 2001 when he came out last year. His was a seemingly easy and accepting public coming out moment. Except for one point, Collins has not been signed by an NBA team.

Whether this is due to his age and status as a player, or his sexual orientation, or both, is unknown. At any rate, he came out and his playing days ended.

Michael Allan Sam, Jr has come out, and  the NFL has their Great Black Hope.

On the surface, the public support of Sam by the league is overwhelmingly positive.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

In April 2013, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent the NFL’s sexual orientation anti-discrimination and harassment policy to all club presidents, coaches and general managers who made it available to all players and staff.”

But for Sam, the 24 year old defensive end, awaiting the NFL draft in May, his coming out will be the true litmus test if the league is indeed open and accepting of its gay players.

While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has publicly taken a tough stance in stamping out homophobia in the league, stating “not just tolerance, but acceptance” of its gay players, it’s, however, coaches, general managers and the testosterone-infused locker room culture espousing a different tune.

Behind closed doors, turned-off mics, unnamed personnel, and anonymous quotes the homophobic murmurings of the NFL have come out publicly.

Immediately commenting on Sam’s announcement, an NFL assistant coach flat out stated, “that football is still a man’s-man game.”

Another assistant coach fallaciously explained how gay players are a distraction and disruption to the dynamics of team cohesion and locker room morale. This argument is eerily reminiscent of the military’s racial discrimination of African Americans and its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy (DADT).”

He was quoted anonymously, of course, stating the following:
“There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that…. There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction. That’s the reality. It shouldn’t be, but it will be.”

The privacy rationale implied in this quote is similar to what the military once upheld. And it’s another argument that advocates for the banning of LGBT athletes. With the military before DADT was repealed this argument stated that all service members have the right to maintain at least partial control over the exposure of their bodies and intimate bodily functions. In other words, heterosexual men deserve the right to control who sees their naked bodies.

According to the privacy rationale argument, the “homosexual gaze” in same sex nudity does more than disrupt unit cohesion. It supposedly predatory nature expresses sexual yearning and desire for unwilling subjects that not only violate the civil rights of heterosexuals, but also cause untoward psychological and emotional trauma.

The hyper-masculine posturing of these NFL players with their ritualized repudiation of LGBTQ people and denigration of women allows these homophobic athletes to feel safe in the locker room by maintaining the myth that all the guys gathered on their teams are heterosexual, and sexual attraction among them just does not exist.

Also, this myth allows homophobic athletic men to enjoy the homo-social setting of the male locker room that creates male-bonding—and the physical and emotional intimacy that goes on among them displayed as slaps on the buttocks (check out comedians Key and Peele skit “slap ass’), hugging, and kissing on the cheeks in a homoerotic context―while such behavior outside of the locker would be easily labeled as gay.

While it is believed that the “homosexual gaze” would be the root cause for the disruption of the team cohesion, it is actually the macho hyper-masculine male heterosexual culture embedded in this locker room milieu.

LGBTQ athletes, like Sam, must constantly monitor how they are being perceived by teammates, coaches, endorsers and the media in order to avoid suspicion. They are expected to maintain a public silence and decorum so that their identity does not tarnish the rest of the team.

Already, rumors have it that Sam has gone down in the draft. Questions afloat if he can play situational pass rusher, or outside linebacker. Or, if Sam is the NFL’s requisite size to play defensive end.

Should no team sign him on, the NFL is sending the message that no time is the right time to be out in this sport.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

How media and research institutions contribute of HIV/AIDs in black communities

December 5, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day!

However, here in the U.S. you would have scarcely known. Much of the focus was, and still is, on developing countries.

There was no reportage of it in key newspapers like the Boston Globe and the New York Times. None of the major television networks ran stories, and neither did many local radio stations nationwide. Either these stations forgot it was World AIDS Day also here in the states or opted out to not report on it from a local angle.

Some contest, in defense of both the New York Times and the Boston Globe, that the demographic groups most impacted and ravaged by the disease—African Americans and Latinos—don’t read these papers in huge numbers, so why waste the ink. And ink, also, wasn’t spilled on this topic in many independent black, Caribbean, and African local newspapers across the country.

