Guest Blogger

In California, Tackling Homophobia in the Black Church

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 31, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: African-American, black ministers, California, People for the American Way, Peter Montgomery, PFAW, Prop 8

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Peter Montgomery is Vice President for Communications and Research at People For the American Way Foundation. His first foray into LGBT activism was on the DC local organizing committee for the 1987 March on Washington.

P6082231.jpgAs California's very public debate over marriage equality heads to the November 4 showdown, a separate longer-term project to challenge homophobia in the Black Church and wider African American community began running radio ads across California urging African Americans to oppose anti-gay discrimination. And forums and workshops on marriage equality and homophobia in the black church sparked passionate conversation at the state NAACP convention last weekend.

The three ads in rotation on African American-oriented radio stations focus on a father proud of his daughter's marriage to the woman she loves, a person challenging claims from the anti-equality crowd that marriage equality is more of a threat to black families than concerns over the economy and health care, and an appeal to people hoping for positive change in the country not to leave anyone behind as old barriers come down. The ads drew on focus groups conducted with African American churchgoers in Los Angeles and Oakland in September.

The ads are sponsored by the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a project of People For the American Way Foundation, a nationwide organization that promotes full LGBT equality as part of its broader vision of an America in which everyone is treated equally under the law. The AAMLC is a network of religious leaders dedicated to identifying, training, and supporting the work of African American pastors who are willing to be strong public advocates for progressive values. Last year, the AAMLC created an Equal Justice Task Force and made a commitment to a multi-year effort to take on directly the issue of homophobia in the black church and communities.

The Rev. Kenneth Samuel, a pastor who preaches an inclusive gospel at Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, is heading up the project, and he spent last week in California speaking at public meetings and helping to lead workshops at the state NAACP convention. California's NAACP director Alice Huffman is a passionate advocate for full LGBT equality. The workshops on homophobia in the black church had participants dragging in colleagues and extra chairs for rousing conversation about homophobia, discrimination, love, equality, scripture, and politics. A People For Foundation-produced video documented right-wing efforts to co-opt the black church by embracing and lifting up the voices of anti-gay conservative black clergy. The conversation was so powerful that even clergy who aren't "there" yet on full equality said they were grateful for the discussion. Those who were motivated to be active left with toolkits to help them keep the conversation expanding.

One concrete outgrowth of the workshops: Rev. Gerald Johnson, the Individual Rights and Advocacy Vice Chair of the state NAACP, asked for volunteers to join the workshop resolution committee, and some previous critics of full equality who had experienced a change of heart helped to develop and submit a resolution that resolved to: "develop partnerships with African American civic and religious leaders to educate, train, and advocate for cultural competency and sensitivity in the greater African American community as it relates to gay and lesbian concerns."

Overcoming resistance in the Black Church, as in many other religious communities, is a long-term project that Rev. Samuel says will succeed by bringing "tough and loving" conversations into churches that haven't had them.

"African Americans are generally opposed to discrimination, but on marriage they need to sort out the distinctions between legal equality and religious belief," said Sharon Lettman, spokesman for People For the American Way Foundation. "Most people haven't had a chance to have that conversation. The workshops we did at the NAACP's California state convention last weekend make it clear that people are hungry for it."

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We passed an ammendment last year here to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance so it includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression for housing, credit, employment, etc. The primary opposition was from an african-american comissioner and a group calling itself the local Black Ministerial Alliance. They stated they did not see a need for such legislation and demanded additional dialog and meet to discuss it further. (We also found out they were ‘gunning’ for a confrontation with the LGBT community in front of the city commission so they could force a roadblock of these changes. We avoided it and were able to pass it anyway.)

Surprisingly, this is the very same tactic used then Chicago Mayor R.J. Daley in the 1960's against Dr. King. Mayor Daley would keep proposing meetings and negotiations with Dr. King to discuss the issues, which effectively stonewalled any efforts to get civil rights legislation passed in Chicago. I found this fascinating, considering that these same ministers accused us of “…trampling on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King by this action.”

Wanda Sykes just said on Ellen that discrimination in ANY form is just plain wrong and how black folks should know that better than anyone. I do not understand how they cannot comprehend the need for such legislation anywhere in the US. Somehow, I doubt I ever will.

It's a step in the right direction, but how much influence does the NAACP have over religious people? Why does NAACP still keep "colored" in the title of their organization ? Seems old fashioned. In all religions and politics, black and white it is about charismatic leaders that tell people what to think and how to vote, Rick Warren or gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. You have a long fight ahead of you. Good luck and thanks for your efforts.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | November 1, 2008 2:05 AM

Way too little and I hope not too late. I doubt if anything can remedy the harm done by Obama and Biden constantly repeating their bigoted opposition to same sex marriage.

It gives permission for bigots of all persuasions and backgrounds to vote their bigotry. The yeson8 bigots have to thrilled every time Obama says "god's in the mix" ad the No On 8 folks are too timid to call him on it.