Some years ago, at one of Pasadena’s largest African-American churches with my daughters, I was in a pleasant, meditative state, anticipating a relatively quick end to the service once the sermon concluded. So I hardly stirred when the guest minister introduced herself and began to work her way through an impassioned homily about our need to confront our demons and stand up to the urge to indulge in sin. She told us that we need to leave the Devil alone and resist drugs, violence, child molestation and … homosexuality.
Suddenly, I was very awake and angry. My impulse was to bolt upright and raise my hand and point out that drugs, violence and child molestation have nothing to do with homosexuality. That it was wrong and dangerous to say such things from the pulpit. And that I certainly did not want my kids to hear such hateful words.
But I did not stand up in front of that congregation of well-educated, middle-class black folks to confront this hate-mongering minister. I thought that I was the only one outraged by these comments. But later I was told that many in the congregation were troubled by the minister. I guess we were all cowards. None of us stood to rebuke her words.
What is most depressing about all this is that just at the great moment of witnessing the first African-American to be elected to the highest office in the land, we Californians go and deny gays the same rights of marriage as us all. To make matters worse, it seems that the blame and burden for pushing Prop. 8 over the top are split between the black community and the Mormon Church, a most unlikely pairing.
I would prefer to blame it on the Mormons, since the Mormon Church arranged for buckets and buckets of money to be spent on this issue. Still, blacks voted for the proposition in a much greater percentage than other demographic groups.
The issue of race in the gay community is complicated. As my friend and fellow writer Fredrick Smith wrote to me on the subject of Prop. 8: “I do know that racism is persistent in the gay community, as it is in the larger community, and it seems like the only time the larger gay community reaches out to black or Latino gay folks is when it comes to the marriage issue. When it comes to racism within the gay community, or poverty, health and education issues within the black (gay or straight) community, many of the people passionate about marriage rights are not as active. Perhaps there can be a more concerted effort to build bridges on issues in addition to marriage rights, so that communities of color don’t feel like commodities used for votes.”
About a year ago, Smith and I, along with African-American writers Mel Donaldson and Michael Datcher, were on a panel in, of all places, Salt Lake City. We were like a goodwill tour, encompassing a wide swath of black maleness, straight to gay, from New Orleans to Los Angeles, invited to speak on the subject of black masculinity and hip-hop culture. We explained the perils and pleasures, and the nuances of hip-hop, tackling its default mode of disrespecting women and gays to an overflow, surprisingly diverse and receptive crowd. The following day, a well-connected fellow, who had spent time in Utah, drove us about and entertained us with various theories on the subject of Mormon culture and Mormonism’s horror of homosexuality. He told us that when young Mormon men return from their lonely, women-free missions, they are encouraged to marry promptly, in part because a certain number bond with their mission mates — sometimes physically — and marriage is a way to straighten them out. If true, Mormonism isn’t so different from old-time English boarding schools, or our prisons; homosexuality is as perverse as they make it or want it to be.
So, here we are, witnessing such odd bedfellows, black folks who are uncomfortable with gays and lesbians marrying, and the Mormon Church, which wouldn’t even have us colored folks, gay or straight, within its temples until 1978, when the Living Prophet had a revelation — blacks could join the church, and the Mormons, free of knee-jerk racism, could join modern America. I suppose homophobia in the name of religion is sort of how racism used to be, when good, God-fearing people believed interracial marriage was un-Christian.
Now, here we are in this messy new alignment: African-Americans and Mormons tag-teaming for intolerance. Where is the audacity of hope when you need it?