Ferguson… the birth of a civil rights movement, one year later.

August 4, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Ferguson_large

Guest commentary by Callie Crossley

It happened on an ordinary street on an ordinary Saturday afternoon in the waning days of summer. In just a few days the nation will mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown– an ordinary teenager whose death sparked an extraordinary protest. And a new chapter in American social justice.

We recall the key details—the small town of Ferguson Missouri– the scene where the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down after a disputed interaction with police officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s body was left for hours uncovered in the street. The shooting inspired peaceful marches calling for the officer’s arrest. Daily peaceful demonstrations provoked into episodic violence by some angry protestors. The grass roots Hands Up United was born in the streets of Ferguson, and it was here Black Lives Matter, founded during the 2012 Trayvon Martin protest, gained a national and international profile.

Ferguson has become shorthand, a way to reference the seeming epidemic of unarmed young black men, and some black women, killed in police encounters. Ferguson is also now a symbol of the civil rights movement of the 21st century.

What happened a year ago in Ferguson cemented the grass root efforts from moment to movement. In Cleveland, Ohio recently, evidence that the movement’s organizers are focused on long-term strategies. The National Convening of the Movement for Black Lives drew more than 1200 activists from communities across the country. Gathered– groups including Not One More, Say Her Name, Cleveland Action, and Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. Members of these mostly online campaigns met face to face for the first time. First order of business– a communal exhaling, as Get Equal’s Angela Peoples described– “ to do some of the grieving and the healing we’ve been unable to do.” Acknowledging the emotional toll of responding to one racially charged incident after another. Conference organizers had no way of knowing that their long planned meeting would coincide with the burial of Sandra Bland, the latest victim of a fraught black/ white police interaction.

Two things remain with me as I think about the legacy of Ferguson. One– Michael Brown seemed days away from beating the odds. He was enrolled in college with plans to become a heating and cooling engineer.
And second— months after Brown was killed the Justice Department confirmed the Ferguson Police Department committed horrific incidents of police brutality against African- American residents.

I’m also pondering a sad irony as the Ferguson one-year anniversary approaches. Black Lives Matter conference attendees were confronted by an all too common occurrence as they finished their meeting. Just outside the conference site, a Cleveland transit officer was arresting an apparently intoxicated 14-year-old black kid. In an attempt to disperse the gathering crowd, the officer randomly pepper-sprayed nearby witnesses. A passerby videotaped and posted the scene. An investigation is underway. And so it goes.

AUDIO:

Callie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, which airs on Sunday evenings from 6:00 to 7 p.m. on WGBH, 89.7 FM. Her weekly commentaries air Mondays during Morning Edition.

Callie CrossleyCrossley is also a public speaker and television and radio commentator for national and local programs, including CNN’s Reliable Sources, the PBS NewsHour and PRI’s The Takeaway. She also appears weekly on WGBH-TV’s Beat the Press, examining local and national media coverage, Basic Black, focusing on current events concerning communities of color, and Fox 25 Boston’s Morning Show. She has two Harvard Fellowships–from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Crossley was a producer for Blackside Inc.’s “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,”which earned her an Oscar® nomination, a National Emmy, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award (Gold Baton). For Boston Public Radio, Crossley has earned the AP, Edward R. Murrow and Clarion awards.

Lessons from Ferguson

September 26, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo credit: Associated Press.

Photo credit: Associated Press.

 

September 26, 2014

WGBH News’ Morning Edition host Bob Seay spoke with Peniel Joseph, professor of history at Tufts University and author of Stokely: A Life, about the continuing lessons from Ferguson, MO about race, civil rights in the aftermath of the killing of an unarmed black youth.

“What you saw in Ferguson in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting was a really militarized police response, where the police were looking at the residents of Ferguson as local enemy combatants instead of citizens who you’re trying to proactively solve situations with,” observed Joseph.

The full conversation from WGBH News:

 

For more on events in Ferguson, watch America After Ferguson on your local PBS station, September 26, 2014 at 8:00pm (EDT).  Follow the conversation on Twitter: @BasicBlackNow or #AfterFergusonPBS.

 

The queer politics of writing on race

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

Matthew Shepard and Trayvon Martin: Bigotry knows no boundaries

July 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

The nation is once again divided alone the fault line of race. In a perceived 2013 post-racial society, however, William Faulkner’s prophetic quote “the past is never dead. It’s not even past” of the last century have come back to haunt us in this century.

