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.

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.

One of the tallest trees in our forest

March 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

This month around the country LGBTQ communities will be celebrating Bayard Rustin’s 100th birthday anniversary. Next month, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts will have their annual Bayard Rustin Breakfast. And, last month, “State of the Re:Union,” a nationally aired radio show distributed by NPR and PRX was awarded first place in the Excellence in Radio category from the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association for the Black History Month special they did on Bayard Rustin, titled “Bayard Rustin – Who Is This Man?”

Bayard Rustin

To date, he’s still largely an unknown because of the heterosexism that has canonized the history of last century’s black civil rights movement.

Born March 17, 1912 in the Quaker-settled area of West Chester Pennsylvania, one of the stops on the Underground Railroad, is Bayard Rustin’s beginning. A handsome six-footer who possessed both athletic and academic prowess is most noted as the strategist and chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington that catapulted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King onto a world stage. Rustin also played a key role in helping King develop the strategy of nonviolence in the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), which successfully dismantled the long-standing Jim Crow ordinance of segregated seating on public conveyances in Alabama.

One of my favorite quotes by Rustin is this: “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” For LGBTQ African Americans Rustin is the only open gay hero we have, and for many of us his work and words give us courage to fight homophobia in ourselves and in our communities.

In a letter to a friend explaining his predilection toward gay sex Rustin wrote, “I must pray, trust, experience, dream, hope and all else possible until I know clearly in my own mind and spirit that I have failed to become heterosexual, if I must fail, not because of a faint heart, or for lack of confidence in my true self, or for pride, or for emotional instability, or for moral lethargy, or any other character fault, but rather, because I come to see after the most complete searching that the best for me lies elsewhere.”

During the Civil Rights movement Bayard Rustin was always the man behind the scene, and a large part of that had to due with the fact that he was gay. As Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers and friend of Rustin stated in a review on Jervis Anderson’s biography Bayard Rustin: The Troubles I’ve Seen that Rustin “…was the quintessential outsider—a black man, a Quaker, a one-time pacifist, a political, social dissident, and a homosexual.”

Many African American ministers involved in the Civil Rights movement would have nothing to do with Rustin, and spread rumors throughout the movement that King was gay because of his close friendship with Rustin.

In a spring 1987 interview with Rustin in Open Hands, a resource for ministries affirming the diversity of human sexuality, Rustin recalls that difficult period quite vividly. Rustin stated, “Martin Luther King, with whom I worked very closely, became very distressed when a number of the ministers working for him wanted him to dismiss me from his staff because of my homosexuality. Martin set up a committee to discover what he should do. They said that, despite the fact that I had contributed tremendously to the organization…they thought I should separate myself from Dr. King. This was the time when [Rev. Adam Clayton] Powell threatened to expose my so-called homosexual relationship with Dr. King.”

When Rustin pushed him on the issue to speak up on his behalf King did not. In John D’Emilo’s book Lost Prophet: The Life and times of Bayard Rustin he wrote the following on the matter:

“Rustin offered to resign in the hope that his would force the issue. Much to his chagrin, King did not reject the offer. At the time, King was also involved in a major challenge to the conservative leadership of the National Baptist convention, and one of his ministerial lieutenants in the fight was also gay.

‘Basically King said I can’t take on two queers at on time,’ one of Rustin’s associated recollected later.”

When Rustin was asked about MLK’s views on gays in a March 1987 interview with Redvers Jean Marie he stated, “It is difficult for me to know what Dr. King felt about gayness…”

As a March on Washington volunteer in 1963 Bayard Rustin was Eleanor Holmes Norton’s boss. The renowned Congresswoman of D.C. recalls the kerfuffle concerning Rustin’s sexuality.

“I was sure the attacks would come because I knew what they could attack Bayard for,” Norton stated to Steve Hendrix in a 2011 interview. “It flared up and then flared right back down,” Norton stated. “Thank God, because there was no substitute for Bayard.”

The association of Rustin to the March was inseparable to those who worked closely with him. “The 53-year-old known at the time as “Mr. March-on-Washington” was a lanky, cane-swinging, poetry-quoting black Quaker intellectual who wore his hair in a graying pompadour, ” Hendrix wrote in Bayard Rustin: Organizer of the March on Washington.

“When the anniversary comes around, frankly I think of Bayard as much as I think of King,” stated Norton. “King could hardly have given the speech if the march had not been so well attended and so well organized. If there had been any kind of disturbance, that would have been the story.”

Rustin was a complex man and often times seemingly a contrarian. To the surprise of many, Rustin was an opponent to “identity politics,” and most likely would not have been waving a rainbow flag or approve of queer studies departments at colleges and universities. To many conservative African Americans Rustin wasn’t only “queer” in the literal sense but was perceived also as one who didn’t have any of the approved and appropriate black sensibilities.

