What should white LGBTQ organizations do post-marriage equality?

November 2, 2015 at 11:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

With this June’s historic Supreme Court ruling — Obergefell v. Hodge — that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states many white LGBTQ organizations nationwide have been questioning what to do next.

Last month the Harvard Alumni Association and the Harvard Gender & Sexuality Caucus picked up the gauntlet to answer that very question, co-sponsoring a conference titled “What Should We Do After ‘I Do’?”:Conversations on the Challenges That Remain for the LGBTQ Community. ”

Harvard alumni, students, staff, faculty, and friends came from across the country for a day-long gathering exploring the topic, with hopes of perhaps charting a future course in the unfinished struggle for LGBTQ rights and equality.

The challenge of what to do next among many of the conference attendees appeared daunting- reach out to LGBTQ communities of color. And for good reasons.

Any reaching out to communities of color will, undoubtedly, dredge up the history of how this country’s same-sex marriage debate created much consternation and polarization between LGBTQ communities of color and white LGBTQ communities. With white LGBTQ political and religious organizations now attempting to bridge this historic divide, many communities of color are asking what’s in it for them.

While many LGBTQ communities of color will embraced the larger LGBTQ community’s offers to be inclusive, others feel that the white queer community, in 2015, is coming a day late and a dollar short. And any effort now is seen as disingenuous if not patronizing.

The bitter internecine feuds among LGBTQ communities of color and the dominate community – concerning framing the marriage debate and strategies employed – have left both sides battle worn.

And needless to say, the trip down memory lane is a painful one.

With the passing of Proposition 8 and blaming the African American community for its victory at the ballot box, the struggle for marriage quality showed us all that it would be a state-by-state battle, where the demographics of each state indeed came into play.

Some strategists had felt all along that communities of color – both straight and queer- were liabilities, slowing, if not disrupting, the process, progress and momentum in this nationwide culture war. These activists openly stated and showed in their community strategies and organizing that they didn’t want or need queer communities of color, especially in predominately white states, to win the battle.

And their reason was the following:

With enough successive wins from less heterogeneous LGBTQ and straight communities, like Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, and, yes, even my state of, Massachusetts, these judicial endorsements of same- sex marriages not only increase public acceptance of LGBTQ nuptials, but these endorsements could conceivably push more quickly the issue of marriage equality to the federal level for LGBTQ Americans all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, circumventing our internal wars of class, race, and homophobic faith communities entirely.

Sadly, however, many of our state-by-state battles for marriage equality continued, after being advised otherwise, to be framed as a single-issue agenda, addressing the concerns and values of an elite few, regardless of the size of its LGBTQ communities of color.

And, with the LGBTQ community being the fastest disenfranchised group to touch the fringes of America’s mainstream since the Stonewall Riots in 1969, some contest the only thing holding the larger community back is LGBTQ communities of color.

Communities of color fought back stating we cannot be deployed in the marriage equality battle in a used-when-needed basis, like token moments for photo-ops.

In response to the how the marriage debate initially took shape many LGBTQ communities of color organizations sprung up to address their needs, focusing not only on HIV/AIDs ravaging their communities, but, also, focusing on unemployment, gang violence, LGBTQ youth homelessness, and homophobic clergy, to name a few.

I have been asked by several white activists and organizations post- marriage equality is it now too late trying to reach out to communities of color. It’s a similar questions that was asked of me in 2005 when a board member of a statewide gay organization, who did not want to be identified, wrote to me stating the following:

“The board is interested in looking at its own white privilege as it seeks to work with the African-American religious community. We have realized that most of our communities of faith are predominantly white communities. This concerns us.. We [have] voted to begin a process of understanding white privilege and the ways in which we can seem to be antiracist.”

I cannot speak for all communities of color let along the ones I identify with. However, as one who sits at the intersections of several identities my query to white LGBTQ activists and organizations is the following:

Will efforts to reach out to communities of color be matched by the same agency, urgency, time and dollars spent on marriage equality?

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger. Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

The welcome challenges of marriage equality

July 14, 2015 at 11:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

For some time now, my spouse and I have been bickering over where we should live in our retirement years. She, being a child from the South, and me, being from the North, well, we have our tensions. I have jokingly dubbed them our “Mason-Dixon line feud.” We are not stretching our imaginations much to feel some of the same concerns our enslaved ancestors must have encountered as they considered the free states up North.

My spouse is tied to the weather of the South — a moist, subtropical climate with sultry summers. I like the four seasons of the North, but could live in autumn all year round.

During particularly heated battles, I have questioned if her desire to live in Georgia was worth living in a state that didn’t recognize our marriage. Our marriage would be de facto dissolved.