Faulkner’s quote haunts us because of the recent verdict of the George Zimmerman trial.

The story, as you well know by now, of how George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchmen of a Florida community, was acquitted of all charges—murder and manslaughter—related to Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s actions resulted in the fatal shooting of Martin, a 17-year unarmed black teenager. Martin was perceived to be a suspect because he was wearing the signature piece of clothing that some associate with violent young black males—a hoodie. And he was not only wearing it but also “walking while black” in a gated community.

With no one of African descent—male or female—serving on the jury the nation sadly, once again, has shown to be neither colorblind with an all-white jury nor post-racial with one. And the notion that an all-white female jury would render a fairer outcome than an all-white male jury assumes racial bias is gender-specific.

Just as racial bias isn’t gender-specific, it is also not race-specific. Zimmerman is of a mix ethnic descent (mother’s Peruvian, and father’s Jewish) who identifies as Hispanic.

The question, however, many are still asking even after the verdict is whether Zimmerman was motivated by racism because he, too, is a person of color; therefore, was Zimmerman racially profiling Trayvon?

Racial, gender, gender-expression, and the all the other biases float freely through society—landing on all. Just because you’re a person of color or a member of an oppressed group it doesn’t mean you don’t buy into stereotypes and racial and cultural attitudes. These themes inform our judgments and actions toward others as well as your own group. (Case in point: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.)

As a matter-of-fact, the bombardment of stereotypes has proven to have both subtle and unintended consequences toward people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, class and religions, to name just a few. It’s not just regular people who succumb. Geraldo Rivera, a renowned Latino, stated that Trayvon wearing a hoodie was “as much responsible” for his death as Zimmerman’s pistol. Of course, Rivera later recanted.

A young man has become the symbol of the horrific result of such stereotyping, and is fast becoming the symbol for a movement. Just as Matthew Shepard’s death galvanized a nation, Trayvon Martin’s death is doing the same.

In 1998 both James Byrd Jr., and Matthew Shepard were victims of bias-motivated crimes. Byrd, an African American was murdered by three white supremacists who chained him to the back of their pick-up truck at his ankles and dragged along a three mile asphalt road until he was dismembered. Shepard was tortured, tethered to a fence and left to die because he was gay.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, was passed. The measure expanded the federal hate-crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived race, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, to just name a few.

With Florida’s Stand Your Ground permitting Zimmerman to walk without charges, the Shepard-Byrd statute not only reminds us of how bias-motivated crimes links gays and blacks together but that it’s the best hope for Trayvon Martin and his family seeking justice.

 

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.

 

Black Pride: Distinct and Emblematic

June 3, 2013 at 9:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Screen shot 2013-06-03 at 10.28.38 AM

Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Black Pride reaffirms our identity. And it dances to a different beat.

What started out in Washington D.C. in 1990 as the only Black Gay Pride event in the country has grown to over 35 gatherings nationwide. Each year celebrations start in April and continue to October. Over 300,000 LGBTQ people of African descent rev up for a weekend of social and cultural events celebrating their queer uniqueness. In 2007 alone over 350,000 attended Black Gay Pride events throughout the U.S. The largest events are held in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta, and smaller Black Pride events (like Boston’s) provide an important sense of identity
and cultural heritage.

Sunday gospel brunches, Saturday night Poetry slams, Friday evening fashion shows, bid whist tournaments, house parties, the smell of soul food and Caribbean cuisine, and the beautiful display of African art and clothing are just a few of the cultural markers that make Black Pride distinct from the dominant queer culture.

Just like in the mainstream of American society, cultural acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ communities of color in larger Pride events is hard to come by. Many can experience social exclusion and invisibility in the big events. Segments of our population will attend separate Black, Asian, and Latino Gay Pride events in search of the unity that is the hallmark of Pride.

The themes and focus of Black, Asian, and Latino Pride events are different from the larger Pride events. Prides of communities of color focus on issues not solely pertaining to the LGBTQ community, but rather on social, economic, and health issues impacting their entire community. The growing distance between our larger and white LGBTQ community and these LGBTQ communities of color is shown by how, for an example, a health issue like HIV/AIDS that was once an entire LGBTQ community problem is now predominately a challenge for communities of color.

