Homophobia in African American churches

Posted on Advocate.com January 16, 2012 03:30:00 PM ET

MLKNOMx390 (Screengrab) | Advocate.com

Today is MLK Day.

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 LGBT 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 LGBT 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 parents, the King’s eldest daughter Yolanda, found that 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 we can be oppressors 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 LGBT 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 1960s who still vociferously state that marriage equality for LGBT Americans is not a civil right, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., marked the 40th anniversary of  Loving v. Virginia — that’s the case where the U. S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down this country’s anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional — by issuing the following statement 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.”

Still, if King was with us today, he would be sad with how homophobia continues within the African American religious community, having both a profound impact on the mistreatment of its LGBT communities, and its inattentiveness to 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.

By writing about religion honestly, 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 antisemitism.

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 and came out of 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 LGBT worshipers in our faith communities is predicated on our voices being lifted.

Each year, I mark the MLK holiday be reexamining King’s teachings, remembering that my longing for LGBT justice is inextricably tied to my work toward religious tolerance in the Black Church.

And this is why I continue to speak up.

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