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Let there be no mistake about it, America today is in the middle of the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgender movement, and it appears of late that African Americans are becoming one of the main faces of this movement. I was not alive in the 60’s during the civil rights movement, but much of what I have read and studied for almost 20 years on that historic time, seems to mirror many of the events today. Regardless of where you stand on GLBT related issues, there is no other set of social issues that are more unique, all-encompassing and transformative in terms of redefining the new normal, than Homosexuality in America. Today we see many Homosexuals who are “firsts,” in several stratums of society. One of the key indicators of the existence of a social movement is the appearance of a wave of “firsts” in several stratums of a society; this is what we see today as it relates to Homosexuality in America, with African Americans interestingly at the forefront.

In my recent book Race, Faith & Politics, I spend a chapter analyzing the historical, cultural and theological similarities and differences between African Americans and Gay Americans. Regardless of whether both groups like the comparison, or feel that a comparison is necessary, this discussion frequently comes up when making a case for Gay and Lesbian rights. On a broader level whenever any group in America engages in a political, judicial or social fight to defend their truth, against intense opposition the tendency is for that group to use the imagery, verbiage, methods and make comparison with the African American freedom struggle. However, the relationship and comparisons between the African American community and the Gay and Lesbian community is a very unique and interesting dynamic, primarily due to faith.

African Americans have always been supporters of any group who has experienced mass abuse, disenfranchisement and/or discrimination. African Americans have leveraged the pain and triumphs of their history into walking besides others groups in their journey for liberation and equality. However, African Americans at large hold some of the highest percentages of traditional faith based views, as it relates to sex and sexuality in America. The church has arguably been thee central institution in the African American freedom and liberation struggle. This presents a major stumbling block to the Gay and Lesbian movement in America, because many of the core tenants of the Church and Christianity do not align themselves with many of the core tenants of the Gay and Lesbian movement. This then makes the relationship rather interesting between African Americans and Gay & Lesbians, and this correlation between race and faith helps to provide context to what took place at the Grammy’s in January, with an African American being at the forefront……Hmmmmmmm!

Homosexuality at the Grammy’s

In January the annual Grammy awards, the crème de la crème of the music industry, was held in Los Angeles, CA, were the best of the music world are celebrated . The highlight of the evening was when newcomer Macklemore who received several awards on this evening, performed a song that was very critical of churchgoers and interpretations of the bible that offered dissent of homosexuality. Followed by the performance, during the live television airing of the event, there was a mass ring exchange/quasi-wedding ceremony for same sex couples. This is the first generation where something like this would have been socially acceptable, and would receive a standing ovation.

This quasi-wedding ceremony was presided over by a multi-talented African American singer, actor and rapper who has consistently refused to answer questions about her sexuality, despite many rumors, yet has been very outspoken in her support of Homosexuality. The officiant, a role normally reserved for clergy, was none other than the Queen of Hip Hop….Queen Latifiah. The performance and subsequent ceremony, which was an attack against faith and presided over by an African American, also revealed that Gay and Lesbian movement, was beginning to make some serious inroads into the Hip Hop community, which is even more interesting. Macklemore, who would win the Grammy for best Rap Song and Best Rap Album of the year, which was questioned by many in the Hip Hop community due to his style, along with Rap Icon Queen Latifiah would use Rap/Hip Hop, a genre created by and targeted to African Americans as a vehicle to promote the Gay and Lesbian movement. This along with another recent story caught my attention about Homosexuality and Hip Hop, with African Americans being the face of the inroads…….hmmmmmm!

Homosexuality in Hip-Hop!

As a child of the late 70’s and 80’s, I was raised in the Hip Hop generation. Growing up my favorite artist was Big Daddy Kane who is considered by most one of the greatest lyricist and performers to ever grace a microphone. His delivery, word play and style revolutionized the industry. For those who follow Hip Hop, Big Daddy Kane’s name stands alone as one of the best. For those who do not follow Hip Hop, Kane’s greatest contribution was providing an early platform for and up and coming Jay-Z in the early 90’s. Big Daddy Kane once said in one of songs… “the Big Daddy Law is anti-fagot, that means no homosexuality….,” lyrics such as these may seem extreme and unacceptable today, but were considered very common at the time, in expressing the sentiments of many in the hip hop community towards homosexuality. Well over the past few years and months, Big Daddy Kane’s DJ and popular New York City radio host Mister CEE (who was very influential in bringing a young Notorious B.I.G. to prominence), was in the news because of his multiple arrest due to his continuous habit and strong affinity for soliciting oral sex from transgender women. While it began as a rumor, over the past few weeks Mister CEE has made it clear that this is indeed his sexual preference.