Also, with advances such as hate crime laws, the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states, and with homophobia viewed as a national concern, the LGBTQ movement has come a long way since the first Pride marches four plus decades ago.

Many note the perceived distance the LGBTQ community has traveled in such a short historic time—from a disenfranchised group on the fringe of America’s mainstream to a community now on the verge of equality. But not all members of our community have crossed the finish line. Some are waving the cautionary finger that within our community to note that not all are equal. Pride events can be public displays of those disparities.

Mainstream Prides have themes focused on marriage equality for the larger community where Prides organized by and for LGBTQ people of African descent have focused not only on HIV/AIDS but also unemployment, housing, gang violence, and LGBTQ youth homelessness. After decades of Pride events where many LGBTQ people of African descent asked to be included and weren’t, Boston Black Pride was born. Boston Black Pride this year will neither be a formal gathering of folks nor will there be a display of scheduled festivities. But it will groove on as it always has for the community, with more individual and impromptu events.

By 1999 Black Pride events have grown into the International Federation of Black Prides, Inc. (IFBP). The IFBP is a coalition of twenty-nine Black Pride organizations across the country. It formed to promote an African diasporic multicultural and multinational network of LGBTQ/ Same Gender Loving Pride events and community based organizations dedicated to building solidarity, health, and wellness and promoting unity throughout our communities.

Also in understanding the need to network and build coalitions beyond its immediate communities, IFBP created the formation of the Black/Brown Coalition. Black Pride is an invitation for community.
Like the larger Pride events that go on during the month of June throughout the country, Black Pride need not be viewed as either a political statement or a senseless non-stop orgy of drinking, drugging and sex. Such an “either-or” viewpoint creates a dichotomy, which lessens our understanding of the integral connection of political action and celebratory acts of songs and dance for our fight for our civil rights.

While Pride events are still fraught with divisions,they, nonetheless, bind us to a common struggle for LGBTQ equality. Black Pride contributes to that struggle for equality, demonstrating an African diasporic aspect of joy and celebration that symbolizes not only our uniqueness, but it also affirms our commonality as an expression of LGBTQ life in America.

Happy Pride!

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.

Jason Collins: The Great Black Hope

May 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

NBA player Jason Collins recently announced he is gay. (Kwaku Alston for Sports Illustrated.)

NBA player Jason Collins
(Kwaku Alston for Sports Illustrated.)

The professional sports world has been waiting for a Jason Collins moment— a gay athlete currently playing in a major league to come out publicly.  What you may not know is that the subtext is that it was hoped the moment would star an African American male.

The African American community, let alone the sports world, desperately needed an openly gay current male professional player.

Collins, who deliberately wore the jersey number, “98,” to honor slain gay student Matthew Shepard during the 2012 – 13 NBA season, is a 7′ 0″ center for the Washington Wizards,
a former Boston Celtics, and is also African American. Closeted for all of his professional playing life, until now, Collins told “Sports Illustrated,” why he finally came out.

“I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy….I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore.”

LGBTQ athletes 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.

In what will now hopefully become the last closet where LGBTQ hide their sexual orientation, thanks to Collins, the sports world’s hyper-masculine and testosterone-driven milieu might actually begin to loosen its homophobic hold, especially among black athletes.

Doc Rivers, coach of the Boston Celtics and African American, is revered among black athletes.

Having coached Collins for 32 games before Collins was traded to the Washington Wizard, Doc Rivers remarks help spread a message of acceptance.

“I’m really proud of Jason. He still can play. He’ll be active in our league, I hope, and we can get by this— get past this. I think it would be terrific for the league. More than anything, it would just be terrific for mankind, my gosh.”

In terms of when and how you come out personally, timing is everything. So, too, in coming out professionally.

The statement, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay” by Collins in the  May 6
issue of Sports Illustrated is as momentous as when renown comedienne Ellen DeGeneres’ quote “Yep, I’m Gay” appeared on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of “Time Magazine.”

Although the time span between the two statements is 16 years, and many more advances and civil rights have been afforded to us lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans, we now see we’re still a nation grappling with the issue.

While both Collins and DeGeneres give a public face and personal testimonies of their struggle of being closeted about their sexual orientation, their messages reaches and resonates within only certain pockets of the American population and not others. And within those pockets of the American populace, the reprisal and applause they also receive for coming out still fracture alone several fault lines, with profession being one of them.