PBS’s “Frontline” ran its last year special “ENDGAME: AIDS in Black America,” with 2013 statistical updates. A large contingent of both African Americans and Latinos have not seen this documentary because it ran on PBS channels and not on cable television networks, like “TV One and “Black Entertainment Television,” that successfully reaches this demographic group. But these black cable networks did nothing either.

Each year fewer and fewer public events are being held bringing to public attention that the epidemic is still in our midst.

While clearly racism is one of the contributing factors to the paucity of reportage on this health crisis issue in major media, so too, is the persistence of black homophobia keeping it on the “down low.”

To date more than a quarter of African Americans have died of AIDS. With the latest comprehensive data tracking the virus coming out of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the numbers are staggeringly alarming.  Although African American comprise of now nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population, we tragically account for approximately 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. But this data doesn’t reflect the wave of recent African diasporic immigrants of the last decade coming from the Caribbean Islands and the Motherland. This demographic group is overwhelmingly underreported and underserved—for fear of not only deportation but also of homophobic insults and assaults from their communities.

According to the CDC in 2010, 1 in 22 African Americans will be diagnosed HIV-positive in their lifetime. And, it’s the leading cause of death among African American women between the ages of 25-34 and African American men between the ages of 35-44. Good news is that HIV infections among African American women only in Massachusetts has decreased for the first time. And this decline in numbers has much to do with the indefatigable outreach by local organizations like AIDs Action Committee while operating each year on a diminishing state funded grant.

According to the Black AIDS Institute’s August 2008 report titled “Left Behind” the number of people living with HIV in Black America exceeds the HIV population in seven of the fifteen focus countries in the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative, an initiative helping to save the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world in countries like Haiti, Dominican Republic, India, South Africa, to name a few.

In other words, if black America were its own country, standing on its own like Haiti or Nigeria, black Americans would rate 16th with the epidemic in the world. And the epidemic is heavily concentrated in urban enclaves like Detroit, New York, Newark, Washington, D.C and the Deep South.

There are many persistent social and economic factors contributing to the high rates of the epidemic in the African American community—racism, poverty, health care disparity, violence, to name just a few—but the biggest attitudinal factor still contributing to the epidemic and showing no sign of abating is homophobia.

While we know that the epidemic moves along the fault lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation, and that HIV transmission is tied to specific high-risk behaviors that are not exclusive to any one sexual orientation, homophobia still continues to be one of the major barriers to ending the AIDS epidemic.

And although famous HIV-positive heterosexual African Americans, like tennis great Arthur Ashe, news anchorman Max Robinson, and rapper Eazy all died of AIDS, and basketball giant Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who is still living with the virus, highlight the fact that anyone can contract the virus, many still see the epidemic as a “white gay disease,” suggesting being gay or having sex with someone of the same gender puts you immediately at high risk.

One of the reasons, in my opinion, is how data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is read and reported on the epidemic that perpetuates the confusion.

For example, “MSM,” is the CDC clinical control-coined acronym for “men who have sex with men,” but it should not be used to depict openly gay or bisexual men individually or collectively. And the controversial term “Down Low” (DL) wrongly accusing black MSMs for spreading the virus throughout the African American heterosexual community should not be used to depict openly gay or bisexual men individually or collectively.

But many conflate the subgroups to be a synonym for “MSMs.” So when the CDC puts out the data that MSM of all races remain the group most severely affected by HIV, and white MSMs account for the largest number of annual new HIV infections of any group in the U.S., followed by MSMs of African descent, many in the African American community still think of the epidemic as a “white gay disease.” And with more than 18,000 people with AIDS still dying each year in the U.S. where gay, bisexual and MSM represent the majority of persons who have died, the homophobia stays in place.

While the data may be accurate about this subgroup of men in the African American community, the story is, at best, incomplete, and, at worse, intentionally skewed. Although awareness of HIV/AIDS in anemic throughout communities of the African diaspora, it is gay, bisexual and MSM who are more easily identified with having the virus because they have been and are continually tracked in CDC studies; thus, there is more data on these groups.