Hip Hop is an industry whose music always celebrated themes such as: struggle-redemption, social-consciousness, faith, Afro-centricity, rebellion, style, charisma, bravado, masculinity, femininity (Feme-Fatale), but never an open celebration of homosexuality, cross-dressing or gender neutrality, themes that have never been prominent in African American history, culture, faith or music. While Hip Hop has been guilty of using some language that could arguably be considered derogatory and possibly hateful towards Homosexuals, this idea of redefining sexuality presents a degree of adjustment to the Hip Hop culture and the African American culture at large. If Big Daddy Kane's lyrics represented the pendulum of support for Homosexuality being solidly in one direction, Queen Latifa's quasi-wedding at the Grammy awards suggest that the pendulum has swung very far in the opposite direction.

Hip Hop is just as relevant to the African American community as Motown, Gospel and Jazz. Music at large both reflects and shapes values, ethics and morals in a society. Music can reveal would needs to be reshaped, or can reshape something before it is revealed. While there are probably several hip hop artist who are gay and lesbian, the events at the Grammy’s and revelation by Mister CEE, really opens the door for a new direction in Hip Hop. But I just wonder why was Hip Hop used and why are African Americans apparently leading the charge?

Why wasn’t country music used as a backdrop for the ring ceremony at the Grammy’s? I wonder if those who have a strong affinity for country are ready to accept this cultural statement? Does country music and other genres deal with Homosexuality the same way Hip Hop does? I am not certain whether GLBT used Hip Hop to spread its message at the Grammy’s, or whether Hip Hop is truly changing its culture. Whatever the case may be, Hip Hop continues to expand its influence on society, in ways that others genres do not, and it has the ability to impact other industries in America, and it must understand the nature of messages that is sends. One of Hip Hop’s greatest contributions over the past few decades has been its massive impact on professional basketball and football. Two industries who interestingly enough over the past few months are also dealing with “firsts” as it relates to homosexuality, and surprisingly, both also have an African American face at the forefront…. Hmmmmmmmm!!!

Homosexuality in the NFL!

A few months before the NFL draft, Michael Sam, an All-American and all SEC linebacker, who is considered by many to be a solid prospect for the NFL revealed in an interview that he was Gay. What makes this story interesting is that football is a sport defined by masculinity, bravado, toughness and controlled physical combat, attributes that are not normally associated with homosexual males. So an athlete who would publically acknowledge that they are an homosexual male, yet at the same time, express their love to participate in this physical combative past time, is seen as making major strides in showing the diversity and “normalcy” of homosexual males.

Indeed Michael Sam’s revelation did take a degree of courage, in that he is making his sexuality public before he has ever signed an NFL contract, or before he has ever been drafted. There are many anonymous team officials who questions how he would be received by his teammates in a locker room, public shower or the additional attention his public revelation will now bring, which can be a distraction to the team. Therefore, for him to makes this revelation beforehand, it does indeed take a degree of courage.

However it can also be argued that if he is not drafted, or if he is not drafted high, (which some NFL commentators already projected before his announcement) then he may have strategically positioned himself to make a case for discrimination, due to his sexuality. If his sexual preferences were not made public, although several of his teammates indicated it was common knowledge, his draft status and earning ability may have been purely based on his playing ability, and not the massive elephant that he has placed in the room.

In addition, the NFL is still reeling from the bullying case that took place between two heterosexual males. If this level of teasing and joking, which many current and former players argue is very common, not done with malice and purely fraternal. I can imagine the scrutiny that players, coaches and administrators would have in controlling the environment in a locker room, with a gay player present. I can see where an organization may say we do not want to even go near that level of scrutiny.

However, what I again find so interesting and ironic about this landmark issue, is that some way, somehow and African American face is at the forefront. Yes, African Americans account for the majority of players in the NFL, so at some point this type of revelation was going to happen, it would probably come from someone from the group who is most represented. However, when this revelation is seen in the context of what is going on in other stratums of society, it does reveal a trend that is becoming more than just ironic or a coincidence, as it relates to race and homosexuality.

The Michael Sam’s story is indeed dominating the headlines, but it was preceded by another very recent first as it relates to male sports and homosexuality, and another player who happened to be African American…..hmmmmmmmm!

Homosexuality in Professional Basketball!