“Rustin’s steadfast opposition to identity politics also came under criticism by exponents of the developing Black Power movement. His critical stance toward affirmative action programs and black studies departments in American universities was not a popular viewpoint among many of his fellow Afro-Americans, and as at various other times of his life Rustin found himself to a certain extent isolated,” Buzz Haughton wrote in his article “Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Leader,” in the Fall 1999 issue of Quaker Studies.

As we comb through the annals of history more of us are learning that Rustin was also one of the tallest trees in our forest.

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.)

Perhaps the most dangerous black gay man

February 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Cleo Manago is despised by some in the LGBTQ community. Descriptors like “homo demagogue,” contrarian, separatist, and anti-white are just a few that can be expressed in polite company.

But to a nationwide community of same-gender loving (SGL), bisexual, transgender and progressive heterosexual African American men, Manago is the MAN!, seen as a visionary, game changer and “social architect” focusing on advocating for and healing a group of men that continues to be maligned and marginalized—brothers.

“Without an understanding of the deep hurt that Black men have around issues of masculinity and their role as a man, you can’t hope to eliminate anti-homosexual sentiment in Black men. There has been no national project to address the psychic damage that White supremacy has done to Black men. But there is always some predominantly White institution waiting, ready to pounce on a Black man for behaving badly,” Manago wrote in his recent article “Getting at the Root of Black “Homophobic” Speech” in which he castigates GLAAD for demanding that CNN fire Roland Martin for misconstrued homophobic tweets.

Unapologetically Afrocentric in his approach in addressing social, mental, and health issues plaguing communities of black men, Manago has created a national study on black men and has built two organizations that for more than two decades have had national recognition and have successfully secured millions of dollars in funding—Critical Thinking and Cultural Affirmation Study, AmASSI Centers for Wellness and Culture, and Black Men’s Xchange.

Manago’s study, called “Critical Thinking and Cultural Affirmation” (CTCA), is a culturally informed preventive health strategy that addresses positive mental, sexual, and community health, encouraging self-actualization, cultural empowerment, and responsibility. CTCA has been in practice since 2002.

As the founder and CEO of AmASSI Health and Cultural Center, Manago was one of the first innovators in the AIDS movement to provide HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services utilizing a psychosocial, mental health model that was culturally specific to the African American identity. AmASSI has been in practice since 1989.

Manago is the national organizer and founder of Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), the oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to promoting healthy self-concept and behavior, cultural affirmation, and critical consciousness among SGL, bisexual, transgender males, and allies, with chapters in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Orange County, Detroit, Denver, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Black Men’s Xchange has been funded by the Center for Disease Control’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative program. And the CDC positions BMX alongside other legacy community black organization such as the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and American Urban Radio Networks. BMX has been in practice since 1989.

A native of South Central Los Angeles, Manago began a vocation in social services at the age of 16. While many would call him a social activist, he does not like the term “activist” applied to him because he considers black LGBTQ activism tethered to mainstream white privilege, ideology, and single-focused gay organizations that is culturally dissonant and limited in scope to be meaningful and beneficial to not only African American LGBTQ communities but also to the larger black community.

To many in Manago’s community and beyond, he’s an unsung hero greatly misunderstood and intentionally marginalized by LGBTQ powerbrokers.

One factor, Manago would contest, contributing to his marginalization was the debacle between him and Keith Boykin during the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.

In commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, the Nation of Islam decidedly chose one LGBTQ organization over another. And that decision highlights much of the political, class, and ideological differences in the African-American LGBTQ community at large.

Keith Boykin—the founder and then president of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), an African-American LGBTQ civil rights organization of which I was then a board member—was dropped from the event. But Cleo Manago was not.

Both men had much to bring to the 2005 Millions More March, but Manago mirrored the fundamental sentiment of Farrakhan’s theology—a conscious separation from the dominant white heterosexual and queer cultures—and he spoke at the historic 1995 Million Man March.

In his open letter, Manago wrote in 2005: “BMX knows the Nation of Islam (NOI). It’s an independent black organization not funded by the HRC or any white folks. The NOI does not, nor does it have to succumb to White gay press laden, black homosexual coercives who want to ram a white constructed gay-identity political agenda—that even most Black homosexuals reject—down their throats. Over the years, several members of the Nation of Islam have been to BMX. As some of you may know, almost 10 years ago BMX co-sponsored a very successful transformative debate on Homosexuality in the Black community with the Nation in L.A.”

As a queer separatist organization, many LGBTQ African-Americans applaud BMX for being unabashedly queer and unapologetically black. But the terms “queer” and “gay” are not descriptors Manago and his organization would use to depict themselves. That would be “same-gender-loving” because terms like “gay” and “queer” uphold a white queer hegemony that Manago and many in the African-American LGBTQ community denounce. As a matter-of-fact, he is credited with coining the terms “men who have sex with men” (MSM) and “same-gender-loving” (SGL).