But the truth is this: while over 600,000 African Americans are now living with HIV, and as many 30,000 newly infected each year, there is still within the black community at least one in five living with HIV and unaware of their infection; and, they are disproportionately heterosexuals.

Clearly, as long as we continue to think of HIV/AIDS as a gay disease, we’ll not protect ourselves from this epidemic.

But we will also continue to not protect ourselves if media don’t report on it and research institutions skew its data on it.

Rev. Irene Monroe Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

The views expressed are those of the author.

Alec Baldwin & Homophobia: A Race-Based Double Standard?

November 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Alec Baldwin has done it again—caught on camera in a cussing tirade hurling anti-gay
epithets at the vulturous paparazzi on his heels.

This time Baldwin’s accused of spewing out the phrase, “c-ksucking f-g.”

Baldwin doesn’t deny using the word “c-ksucking.” Some argue his admission is merely because he can’t lie his way out. But Baldwin claims that’s not the case because he simply had no clue that the word was a homophobic slur. And he tweets “I apologize and will retire it from my vocabulary … you learn something new every day.”

However, knowing the six-letter f-word is one—and the deleterious outcome to both career and endorsements of spewing it by those called on the carpet in the past—Baldwin emphatically refutes having uttered it. CNN’s Anderson Cooper has publicly called him a liar, but Baldwin, nonetheless, persists with his tale.

“One is that I never used the word faggot in the tape recording being offered as evidence
against me. What word is said right after the other choice word I use is unclear. But I can assure you, with complete confidence, that a direct homophobic slur (or indirect one for that matter) is not spoken,” Baldwin’s writes in Huffington Post blog titled “Two Requests in Light of Recent Events.”

While we have to credit Baldwin for his staunch support of marriage equality, gay civil
rights, and of also having a bevy of LGBTQ friends, Alec Baldwin has finally maxed out with mea culpas to the community. He now appears, at best, to be a lip service ally and at worst, an exposed closeted homophobe.

“Mr. Baldwin can’t fight for equality on paper, while degrading gay people in practice,”
a GLAAD representative rightly told FOX 411.

Homophobic epithets are so pervasive across our culture that most good-hearted and well-intentioned heterosexual people, like Baldwin, are sadly unaware of the psychological and physical toil they have on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. Too often and cavalierly these epithets go either unchecked or unchallenged as hate speech.

Baldwin’s arsenal of profanity words is a bevy of potty-mouthed anti-gay epithets.

And Baldwin has received numerous passes from the LGBTQ community with his homophobic
rants where others have not. And many in LGBTQ communities of color contest the reason is race-based.

Tracy Morgan, African-American comedian and former co-actor on NBC’s “30 Rock,” with Baldwin is a glaring example.

During a standup performance in June 2011 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee,
Morgan’s “intended” jokes about LGBTQ people were instead insulting jabs:

“Gays need to quit being pussies and not be whining about something as insignificant
as bullying.”

“Gay is something that kids learn from the media and programming.”

“I don’t “f*cking care if I piss off some gays, because if they can take a f*cking dick
up their ass…they can take a f*cking joke.”

Morgan publicly expressed his mea culpas to GLAAD. And as part and parcel of his forgiveness
tour has spoken out in support of LGBTQ equality.

In October 2006, Isaiah Washington got into fisticuffs with “Grey’s Anatomy” costar Patrick
Dempsey by grabbing him by the throat and outing Knight, saying, “I’m not your little faggot like [T.R. Knight].” His public apology to the LGBTQ community for the derogatory comments he deliberately and repeatedly made about his costar T. R. Knight’s sexuality was a disingenuous statement to deflect attention away from his desperate effort to save his job. He lost it nonetheless.

And there are those who have been called on the carpet for using the f-word contesting
they didn’t mean it as an insult.

Case in point: Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended in September 2012
for three games for wearing eye-black displaying a homophobic slur written in Spanish during a game against the Boston Red Sox.

With the phrase “TU ERE MARICON” (sic) written in his eye-black, the phrase can be loosely
translated as “You are a faggot” or “You’re a weak girl.”