When Ellen so boldly came out in 1997 she received a torrent of praises from the LGBTQ community and our allies. But “her career puttered and stalled out for the three years following her coming out,” and her impact did little for both the world of sports and for many-straight and LGBTQ- in the African American community in understanding the deleterious effects of homophobia. (It was still being argued, as now, in many African American communities that homosexuality is a “white disease” and not a civil rights.)

In the sports world most women athletes, even today, are assumed to either be lesbians and/ or unfeminine.

For example, in many African American communities Olympic basketball player Lisa Leslie was perceived to be a “girly- girly;” therefore, not a lesbian, but certainly a weak and non-aggressive player. Tennis phenoms the William Sisters are aggressive players but too muscular, especially Serena, to be seen as feminine.

LBT women in professional sports have come out of the closet while playing, at least, two decades before the “Jason Collins watershed moment.”

While race plays a factor in the African American community coming to grips with its homophobia, especially in the world of sports, so, too, does gender.

Case in point: Just last month, Brittney Griner, also an African American like Collins, is a 6-foot-8, three-time All-America center and was the number one pick in the WNBA draft announced she was a lesbian. It wasn’t considered a big news story.

In 1997, a pregnant Sheryl Swoopes— three-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time MVP of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)— promoting a heterosexual face for the WNBA was the cover-girl for the premiere issue of “Sports Illustrated Women.” At the time Swoopes was married to her male high school sweetheart. That was considered a big news story. But so too in 2005, when Swoopes came out as a lesbian, becoming the second in the WNBA, and endorsed the lesbian travel company “Olivia.”  She was at the time partnered with Alisa Scott, an assistant coach for the Houston Comets that Sheryl played for from 1997-
-2007. And in 2011, it was another big new story because she was with a male.

To incurable homophobes, especially of the fundamentalist Christian variety type, who pedal their “nurture vs. nature” rhetoric that homosexuality is curable with reparative therapies, they saw Swoopes as the prodigal daughter who had finally found her way home to Jesus.
Many of my heterosexual African American brothers, Chris Unclesho, the man Swoopes was then engaged to marry, was the MAN! A bona fide “dyke whisperer” who had turned Swoopes out to the sexual joys of what it is to be with a man.
But long before Swoopes, Griner and Collins, both tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova came out in 1981.
Martina was publicly taunted for not only being a lesbian but for also not bringing femininity and beauty to her game. Her muscular physique and supposedly masculine appearance killed not only sponsor endorsements but also attempted to kill her spirit in playing the game.

With the sports world celebrating Collins news, Navratilova has joined in voicing her joy in an op-ed she wrote for SI.com.

“Now that Jason Collins has come out, he is the proverbial game-changer. One of the last bastions of homophobia has been challenged. How many LGBT kids, once closeted, are now more likely to pursue a team sport and won’t be scared away by a straight culture? Collins has led the way to freedom. Yes, freedom— because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It’s
only when you come out that you can breathe properly.”

Navratilova is correct in stating that Collins is a “game-changer,” because he stands on all the LGBTQ shoulders in sports before him.

Truth be told, Collins is not the first professional gay or black athlete to come out. He’s not even the first professional athlete to come out while playing.

But in a sports world that has become overwhelming shaped by African American male players and masculinity, Collins coming out celebration has everything to do with timing, gender, race and many more straight brothers embracing their gay brethren.

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.

Was Marco McMillian killed because he was black or gay?

March 7, 2013 at 11:05 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Marco McMillian

Marco McMillian was a trailblazer, and the pride of the Mississippi Delta.

Just in his twenties Ebony magazine in 2004 hailed him as on the nation’s 30 leaders under the age of 30. And in his thirties the Mississippi Business Journal hailed him as one of the “Top 40 Leaders under 40.”

But at age 34 McMillian’s life was mysteriously cut short.

As an openly gay African American candidate running for the mayoral seat in Clarkdale, Mississippi, McMillian was quietly signaling that neither his race nor his sexual orientation would abort his aspirations. On McMillian’s campaign Facebook page is a photo of him posing with President Obama. His campaign motto: “Moving Clarksdale forward.”