In the spring of 2013, Jason Collins a journeyman professional basketball player, shocked the sports world when he revealed that he was Gay. This revelation was arguably one of the greatest successes in the Gay and Lesbian movement, because it revealed a major overt inroads, from within into the multi-billion dollor international industry the NBA. Ladies basketball has been ahead of the curve as it relates to acceptance of homosexuality.

I think back to the 1990’s when Sheryl Swoops, arguably the best female basketball player of a generation, and interestingly enough….an African American, came out as being Lesbian. The GLBT community initially saw her revelation as overcoming a major obstacle for their growing movement, since she was an active player when she came out, and she was regarded by many one of the best in the history of the game. However, she has since had a very tense relationship with the GLBT community, due to her later indication the she is no longer a Lesbian, and her conversion back to being heterosexual, primarily being faith based. With faith again being the controlling variable at large between the African American and Gay Americans relationship. Ladies basketball at the High School, college and professional level arguably has many openly lesbian athletes and the climate is more accepting of them, which has not been the case with males.

What makes the Jason Collons story so interesting is the understanding of the deepseeded meaning of basketball in the African American community. There has always been a special linkage between African American males and the game of basketball. From balling up loose-leaf paper and hitting long distance shots in trash can during class, to honing a jump shot on dilapidated courts, to nailing empty milk crates which would serve as the rim to the wooden electrical poles in urban areas around the country, basketball has always had a great cultural impact, and has become identified with African American males. If you are a black male, and you don’t have “any game,” culturally, it is like a fish who cannot swim, or a dog that can’t bark. Basketball and black males have always had a deep-seeded connection.

Maybe this connection was due to the level of athleticism necessary to play, maybe it was due to the fact that game was relatively inexpensive and convenient to play. Unlike baseball and football no additional equipment is needed, just a ball and a makeshift rim. African American males have always gravitated to, dominated and have had great love for the game. Just consider the modifications that were made to the recreation area at 1600 Pennsylvania ave. in January of 2009.

Therefore, when Jason Collins, a black male, who has made millions due to his success in the past time that black males favorite, and revealing he was Gay, it was a transition not only for the Gay and Lesbian community, not only for the game of basketball, but in presenting other positive effective images of African American males. On a broader level homosexual male athletes redefine manhood and masculinity at large, and begs the question. Was and is an openly Gay male athlete in the NBA a rare occurrence, or does it have the potential to become the new norm?

When Jason Collins, revealed he was Gay he was treated by many as a hero. His decision earned him several phone calls from prominent athletes, entertainers and several prime time interviews on news programs. However, arguably the greatest accolade that Jason received was a congratulatory phone call, and personal invitation to be a special guest at the state of the union address. This invitation came from the leader of the free world, who also happens to be a “first” of those in his most prominent position to support gay and lesbian rights, and who interestingly enough also happens to be an African American…..hmmmmm!!!

Support from a Sitting President!

While a wave of “firsts” is one of the indicators of the existence of a social movement, one of the indicators of an effective social movement, is when the movement gets validation from a sitting President.

Prior to the 2012 Presidential election President Barak Obama indicated that he was in support of Gay Marriage, becoming the first sitting United States President to do so. This coupled with his decision to no longer enforce the Defense of Marriage Act , to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and his strong support for the Windsor Court decision which ultimately legalized Gay Marriage in the state of California, is a clear indication that President Obama has used the weight of his office to express support for Gay and Lesbian rights. This is indeed very significant and should not be minimized. President Obama’s expression of support, although in and of itself it did not have any statuary or Judicial authority, it in essence has helped to shift the tenor of the discussion in the country, in the same manner that three simple words by President Lyndon Johnson did in the 60’s.

In an address to Congress in 1965, President Johnson, a southern Democrat (which at the time usually equaled segregationist) made a strong case in support of the landmark Voting Rights Bill, which destroyed a major component of discrimination and disenfranchisement in America. President Johnson stated in this address, “Because it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

History has it, that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. heard President Johnson utter these words, that Dr. King began to weep. These tears of joy, were due to Dr. King understanding of President Johnson’s validation. President Johnson used a national platform to articulate the battle cry and identify his support of the Civil Rights movement. This support gave the movement the momentum it needed to help destroy voter disenfranchisement that was a part of the country’s past.

Social movements do not exist to just have rallies, protest and change public opinion. Social Movement also exist to change public policy. Presidents are in the best position to persuade and encourage legislators to enact the policies desired by each movement. Johnson’s uttering those words was just as significant as any speech given during the Civil Rights movement in terms of advancing that cause. The same significance is attached to President Obama’s verbal support for Gay and Lesbian Marriage.