Escobar, a native of Cuba, contested that the phrase is taken out of contest because
used in his culture it is not intended to be offensive; it’s merely used as banter in their friendly repartee.

These words are no doubt homophobic because language is a representation of culture.

If a culture is unaware of or anesthetized to the destructive use of homophobic
epithets it re-inscribes and perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Consequently, these ideas and assumptions are transmitted from field houses to playing courts to media and into the dominant culture.

The difference between way the LGBTQ community has treated Alec Baldwin after his numerous outbursts and the way it’s reacted to similar outbursts from celebrities of color is troubling. Anti-LGBTQ language needs to be called out equally no matter where it comes from. Alec Baldwin certainly needs to go to anger management, but he also needs to clean his potty mouth, because it’s not just foul — it’s also homophobic.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

The views expressed are those of the author.

African American history through a life of service: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

August 23, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in Lee Daniels' The Butler

Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

A guest post by Kevin C. Peterson

At the very center of Lee Daniels’ The Butler is the poignantly resonating reminder of the country’s enduring conversation about race–its many complicated tensions, variations, contradictions and resolutions.

The movie, which opened in Boston-area theaters last weekend, is a compelling meditation loosely based on the long career of Eugene Allen, a stoic Southern-born son of a murdered black sharecropper who eventually rose from a restaurant wait boy to the position of maitre d’ at the White House, serving in fine fashion 8 Presidents over 34 years and enduring the protracted pains that are associated with a man of his race and intelligence in a country determined to keep him invisible.

The Butler is based on a 2008 Washington Post article written by Wil Haygood, who formerly worked for the Boston Globe. It chronicles a remarkable swath of American history that highlights the Civil Rights era of the last century where countless citizens, including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., made signal contributions to ending American apartheid and advancing domestic democracy.

The Butler spans Allen’s White House employment, beginning with President Dwight Eisenhower, who desegregated United States military bases, and ending with Ronald Reagan, who signed into law the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Depicted in between are Allen’s (in the movie his name is Cecil Gaines) high hopes in President John F. Kennedy, his ambivalence toward President Lyndon Johnson, and a smoldering intolerance for Richard Nixon. Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are barely mentioned. Through the course of this film, directed expertly by Lee Daniels, one feels the slow, inexorable move toward civic inclusion for which Allen and many other Americans yearned. The change is propelled at times by acts of Southern violence, the slow grind of the political legal system and the gradual melt of old customs weighted in racist mores.

Written and performed brilliantly by a cast of actors in their prime (see Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Vanessa Redgrave as a southern racist and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan), The Butler is an allegory of our post World War II domestic experience, mining the social fears and guilt within our national psyche.

Viewers are prompted to reflect on the rapid changes in our racial terrain over three generations, emerging from de facto racism to a civic culture that would elect the first American of African descent in 2008.

Forest Whitaker plays Allen skillfully. He will likely earn another Academy Award nomination (he won the best actor award in 2006 for his role as an African despot in the King of Scotland) and Oprah Winfrey, who plays Allen’s adulterous and dipsomaniac wife, Gloria, gives a performance that matches the superior effort she gave as Sethe in the movie Beloved. Their oldest son, Louis, portrayed by David Oyelowo, gives the movie added narrative depth, providing youthful angst and rebellious conflict toward his parents.

The Butler falters in only minor areas. It fails to offer fully rounded characters and also treats its audiences as if it is completely knowledgeable of the complex nuances of the modern civil rights movement.

Where it succeeds extraordinarily is in offering its take on universally human themes that transcend race. Its nuanced depiction of the strains between the father and son summons the tragic feelings of loss, alienation and separation. The often cold marital relationship between Allen and his wife is likewise told with realistic pathos and the tang of sacrifice, slow forgiveness, and then enduring love.

There is a political subtext in The Butler about hope and change, the same tagline branding that was reflected in the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign.

The Allens also possessed those sentiments as they bore witness to their evolving lives and ever shifting commitments to each other. Unfortunately, as Haygood reported in his 2008 story, Allen’s wife died just days before the Obama election, but he savored the victory nonetheless.