If there were anyplace to challenge the intolerant conventions of Mississippi, Clarksdale, the Delta’s gem—known as “a place where openness and hospitality transcend all barriers and visitors are embraced as family” and the birthplace of the blues—would be that place.

Police discovered McMillian’s body near a levee just a 15-minute drive outside of Clarksdale. Mississippi’s unforgettable sordid history of lynching immediately rose up when his family reported that Marco’s body was beaten, dragged and “set afire.” And the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till came roaring back, reminding me of Mississippi’s native son William Faulkner who wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Till was a 14-year of African American child from Chicago who was visiting relatives down in the Mississippi Delta. He was brutally murdered and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman. When his body was discovered it was reported that Till was severely beaten, nude, shot in the right ear, had an eye gouged out from its socket, and a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with a barbed wire before his body was dumped into Tallahatchie River.

While thoughts of racial hatred first erupted as the probable motive for McMillian’s murder, they were quickly erased when McMillian’s assailant, Lawrence Reed, 22, an African American male was found and apprehended in McMillian’s wrecked SUV.

Did Reed murder McMillian or did he just steal his car? Or might there be another tale here, one of a “down low” tryst gone awry?

Being openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) is no easy feat for African Americans, even in 2013 with a LGBTQ-friendly president like Obama having your back. Being from the South just complicates the matter. For McMillian, his family might also be one of the complications in ascertaining the truth behind his death.

Case in point—it is unfathomable to McMillian’s family to think that the motive for his murder was his sexual orientation. His mother, Patricia McMillian, told CNN that only family and friends knew of her son’s sexual orientation. “He did not announce in public that he was gay,” she said, adding, “I don’t think he was attacked because he was gay.” McMillian’s sexual orientation, however,was an open secret.

According to state investigators, little is known about Reed or how, if at all, he knew McMillian. To the McMillian family Reed is an enigma. McMillian’s mother stated she never knew him, and McMillian’s stepfather, Amos Unger, speaking for the family, told CNN that “We never heard of him.”

Although the family states that the cause of McMillian’s death was because he was “beaten, dragged and burned” the Coahoma County Medical Examiner Scotty Meredith stated otherwise.

But just as McMillian’s family might be one of the complications in ascertaining the truth behind his death so too might be the state that’s investigating the case.

In Mississippi LGBTQ couples cannot marry and they cannot jointly adopt. There is no hate crime bill protecting a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The state does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In other words, an assault on a LGBTQ Mississippian might very well be ignored as a personal matter.

Meredith told CNN the following about his findings:

“There were signs of an altercation but that didn’t kill him…Beating is not the cause of death. He was beaten, but not badly. This was not a targeted attack. This was more of a personal dispute.”

According to the Associated Press, The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, which supports gay and lesbian candidates for political office, tweeted, “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marco McMillian, one of the 1st viable openly #LGBT candidates in Mississippi.”

And according to Denis Dison, VP of Communications of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, in a HuffPo Live interview there are “approximately 600 openly LGBTQ elected officials at every level of U.S. government, with about 80 openly elected officials in the entire South.”

Had McMillian won his mayoral challenge he would have been Mississippi’s first—the pride not only of the Mississippi Delta, but also of the entire state.

 

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.

Friday News & Notes: November 2, 2012

November 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Editor: Valerie Linson

M. Gertrude Godvin School, Walnut Avenue, Roxbury, MA circa 19th century. The building is currently the home of the National Center of Afro American Artists.
(City of Boston Archives, via Flickr)

 

The Cleveland Uppercut, Lil Reese and camera phone savagery
Akiba Solomon, Colorlines.com, October 29, 2012
In my neck of the online woods, two violent camera phone videos have been making the rounds and sparking disturbing reactions about if and when it’s OK for a man to strike a black woman.

The first video, popularly known as “The Uppercut,” shows a Cleveland bus driver later identified as Artis Hughes, 59, arguing with passenger Shi’dea Lane, 25, for several stops. Witnesses claim that Lane struck and spit on Hughes, provoking the 22-year employee to punch the woman in her face and physically throw her off the bus. When an unseen passenger screams, “That’s a female,” Hughes retorts, “I don’t care! She want to be a man? I’ma treat you like a man.” Hughes has been suspended and charged with assault.
Read more…

National Civil Rights Museum to open balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot
Agence France Presse, November 2, 2012

The motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee where US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 is being opened to the public, a spokeswoman said Friday.