President Obama’s support sent a message around the country and world, and to the advocates in the gay and lesbian movement, that they had the ear and full support of the sitting President. No other sitting President has ever been as supportive to the cause of homosexuality as President Obama. Some in the African American community were concerned that President Obama has been more overt and aggressive in his support for Gay and Lesbians than he has been in his support for issues that are important to African American voters, although he has received a high percentage of electoral support from African American voters. African Americans, who have supported the President to the tune of 94%, which is much higher than other demographics, have consistently heard that President Obama, “is not just the President of African Americans, but of all Americans,” while other groups have received direct support for their cause from the President for their cause.

On a larger level some argue that the tone even in some progressive camps, and in America at large is shifting from the necessity of issues that impact African Americans and refocusing on issues of importance to Gay Americans and other minorities. I am confident some have heard the new mantra as it relates to Civil Rights, equality and diversity…”that Gay has become the new Black.” I am not saying there is truth to this statement, but it is a common contemporary commentary. Consider this on the same week that a rightward leaning Supreme Court rendered a decision that was a success for the gay and lesbian movement; it also rendered a decision, which was the worst and most intensive attack in nearly four decades on voting rights. The cause that Dr. King gave his life for, the cause which brought many African Americans to the polls after years of disenfranchisement, the cause which promoted Lyndon Johnson to articulate those memorial qwords in 1965 in front of congress and which change the entire electoral map in the country. One has to wonder, I am not a fan nor advocate of comparing pain, but it does appear that the African American freedom struggle has been relegated to the backburner.

Some argue that President Obama’s strong support for gay and lesbian rights was his constitutional obligation; others argue he did so primarily for political expediency, while still others argue that the President’s support was indeed authentic. Those who attempt to make a case that the President really does not support Gay and Lesbian rights, tend to be those who are strong supporters of the President, yet they do not support gay and lesbian rights, so they attempt to justify the Presidents support. Whatever his reasoning is, Presdient Obama’s support for this social movement was indeed historic and will play a large role in framing his legacy as President. When President Obama made his historic support for Gay Marriage which was ultimately his validation for the Gay and Lesbian movement, the President had to go into damage control mode with a group of Preachers, who have been strong supporters of his, yet have been rather passive both in support or dissent of the Gay and Lesbian movement. Hmmmmmm!!!

Silent Preachers!!

The Preacher is in the best positions to bring civility to inactivity. To articulate the consistent, yet contemporary message of God o the world. To calm down what has been stirred up, and stir up what has been calmed.

The Christian Conservative moral majority movement of the late 70’s and early 80’s was in a sense directly influenced by the activism of African American clergy during the 60’s. While the goals, theological and political framework of both movements were different, the methods were very similar.

The story of all clergy during the civil rights movement was indeed a tale of two diametrically different responses. While one hand there was a contingency of clergy who fueled and who arguably was the backbone of the movement. On the other hand, there was an entire contingency of clergy, who stood by and for the most part did nothing. They were indifferent to the beatings, lynching’s and segregation….they were SILENT!

Some were silent, because they had not developed an opinion, or sought God’s opinion on the subject. Some were silent, because they were in support of civil rights but not the methods or messengers who articulated support for civil rights. Some knew that discrimination and segregation was wrong, but remained silent because they did not want to ripple the waters and isolate themselves from family and friends, by taking a definitive stand on a controversial subject. Some were silent because their faith tradition and practices taught them to seek peace at all cost,as opposed to any form of conflict. I just wonder if this false sense of peace, created more intense conflict? Some were silent, because they were active in the political process and did not want to compromise their influence. Some were silent; because they did not think that there words or actions would have made a difference. Some were silent, because they became desensitized to unjust practices. Some were silent, because they were comfortable with practices going on, that they knew were wrong. Some were silent, because they did not feel that the issue directly impact them, so they chose to sit on the sideline. Some were silent, because they truly did not know how serious and transformative Civil Rights was at the time. They never came out of their comfort zone, to take the pulse of society. They carried the belief that, “ there were other more important issues than Civil Rights, so it is not that big of a deal.” Regardless of their reasoning…..America was going through massive transition, and history will record that this group of Preachers chose to remain silent at a time when their voice was desperately needed and necessary.

Unfortunately, the Gay and Lesbian movement has divided clergy along these same lines. There are some who have articulated their perspective, and then there are a wealth of clergy who have chosen to hide behind the ““ there were other more important issues,” justification and have said nothing, during a time where their voice is needed.

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