In “Hot-Lanta” You Stay In The Closet As CNN’s Don Lemon Did

May 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

CNN’s Don Lemon has penned a memoir titled “Transparent” that will come out in September. In writing his book, Lemon said “the decision to come out happened organically.”

One of the motivating reasons for Lemon, 45, now revealing his sexual orientation is because of the suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. Clementi, if your remember, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after finding out that his college roommate and another classmate used a webcam to secretly broadcast his sexual encounters with another male, highlighting the dangers of “cyberbullying” — teasing, harassing, or intimidating with pictures or words distributed online or via text message. Clementi’s suicide along with the other eight lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and young adults went viral in September 2010 and they saturated the media.

In this era of acceptance of LGBTQ people in news broadcasting like Lemon’s colleague Anderson Cooper, ABC’s Good Morning America weather anchor Sam Champion, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her colleague Thomas Roberts, to name a few, one would wonder about the source of the media brouhaha with Lemon’s disclosure, especially since it was not secret at work about his sexual orientation.

“It’s quite different for an African-American male,” Lemon told Joy Behar on her HLN show. “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.”

And Lemon is right. With homophobia running as rampant in historically black colleges and universities as it is in black communities, there are no safe places for GBTQ brothers of African descent to safely acknowledge their sexuality or to openly engage the subject of black GBTQ sexualities.

“I was born gay, just as I was born black,” Lemon told Behar.

But black GBTQ sexualities within African American culture are perceived to further threaten not only black male heterosexuality, but also the ontology of blackness itself.

With certain aspects of hip-hop culture displaying a hyper-masculinity, this male-dominated genre is aesthetically built on the most misogynistic and homophobic strains of Black Nationalism and afrocentricism.

Lemon courageously goes on to explain to Behar another reason why it took him so long to come out.

“And our community is steeped in religion, with the church preaching against homosexuality. I prayed a lot growing up that I would change, that I would be straight,” he said. “But no matter how good I was, how much I prayed and denied what I was, it [being gay] was always there.”

According to the PEW Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 87 percent of African Americans identify with a religious group and 79 percent say that religion is very important in their lives. The Pew report also showed that since 2008, African-American Protestants are less likely than other Protestant groups to believe that LGBTQ people should have equal rights. And since hot-button issues like gay adoption and marriage equality have become more prominent, support for LGBTQ rights among African-American Protestants has dipped as low as 40 percent.

A groundbreaking study in July 2010 came out titled “Black Lesbians Matter” examining the unique experiences, perspectives, and priorities of the Black Lesbian Bisexual and Trans community. One of the key findings of the survey revealed that there is a pattern of higher suicide rates among black LBTs. Scholars have primarily associated these higher suicide rates with one’s inability to deal with “coming out” and the Black Church’s stance on homosexuality.

With the “No Hope Baptist Church of God and Christ” and the “Apostolic Church of Hell” standing front and center in our black communities espousing religion-based bigotry as the word of God, these places of worship are the reasons why Lemon — and we as an African American community — can’t tell the truth about our sexuality.

It’s because African Americans don’t address the homophobic role the Black church plays in creating a “down-low” (DL) culture — not only among its worshippers but also among its “down low” ministers who espouse damning messages about homosexuality — that both Bishop Eddie Long and Pastor Donnie McClurkin can tell their truths.

Pastor Donnie McClurkin, the poster boy for African American ex-gay ministries “testi-lies” that his homosexuality is from being raped; thus confusing same-gender sexual violence with homosexuality. Bishop Eddie Long, one of the Black Church’s prominent pastors of “prosperity gospel” and “bling-bling” theology “testi-lies” that the pubescent boys he nurtured were “spiritual sons” rather than what many of us perceived as one of his many lies stashed in his stained-glass closet.

Lemon resides in Atlanta, and it’s not the old Atlanta of MLK days. It’s the new black Mecca and the new “Black Hollywood” that it’s fondly called “Hot-lanta.” And African-American stars flocks to this entertainment Mecca-in-training as do black urban professionals (Buppies).

But if you’re LGBTQ in “Hot-lanta” you stay in the closet, as Lemon once did.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

Boston’s Connection to Harlem Filmmaker’s Story on Marriage Equality

May 11, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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by Rev. Irene Monroe

African American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities have always existed in Harlem, residing here since this former Dutch enclave became America’s Black Mecca in the 1920s.

