Rev Irene Monroe

Jena 6’s black leadership splits queer community

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | September 25, 2007 2:10 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Al Sharpton, intersectionality, Jena 6, Louisiana, race

The Jena 6 case - in which Southern white law enforcement in Jena, La., unabashedly doled out biased treatment against six African-American high school students - harkens backs to this country’s era of Jim Crow. And it is a no-brainer as to why there was a mass protest.

What boggles my mind, however, is the protest from many in our queer community toward the LGBTQ individuals and organizations that showed up in solidarity.

For example, Chris Crain, the former editor of the Washington Blade and the man behind the popular blog and syndicated column “Citizen Crain,” balked at HRC’s president, Joe Solmonese, for appearing at the rally.

“Why pick this case? It doesn't involve discrimination of the type suffered historically by gay Americans. I would agree completely that there is racial discrimination in this country, and that the criminal justice system suffers from prosecutorial abuse, biased jury verdicts and lopsided sentences based on race,” Crain wrote. “But ... why pick the Jena 6, … a case of six bullies who beat, kicked and stomped a defenseless teen unconscious in a schoolyard, as the one for the GLBT movement to take a stand?”

When your identity, like mine, is the intersection of these two marginalized groups, the question is moot. Crain’s question is similar to the mindset of Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, who said gays never had to sit in the back of the bus.

Alexander Robinson of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the only national African-American LGBTQ organization in the country, showed his solidarity in a statement: “Earlier this summer, NBJC joined the NAACP in its effort to right the wrongs against the Jena 6. We cannot allow the injustice in Jena, La., or anywhere else in the country to go unnoticed or unchallenged and we need your support to do it!!”

Crain’s question, however, cannot be summarily dismissed, because it is an important one. But his question should be hurled at the Goliaths leading the Jena 6 protest and not at the Davids who followed African-American leadership.

For a different reason than Crain’s, I too, ask a question: “Why a rally in support of these six black boys but not the seven black lesbians who defended themselves against an anti-gay attack and were charged with beating and stabbing a white filmmaker? The filmmaker instigated the violence by threatening them and actually trying to choke one of them in the Greenwich Village in August 2006?”

Because of poor legal representation, three of the women pleaded guilty to attempted assault, and were sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. Again, Jim Crow, noted for its residency “down South,” also shows its face here “up North.”

So why not a similar outrage coming from the African-American leadership? But is this also a no-brainer?

Cornel West, an African-American scholar and professor at Princeton University, wrote in “Black Leadership and the Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning” that present-day black leadership fails American Americans because it’s exclusive of women and needs a gender analysis. “What most disturbed me [is] the low level of political discussion in black America – [its] crude discourse about race and gender that bespeaks a failure of nerve of black leadership.”

But the “failure of nerve of black leadership” is in its very own civil rights model, a paradigm historically unabashed about its exclusion of its women and LGBTQ people. And this model of leadership refuses to change from our revered Martin Luther King to our noted opportunist Al Sharpton.

Bayard Rustin, the gay man who was chief organizer and strategist for the 1963 March on Washington that further catapulted Martin Luther King onto the world stage, was not the beneficiary of King’s dream. And in a spring 1987 interview with Rustin in “Open Hands,” a resource for ministries affirming the diversity of human sexuality, Rustin stated that he pushed King to speak up on his behalf, but King refused.

In John D’Emilo’s book “Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin,” D’Emilo wrote: “Rustin offered to resign in the hope that he would force the issue. Much to his chagrin, King did not reject the offer. At the time, King was also involved in a major challenge to the conservative leadership of the National Baptist Convention, and one of his ministerial lieutenants in the fight was also gay. Basically, King said, ‘I can’t take on two queers at one time.’”

And while Jesse Jackson adamantly feels that LGBTQ people deserve equal protection under the law and that the Constitution should not be amended to ban same-sex marriage, he does, however, think the comparison between gay rights and the black civil rights struggle is "a stretch," as he mentioned at a talk in March 1998 at Harvard Law School. "Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution," Jackson told his audience.

And Sharpton knows both personally and politically how the civil rights model excludes a member of his own family - his sister. In the October 2005 issue of The Advocate, Sharpton stated, "I understood the pain of having to lead a double life in the system [since] we grew up in the church." And at the National Black Justice Coalition's Black Church Summit on Gay Rights in January 2006, Sharpton made reference to his sister: "Black, gay, and female. Imagine the social schizophrenia."

Sharpton had promised to take his message of queer justice on the road. But instead, as one of NBJC’s and HRC’s paid speakers at the event, Sharpton abandoned the message but took the money.