It is the first time that visitors to the erstwhile Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, will be able to stand on the very spot outside Room 306 where King was gunned down by sniper James Earl Ray.
Read more…

The African American debate on voting rights
Jamila Aisha Brown, Guardian.uk.com, September 25, 2012

Not voting in the age of Obama has become almost a taboo subject among African Americans. After record black voter turnout helped elect the nation’s first black president in 2008, the decision not to vote is regarded by many as an affront to the ancestors who died and activists who bled to exercise this right.

They are not worth the color if they don’t vote. They oughta give us their color back. Their African-American credentials should be snatched if they don’t vote,” proclaimed an impassioned Representative Emanuel Cleaver (Democrat, Missouri) in his address to the 42nd annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation before the “voting rights and new age discrimination” panel.
Read more…

Small Wonders: Winning images from Nikon’s 2012 Small World Photo Micrography Competition
Washington Post, November 2, 2012
Read more…

Yes, you can criticize Obama and not be racist
Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post, October 31, 2012
I’ve long argued that Obama’s most ardent supporters should not ascribe racial motives to the president’s critics when none exist. Doing so undermines their argument and the ability to call out real racism — explicit and implicit — when it happens. And at the height of the tea party movement, I made a point of separating those who had genuine concerns about the direction of the country and its mounting debt from the right-wing extremists who latched onto the conservative movement.
Read more…

 

Black ministers follow Obama

May 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

African-American ministers have come out for, and against, Obama’s stance on marriage equality.

LGBTQ activists of African descent have pondered what would be the catalyst to rally those African-American Christian ministers to support same-sex marriage and engage the black community in a nationwide discussion.

Last week the answer arrived in President Barack Obama’s support of marriage equality.

“We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others, but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know: treat others the way you would want to be treated…I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts…” Obama told Good Morning America’s news anchor Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview.

Just as Obama could no longer shrewdly fence-sit on the issue while winking a stealth nod to LGBTQ voters, black ministers, who quietly professed to be an ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, could no longer stay closeted from their congregations.

For these African-American ministers, the liability of Obama losing his 2012 re-election bid is far greater than being publicly outed for not being in lockstep with their homophobic brethren.

“The institution of marriage is not under attack because of the President’s words,” Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago told his church on Sunday. Moss is the successor of President Obama’s former and infamous pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

But for many African American ministers in opposition to Obama’s stance on marriage equality the institution of marriage, at least within the black family, is under assault, and LGBTQ people further exacerbate the problem.

These ministers, some who are allies for LGBTQ civil rights, but draw the line on same-sex marriage, espousing their opposition to same-sex marriage as a prophylactic measure to combat the epidemic level of fatherlessness in black families. In scapegoating the LGBTQ community, these clerics are ignoring the social ills behind black fatherlessness such as the systematic disenfranchisement of both African-American men and women, high unemployment, high incarceration, and poor education, to name a few.

In his homily Moss also stated, “Gay people have never been the enemy, and when we use rhetoric to suggest they are the source of all our problems, we lie on God and cause tears to fall from the eyes of Christ… We must stay in dialogue and not allow our personal emotional prejudices or doctrines to prevent us from clearly seeing the possibility of the beloved community….”

Immediately following Obama’s public support for marriage equality, a coalition of African American civil rights leaders signed their names to an OPEN LETTER affirming their solidarity with President Barack Obama on marriage equality. Signees include Dr. Joseph Lowrey, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Melanie Campbell, of the National Coalition for Black Civic Engagement; Julian Bond, of the NAACP; and Rev. Al Sharpton.

Since Obama has come out with his support many in the black community are working tirelessly to counter the barrage of attacks the he has received from opposing black clerics.

For example, Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, Associate Dean of Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology has a petition going around the country asking African American clergy and scholars  for their support on behalf the president’s stance to counter the stereotype that  “black folks are against homosexuality and gay marriage.”

Another petition going around the country aimed at reaching and informing  African American voters, particularly black Christian voters, about wedge strategies to divide the community this 2012 election year is NoWedge2012.com.