On a parallel level, change was reflected in Allen’s late reconciliation with his son, an act that gives this picture an overall fullness and resolve that nothing is really over until it’s over, including our enduring struggle over race.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition, an organization focused on civic literacy and electoral justice, based at the College for Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  The views expressed are those of the author.

The queer politics of writing on race

August 23, 2013 at 11:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

When Sue O’Connell, the publisher and editor of the Boston-based LGBTQ newspaper “Bay Windows,” which I also write for, penned her piece “Sharing our experience: White gay men and black men have more in common than they think” a firestorm erupted. Evidence of  the conflagration was not only seen on the paper’s website but it was also buzzed about around town.

Responses to the piece created a deluge of criticism  ranging from thoughtful advice to damning personal attacks. The fury O’Connell’s piece ignited raised for me this query: “Can white LGBTQs suggest or give advice to communities of color from their own experiences of discrimination?”

It’s a polemic that has been avoided because of the politics of political correctness as well as how any discussion on race, no matter who’s stirring the conversation—a rabid racist, the president or Attorney General Eric Holder–invariably inflame our emotions more that inform our faculties.

Many communities of color contest that white people- straight or LGBTQ—show no real vested interest in engaging in this country’s needed dialogue on race. And many whites have confessed their aversion to such a dialogue, stating that while a cultural defense of “white guilt” plays a role in their reticence so too does their cultural  fear of “black rage” for inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

What further complicates the dialogue on race is a perceived as well as a real avalanche of attacks coming from communities of color spewing how whites are as unconsciously racist as they are incurably so.  This, too, leaves the needed dialogue on race in the balance.

But with the dominate LGBTQ community’s continued indelicate dance of white privilege and single-issue platforms thwarting  efforts for coalition building  with communities of color the notion, for some people of color,  that white marginalized and struggling groups (white women, LGBTQ, the poor, to name a few)  in this country might have something  to offer communities of color in terms of advice and/ or shared (not same) experiences appears absolutely preposterous.

And it is also equally absurd to think that they don’t.

But how, then, do we, as an entire LGBTQ community, broach our needed dialogue on race?

My answer: past harms need to be redressed.

For example, civil rights struggles in this country, unfortunately, have  primarily been understood and demonstrated as tribal and unconnected rather than intersectional and interdependent.

As for our queer community one way to broach our needed dialogue on race is to address white LGBTQs appropriating from people of color’s history of struggle  and then whitewashing it as solely their own.

Case-in-point, the inspiration and source of an LGBTQ movement post-Stonewall is an appropriation of a black, brown, trans, and queer liberation narrative and struggle. The Stonewall Riot of June 27 to 29, 1969 in Greenwich Village started on the backs of working-class African-American and Latino queers who patronized that bar. Those brown and black LGBTQ people are not only absent from the photos of those nights but they also have been bleached from its written history. Many LGBTQ blacks and Latinos continue to argue that one of the reasons for the gulf between whites and themselves is the fact that the dominant queer community rewrote and continues to control the narrative of Stonewall.

For many years I taught a college-level course titled “Power and Privilege,” exploring how many of our stereotypes about people whom we perceive as being different invades our lives without much conscious deliberation on our part. Issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, age and ability, among others, were considered, and how such distinctions often lead to an inequitable distribution of political power, social well-being, and the resources available to individual members of society.

On the syllabus I laid out the rules regarding classroom interaction:

1. We will address our colleagues in our classroom by name.

2. We will listen to one another—patiently, carefully—assuming that each one of us is always doing the best that s/he can.  We will speak thoughtfully. We will speak in the first person.

3. Although our disagreements may be vigorous, they will not be conducted in a win-lose manner. We will take care that all participants are given the opportunity to engage in the conversation.

4. We will own our assumptions, our conclusions, and their implications. We will be open to another’s intellectual growth and change.

5. We cannot be blamed for misinformation we have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.

6. We each have an obligation to actively combat stereotypes so that we can begin to eradicate the biases which prevent us from envisioning the well being of us all.

O’Connell blundered in her piece—some on facts and the other thinking the community could have a civil conversation on race.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

The views expressed are those of the author.

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