Those LGBTQ individuals and organizations at the Jena 6 protest were joining a broad coalition of national and local civil rights organizations. While many in our queer community may think these individuals and organizations engaged in the wrong act for LGBTQ justice and for the wrong reason, they are the ones who are wrong. These individuals and organizations were doing the right thing but working within a flawed model of African American leadership.

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To clarify for those who haven't read D'Emilio's excellent book on the incredible Bayard Rustin (save for the author's gullibility to the homophobic smears about Rustin's behavior while in prison for draft evasion), it's important to make clear that the event Rev. Monroe mentions involving Rustin's offer to resign was not in relation to the March on Washington but in response to a threat by Black homophobe and egomaniac Adam Clayton Powell to publicly accuse King of having a homosexual affair with Rustin if King did not stop protest marches planned at the 1960 Democratic convention.

But it was the second of at least three instances in which Rustin’s gayness was made an issue to attempt to discredit him in the movement, and King, for all his admirable traits and accomplishments, was found wanting. Rustin’s initial and continued involvement in the Great March was only saved after arch racist Strom Thurmond (more interested in destroying the march than Rustin himself) called him a communist and pervert on the floor of the US Senate when his mentor and official head of the march, Black labor activist, A. Phillip Randolph, used his vaulted position in the movement to save him.

Among the many remarkable things that Rustin was was that he was rational, with a brilliant mind capable of quickly seeing to the heart of a matter regardless of how much emotionalism and hyperbole surrounded it. Everything I’ve read about him tells me that regarding the Jena 6 he would say that the basic fact – and crime – of six guys attacking one guy is neither erased nor rendered moot by any actions before or after motivated by white racism. This was the wrong cause for so many good-willed people to rally around and history will show it a moral and strategic mistake.

Yay for coalitional politics.

I think that when people criticize those who do not support LGBT outreach on other forms of oppression, they often give other advocacy groups a pass when it comes to supporting LGBT equality. It isn't about tit-for-tat, necessarily, but the lip service paid by other civil rights leaders to LGBT issues is often disheartening.

I wonder how much of this is related to assimilationists' need to be approved by society at large causing them to try to be as normal as possible. I would hope that those on the gay left in favor of coalitional politics wouldn't be doing it for the same cynical reasons.

While I know homophobia and the black church play a large role in causing the split between blacks and the LGBT community, I've often wondered what in the hell the black community was thinking. When they complain about gay rights being compared to 60's-era civil rights advocacy, when they condemn African-American gays and lesbians, or when they actively advocate for anti-gay policies like marriage amendments, I've often thought to myself, "You idiots. Don't you realize you're cutting off your nose to spite your face?" It's almost as if they won't recognize that we exist anymore than Iran's president.

And then you turn around and see blatant racism in the gay community and think "You idiots! ..."

A house divided among itself will not stand. We were warned - and neither community has heeded the warnings.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | September 26, 2007 10:14 PM

The Washington Blade under Crain acted like the last refuge of short-sighted and bigoted gay men so I'm not at all surprised that he would continue that tradition.

If I were Jesse Jackson, I wouldn't rely on comparative suffering as the means for judging movement issue confluence. After all, when European gay men were the faggots at lesbian witches feet in the fires of the Inquisition, het black Africans were kings and queens in their own lands.

Hate is hate is hate, flowing from the same vile source with its targets moving like so many volcanic islands shifting on their tectonic plates making room for new ones above it.

Doing the right thing is reward enough all by itself for me.

RideThisBlackCanadianCowboy | March 27, 2011 12:33 PM

Well,the things you mentioned and the African American "leadership" is comprised of corrupt
popinjays like Sharpton,Jackson,Dyson,West,Farra-
clown,etc.,who beileves African Americans should willingly subordinate their individuality and,in-
stead of partnering with other aggrieved groups to force today's grotesquely obscene economic chasm between th over-lords and -ladies and the 98% of the REST of the U.S., to VASTLY NARROW,
blindly follow the above self-styled "spokespeo-
ple" into a Black Nationalist blind alley in whih Jackson and Co. handsomely profit from using Af-
rican Americans as human bargaining chips with which o get "perks" and "guilt goodies" from the liberal establishment,which they share with their boys and babes as the black masses continue to suffer all manner of poverty's dysfunctions.It's time for black America to kick these a**-clowns to the curb,and re-join what I see will soon be a burgeoning progressive movement to counter today's Republithug assault on the far-from-flush.