In stressing that the black religious community is not theologically monolithic the petition states “There is a great diversity in Black America on the cultural and theological understanding of sexual orientation than the media or popular culture give credence (recent polls show that African Americans are equally divided on marriage equality). We acknowledge that it was President Obama’s faith that guided his shift in embracing marriage equality. Our community has the ability to hold different positions and not demonize what is perceived to be the “other.” In light of this complexity Black America should hear from candidates with policy positions that are holistically beneficial for our community as a family.”

Right wing organizations like National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which support presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, are actively courting black churches for their strategic 2012 election game plan to drive a wedge between LGBTQ and African American voters. And the black community mustn’t fall prey to.

And the thought of the first African-American president losing his re-election bid because of homophobic views on marriage equality led by black pastors will be tragic. And their action that will be remembered through history.

Obama is president of the United States and not pastor of the United States. He’s president of all the people, not some of the people.

And as African-Americans who have battled for centuries against racial discrimination, we have always relied on our president and his administration to fight for and uphold our civil rights, because too many pastors across the country and throughout centuries wouldn’t.

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.)

Tracy Morgan’s Homophobic Rant Is About Black Manhood

July 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

While I will continue to argue that the African American community doesn’t have patent on homophobia, it does, however, have a problem with it.

And Tracy Morgan, comedian and actor on NBC’s “30 Rock,” is another glaring example of the malady.

During a standup performance this month 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 has publicly expressed his mea culpas to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, and he has now — as part and parcel of his forgiveness tour — spoken out in support of LGBTQ equality.

But Morgan, like many of us who have grown up in communities of African descent — here and abroad — cannot escape the cultural, personal, interpersonal, and institutional indoctrinations in which homophobia is constructed in our very makeup of being defined as black.

And the community’s expression of its intolerance of LGBTQ people is easily seen along gender lines. For example, sisters mouth off about us while brothers get both — verbally and physically — violent with us.

My son “better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I’ll pull out a knife and stab that little n-gger to death,” Morgan told his audience at the Ryman Auditorium.

(Just as the LGBTQ community got on Morgan for his homophobic rant, the community should have also called him out on his use of the n-word. Let’s not forget about the racist rant in 2006 by Michael Richards, who played the lovable and goofy character Kramer on the T.V. sit-com “Seinfeld,” for his repetitive use of the n-word in the context of supposed humor that has, many of us feel, cost him his career.)

CNN’s Don Lemon, who just recently came out, gives a window into the male perspective on homosexuality.

“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.”

Black GBTQ sexualities within African American culture are perceived to further threaten not only black male heterosexuality, but also the ontology of blackness itself, which is built on the most misogynistic and homophobic strains of Black Nationalism and afrocentricism that were and still are birth, nurtured, and propagated in black churches and communities.

The belief that exposure to LGBTQ people and anti-homophobia workplaces, classrooms, workshops and trainings lessens, if not eradicates, the prejudice is true. But for African American males that is not always the case.

For example, life imitated art for Isaiah Washington, but he, like Morgan, went on his black male homophobic rant nonetheless.

In 2007 Washington’s 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.

Washington knows of both the psychological damage and the physical harm the word “faggot” engenders. And he knows it not only from empathizing as an African American where the n-word has been hurled at him, but he also knows of the harm the word “faggot” engenders from being called one.

Washington played the handsome Dr. Preston Burke on the hit drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” but he has taken on many other roles. His most challenging and rewarding role was that of an African-American gay male in the context of the most dangerous environment one can be in — the company of homophobic black men.

In Spike Lee’s 1996 film Get on the Bus, Washington and Harry J. Lennix play a black gay couple (Kyle and Randall, respectively) in the midst of a breakup that gets played out in high homophobic drama in the cramped quarters of a group of African-American men taking a cross-country bus trip from Los Angeles to our nation’s capital in order to participate in Minister Louis Farrakhan’s historic Million Man March — a march that explicitly forbade women and gay men to attend.

Playing the role of a black gay Republican Gulf War veteran, Washington imparts to the group the violent acts of homophobia and racism he incurred on an ongoing basis from his fellow comrades, like being purposely shot at by his own platoon because of both his sexual orientation and race.

In October 2006, 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].” Washington plays out a similar scene as Kyle in Get On the Bus.

Morgan’s homophobic rant is not about LGBTQ people, but rather it’s about the tightly constructed hyper-masculinity of black manhood.

In my brothers cultivating “images of strong black men,” can the brotherhood also include the diversity of their sexual orientations?

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.)

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