The visibility of Harlem’s LGBTQ communities for the most part was forced to be on the “down low.” But gay Harlem, nonetheless, showcased it inimitable style with rent parties, speakeasies, sex circuses, and buffet flats as places to engage in protected same-gender milieux.

And let’s not forget Harlem’s notorious gay balls. During the 1920s in Harlem, the renowned Savoy Ballroom and the Rockland Palace hosted drag ball extravaganzas with prizes awarded for the best costumes. Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes depicted the balls as “spectacles of color.” George Chauncey, author of Gay New York, wrote that during this period “perhaps nowhere were more men willing to venture out in public in drag than in Harlem.”

As expected, however, African American ministers railed against these communities as they continue to do today. Given Harlem churches’ spiritual and sexual stronghold over its churchgoing communities, the church continues, to its detriment, to police the entire community concerning queer sexualities. Any healthy dialogue about God’s love and unquestioning acceptance of LGBTQ people is kept on lockdown, maintaining a “politic of silence” not only about LGBTQ sexualities but also about the various expressions of black sexuality as part and parcel on the continuum of human sexuality.

While most Harlem churches won’t touch LGBTQ issues, various gay-friendly arts venues in Harlem will. And the Harlem Stage is one of them, allowing a safe and uncensored space for black queer expressions.

On April 26 the Harlem Stage premiered the new documentary short film Marriage Equality: Byron Rushing and the Fight for Fairness, allowing the largest public dialogue on same-sex marriage by LGBTQ people of color in the country. New York native and award-winning African American gay filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris directs the film, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign.

Harris tackles the continued hot-button issue in both the African American and LGBTQ communities. Civil rights: black vs. gay. Harris dismantles the false dichotomy of this on-going debate by connecting the Black Civil Rights Movement of 1960s with the same-sex marriage equality movement of today. And he does it by focusing on African American Democratic Massachusetts State Rep. Byron Rushing, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement who, in the past decade, took the campaign for same-sex marriage into African-American communities here in Massachusetts.

Byron Rushing was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1982, and he was an original sponsor of the gay rights bill and the chief sponsor of the law to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public schools. Rushing was also one of the leaders in the constitutional convention to maintain same sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Rushing is one of the legislative pioneers in Massachusetts’s black community to address the topic of LGBTQ rights as a civil rights issue. And Harris’ film, the first of this genre, will keep the topic from slipping into the “down low” culture of black life.

“Like the Civil Rights Movement did 50 years ago, the marriage equality movement is dominating politics in the current national landscape,” Harris said. “I hope the event at Harlem Stage will launch a movement across the country where community members use the film as a way to discuss marriage and other issues of political and social importance, especially as it relates to communities of color.”

With over 200 LGBTQ people of color and allies in attendance at the Harlem Stage, renown gay African American Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart moderated the forum on same-sex marriage with a panel that included entrepreneur and activist Russell Simmons; Cathy Marino-Thomas, board president of Marriage Equality New York; Human Rights Campaign board of directors member David Wilson; myself; and a host of rights advocates, political activists, and religious leaders.

Whereas many African American ministers will continue to hold fast to the erroneous belief that the battle for same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue, there are, however, many African American elected officials like Rushing who know same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue.

For, example, during a June 12, 2007 Capitol Hill ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down anti-miscegenation laws — and sponsored by several straight and LGBTQ civil rights organizations across the country — the Legal Defense & Educational Fund of the NAACP released an historic statement that best explains why the LGBTQ struggle for same-sex marriage is indeed a civil rights struggle: “It is undeniable that the experience of African Americans differs in many important ways from that of gay men and lesbians; among other things, the legacy of slavery and segregation is profound. But differences in historical experiences should not preclude the application of constitutional provisions to gay men and lesbians who are denied the right to marry the person of their choice.”

LGBTQ Harlemites have resigned themselves to have dialogues on same-sex marriage — if not in their black churches, then in various public gay-friendly arts venues throughout Harlem.

And in so doing, they will be standing on the shoulders of their brothers and sisters of the Harlem Renaissance.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

President Obama Announces the Death of Osama Bin Laden

May 2, 2011 at 9:59 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Sunday May 1, 2011 at 11:35 (EDT), President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden in an address to a global audience from the White House.

An excerpt from the transcript of his announcement:

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability.  No Americans were harmed.  They took care to avoid civilian casualties.  After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.  The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.  Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

The full transcript can be found here.

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