Our ongoing exhaustive argument gained a new complication (in my mind, at least) with last week’s historic Supreme Court ruling — Obergefell v. Hodge — that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was once again the swing vote on this tough ruling. Kennedy wrote all recent decisions protecting LGBTQ rights, including the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas — which struck down sodomy laws that targeted gay men; and the 2013 US v. Windsor — recognizing and providing federal benefits to same-sex married couple in states where their marriages were legal. His argument last week was Loving v. Virginia (1967) redux, showing how these two historic struggles for marriage equality are interconnected.

Of course, I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision. It would have been both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed to rule otherwise.

But with victory comes backlash. This change in law will not come easy. A movement is already afoot with a 50-state plan to pass “Religious Freedom Restoration” acts to roll back progress.

As the country battles this issue on a new front, we should hold on to Thomas Jefferson’s words about how change is required for progress:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But . . . laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

Same-sex marriage is of our times. And it’s democracy at its best.

I understand democracy to be an ongoing process, where people are part of a participatory government working to dismantle all existing discriminatory laws truncating their full participation in society.

But democracy can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable rights. The right to marry regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation or gender identity is now one of them. How wonderful to know that a same-sex couple in Mississippi has the same right to marry as someone here in Massachusetts.

Back to the challenge in my home: My spouse is all smiles now with this new ruling. She has been doing what I call “nicey nicey,” which is her way of using charm to wear down my recalcitrant stance on issues.

In celebration of Obergefell v. Hodge we went out for drinks at Legal Sea Foods in Harvard Square. While enjoying the evening summer breeze, my spouse said we could have this experience all year if we moved to a milder climate.

I snapped back and said, “I ain’t moving to Georgia!”

And that’s what marriage equality looks like.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger.  Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

Black Pride: Distinct and Emblematic

June 3, 2013 at 9:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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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.

MLK Day Reflections for LGBTQ Justice in the Black Church

January 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

I am proud to count myself among the many people working for social justice today who stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Too many people think King’s statements regarding justice are only about race and the African-American community – thus excluding the LGBTQ community.
But King said that, “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place. Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial justice.”

Members of King’s family also embrace his words, extending them to the LGBTQ community.

For example, in 1998, Coretta Scott King addressed the LGBT group Lambda Legal in Chicago. In her speech, she said queer rights and civil rights were the same. “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King’s dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

Like her parent’s faith, the King’s eldest daughter’s, Yolanda, faith in the civil rights movement drove her passion for LGBTQ justice.  “If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you do not have the same rights as other Americans,” she said at Chicago’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit in 2006. “You cannot marry, … you still face discrimination in the workplace, and in our armed forces. For a nation that prides itself on liberty, justice and equality for all, this is totally unacceptable.”

However, I must say, as an African American minister I have learned having pastored churches, and having worked alongside black ministers and their parishioners, that who we shout out and pray to on Sunday as an oppressed people, does not exclude or have any relations to who we damn, discard and demonize; thus being an oppressor to people marginalized and disenfranchised like ourselves. The Black Church is an unabashed and unapologetic oppressor to its LGBTQ community and consequently, a hindrance in progressive movements toward LGBTQ civil rights in this country.

While King would undoubtedly shake his head in disbelief concerning his brethren he would however applaud the stance the NAACP took on marriage equality.

In quelling the tension between black civil right activists and ministers of the 1960’s who still vociferously state that marriage equality for LGBTQ Americans is not a civil right, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., marked the 40th anniversary of  “Loving v. Virginia,” that’s when the U. S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down this country’s  anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional, by stating the following concerning same-sex marriage:  “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 fight to marry the person of their choice.”

But if King was with us today he would be sad with how homophobia continues within the Black Church community, having both a profound impact on the mistreatment of its LGBTQ communities, and its inattentiveness on the AIDS epidemic ravaging the black community.

Religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of human life. Although its Latin root “religio” means “to bind,” it has served as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared hatred.

But Kings teachings taught me how religion plays a profound role in the work of justice.
A religion that looks at reality from an involved committed stance in light of a faith that does justice sees the face of the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the dispossessed – and that also includes its LGBTQ people.

As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against LGBTQ 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.

I miss the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. I miss the sound of his voice, the things he said with his voice. I miss the choir that resounded within him with his voice. In keeping his dream alive we must continue to lift our voices.  We must speak our truth to power. And for those of us who live on the margin we must speak out, because OUR survival as LGBTQ worshippers in our faith communities is predicated on our voices being lifted.
Each year, I mark the MLK holiday by reexamining King’s teachings, remembering that my longing for LGBTQ justice is inextricably tied to my work toward religious tolerance in the Black Church.

And this is why I continue to speak up.

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.)

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