Earlier this year, after coming out as gay in his memoir, Transparent, African-American CNN anchor Don Lemon told the New York Times that being gay is “about the worst thing you can be in Black culture.” You're taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine,” he continued. “In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.”
I’m not sure how accurate Lemon’s assessment is—no one group in America is especially welcoming of homosexuals, and it remains to be seen whether being gay is some sort of cardinal sin in the Black community. That said, data from the Pew Research Center says African-Americans do disapprove of homosexuality more than other groups, perhaps because religion is such a major part of the typical Black experience.
Ever since Prop. 8 blocked legal same-sex marriage in California and the media falsely reported that African-Americans were the main force behind its passage, the debate about how gays fit into the Black community has raged on. Now, a new project from the liberal think tank The Center for American Progress hopes to change that.
Called the “Gays Are Us” series, the project is being written by Reverend Dennis W. Wiley, an African-American pastor and doctor from Washington D.C. Using his deep understanding of the civil rights movement, Reverend Wiley makes the case that gay rights are not a white issue and that, in fact, the LGBT movement is inextricably linked to the Black community's struggle for civil rights. In fact Wiley asserts that, were Martin Luther King Jr. alive today, he’d be one of the LGBT movement’s biggest proponents. Indeed, Dr. King was known for his dedication to ending all forms of oppression, not just those that impacted Blacks.
“In his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’” writes Wiley, “he responded by first informing his critics that what was happening in Birmingham was directly connected to what was happening in his hometown of Atlanta. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ he wrote.”
Beyond that, Wiley says it’s time for all African-Americans to accept that we do have dominion over the quest for civil rights, and that it’s time to embrace those who face our same struggles: “[I]t would seem to me that those of us who have been the victims of oppression and discrimination would be the last ones to facilitate the oppression and discrimination of others,” he writes. “As civil rights advocate Julian Bond once stated, ‘people of color ought to be flattered that our movement has provided so much inspiration for others.’”
The fact that there are still people out there trying to pervert the concept of civil rights and gay rights being championed by the church, saying that African-Americans shouldn’t embrace the LGBT movement and condemning those who do as sinners, is a shame. The consensus amongst Black leaders who really did march with Dr. King is that gays and lesbians are deserving of Black support. Even Dr. King’s widow, Corretta, said as much. Though they may not have been open about it, you can guarantee the fact that there were gays and lesbians marching for Black rights from the very beginnings of the civil rights movement. Decades ago they stood by African-Americans. Now it’s time for African-Americans to stand by them. As Wiley says, “LGBT equality is not a ‘white’ issue but an issue that affects each and every one of us. Or, to put it another way, ‘Gays are us.’”
(Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)