Rev Irene Monroe

Black LGBTQ Generations Come Together for 'Selma'

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | January 22, 2015 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Bayard Rustin, Black Lives Matter, intersectionality, John Lewis, Selma

If Bayard Rustin were alive today he certainly would have been proud on Monday as the LGBTQ communities in Boston held discussions on the film Selma.

Flashback Sunday, a social group for LGBTQ elders of color and their friends, and the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition convened "an honest and open dialogue" between a generations of LGBTQ activists. Folks who were active during the civil rights era and today's LGBTQ "Black Lives Matter" activists met at Boston's Emmanuel Church on Monday to honor the twenty-ninth anniversary of Martin Luther King Day.

For the first time an intergenerational and interracial gathering of LGBTQ voices met and created a paradigm of how future discussions should take place, with an amazing younger generation of LGBTQ activists fiercely committing to civil rights for all Americans.

selma-poster.jpgSelma is about King's campaign to secure equal voting rights for African Americans in the South. Rustin was an integral part of King's efforts that Ava DuVernay's film depicts. A lot of what Rustin endured and learned as an openly gay activist is still with those unsung LGBTQ activists of King's era.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin -- the strategist and chief architect of the 1963 March on Washington that catapulted MLK onto a world stage -- was always the man behind the scenes, mostly due to the fact that he was gay.

Since the Ferguson protests of last summer (resulting from the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, one of several unarmed African American males killed by police that year) a younger generation of activists has emerged. Some have questioned their tactics.

In promoting the film Selma, producer Oprah Winfrey set off a firestorm with her comments to People magazine stating that "Black Lives Matter" activists lacked leadership:

"I think it's wonderful to march and to protest and it's wonderful to see all across the country, people doing it. But what I'm looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this."

Oprah's remarks, however, resonated with a generation that's shaped by a heterosexist male-dominated movement rather than a non-hierarchical, diffuse model with an intersectional analysis that "Black Lives Matter" activists are illustrating.

But this is not the first time younger and older generations locked horns.

Senator John Lewis and his group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, didn't see eye-to-eye with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on how to move forward on voting rights in Selma.

Corey Yarborough, co-founder of HBGC, saw both the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the release of the film Selma as an opportunity.

"HBGC and Flashback Sunday wanted to begin bridging the generational divide in black and Latino LGBTQ communities of color, by bringing together community members of all ages to discuss our history... [this discussion] sheds light on how young leaders were groomed to take power and transform the very institutions that once oppressed them." Yarborough said.

"It's my hope to pull the inspiration and lessons learned from these civil rights icons and encourage a new generation of leaders," he added.

Many from Yarborough's generations stated they went to see Selma to see the film's connection to Ferguson, and they came to the event looking for a way to make connections -- to find clues and tidbits on how to be involved with the Black Lives Matter movement.

"The most important take-away for me was the sense of legacy and stories in the room. It was inspiring to have LGBTQ people present who lived through many of the events in the film and could speak to their personal experiences with it," said Quincey Roberts, Yarborough's partner and co-founder of HBGC.

Charles Evans was one of those people.

Evans was born and raised in the South in the small town of Wallace, North Carolina (population 3,880 at the 2010 census), which are several miles from the big port city of Wilmington. Evans shared with the group that he "never went to an integrated school. I remember the KKK growing up, riding at the back of the bus and whites using the n-word for my name."

Evans attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (NCA&T), a historically black college in Greensboro that was one of the hotspots during the 1960s civil rights era. Evans not only remembers the sit-ins that became an iconic form of civil disobedience, but he was actively engaged in them.

"I was afraid. We all were but it was our clarion call for action."

And those actions paid off.

On February 1, 2010 the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (ICRCM) opened in Greensboro, honoring the courage of four African-American students. Their actions led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandated desegregation of all public accommodations.

woolworth-sit-in-smithsonian.jpgFifty-five years ago, on February 1, 1960, what is now the ICRCM was a Woolworth's store and the site of the original sit-in where Ezell A. Blair Jr. (also known as Jibreel Khazan), David Leinhail Richmond, Joseph Alfred McNeil, and Franklin Eugene McCain from NCA&T sat at the lunch counter as a form of non-violent direct action protesting the store's segregated seating policy.

As a result of their civil disobedience, sit-ins sprung up not only in Greensboro but throughout the South, challenging other forms of this nation's segregated public accommodations, including bathrooms, water fountains, parks, theaters, and swimming pools, to name a few.

Evans stated that he could have never fathomed "a black man in the White House." And his clarion call to those in the room was to vote. "I had to know the preamble to vote, too," Evans stated referring to the scene in Selma where Annie Cooper (played by Oprah) goes to register to vote and is denied.

The film Selma is unquestionably a call to action. And it invites white allies like Bob Linscott, Assistant Director of the LGBT Aging Project that operates out of the Fenway Institute, to reflect and act in intergenerational and interracial ways that will keep them ever vigilant of other isolated and oppressed groups:

"Selma calls each one of us, regardless of race, gender or orientation, to action if we care to listen. What Edmund Pettus Bridges are we called to cross? For me it is to encourage those of us living comfortably in privileged positions in liberal cities to carry our work to the rural communities to help elders and those without a community find their voice."

"I thank God to see this moment with you all and to share it with a younger generation," Evans told the group.

Paul Glass, head of Flashback Sunday, proudly added:

"While representing themselves as openly LGBTQ individuals they clearly understand the struggles of their forefathers and how they stand on the shoulders of so many unsung heroes who paved the way for them."

Glass should know. His partner, Charles Evans, is one of them.

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