To some in the LGBTQ community Manago is a dangerous demagogue. But to tens of thousands African American brothers and generous funders he’s seen as a brother driven with a dream. And he’s perhaps dangerous because he’s effecting change.

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.)

The messology of Bishop Eddie Long

October 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

When preachers pontificate too much from on High about the sins of homosexual sex, the cautionary tale is to be careful of what you say, because your words invariable will come back to bite you, as we are seeing with Bishop Eddie Long.

Called by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement,” it came as a surprise, sending seismic shock waves across the African American church community, when news broke about Long’s alleged sexcapdes with two male teenagers — followed immediately by a third allegation — while they were enrolled in his ministry for teen boys.

Long is a flamboyant man, and likes to flaunt his gifts. As one of the Black Church’s prominent pastors of “prosperity gospel,” his bling-bling theology unabashedly flashes not only his Gucci sunglasses, gold necklaces, and Rolex watches, but also unapologetically flashes his muscular physique in the latest too tight-fitting spandex workout togs.

Long has been rumored, for some time, to be gay. And for those inside of Long’s stained-glass closet at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, they have known of the bishop’s penchant for pubescent boys, whom he calls “spiritual sons.”

Sadly, however, Long, like too many African American ministers on the “down low,” (or DL) has erected his bully pulpit denouncing gays while using his clerical authority to court and to covet them.

During his infamous anti-gay march in December 2004 titled “Stop the Silence,” which denounced same-sex marriage, Long stated, “In essence, God made Eve to help Adam replenish the earth. Woman has the canal…everything else is an exit. …Cloning, homosexuality, and lesbianism are spiritual abortions. Homosexuality is a manifestation of the fallen man.”

Long’s is not alone — to be gay or rumored to be gay — in denouncing homosexuality.

For example, speaking at the November 2009 Church of God in Christ’s 102nd Holy Convocation International Youth Department Worship Service, Pastor Donnie McClurkin told his audience, “God did not call you to such perversions. Your only hope is Jesus Christ. Were it not for this Jesus I would be a homosexual today. This God is a deliverer.”

The poster boy for African American ex-gay ministries attributed his homosexuality to being raped twice as a child, first at age eight at his brother’s funeral by his uncle, and then at age thirteen by his cousin, his uncle’s son. Confusing, however, same-gender sexual violence with homosexuality, McClurkin misinterpreted the molestation as the reason for his gay sexual orientation. McClurkin “testi-lies” that his cure was done by a deliverance from God and a restoration of his manhood by becoming the biological father of a child.

Another example lies in Bishop T.D. Jakes, the internationally known African American evangelical star dubbed as the black Billy Graham. His ranting against homosexuality came back to bite him in January 2009 in the form of his oldest son’s, Jermaine Jakes, arrest in a sex sting for openly soliciting gay sex from an undercover vice detective in a public park just a few blocks from his church, The Potter’s House, a 30,000 member megachurch in Dallas, Texas.

Bishop Jakes is now tight-lipped on the topic of homosexuality, because of his son’s arrest.

In September 2005 activists Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick kicked off a five-part series, “Outing Black Pastors,” on their respective websites querying publicly whether prominent pastors in the black community, like Bishops T.D. Jakes, Donnie McClurkin, and Eddie Long, who constantly rail against LGBTQ people, were actually struggling with their own sexual orientation.

The mess Long now finds himself in is emblematic of the Black Church’s down low “politic of silence” concerning sexuality.

J.L. King who became the country’s poster boy by exposing the behavior in his best-seller, stated, not surprisingly, that many of his partners were churchmen. “There are gospel conventions throughout the nation for churches. There is one for ushers, Sunday school departments, music departments and ministers. …These events allow men to meet men and to have sex while away from their hometowns. Many midnight concerts turn into affairs where brothers are cruising each other. I’ve been there, seen it, and done it,” King states in his book.

Many African-American men on the DL say there are two salient features that contribute to this subculture — white gay culture and the Black Church.

The Black Church’s conservative gender roles and anti-gay theology create a hidden homosocial community of DL male clerics who find camaraderie at black pastors or at all-male conferences where Long took his spiritual sons.

Long has not created the homophobic climate in the Black Church, but he has certainly contributed to it.

With a membership of over 25,000, Long’s church is the largest African American megachurch in the Southeast. And as the largest it can begin, with his sex scandal, to effect change by embracing a liberating, healthy, and holistic understanding of human sexuality.

And in so doing, Long would be creating a model of pastoral care not only for heterosexuals or homosexuals, but most importantly, for himself.

Reverend 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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