A problem inherent to the mass categorization of people, especially in regards to electoral politics, is the genesis of a generalized opinion in regards to a controversial issue. In the particular case of the “black community,” we are currently dealing with the intersection of race, religion, sexuality, and gender in response to the NAACP’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage. The Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP) has openly chastised such a move, claiming that such an initiative is not in line with the “present needs of the black community.” My issue with CAAP’s position is that their rhetoric thrives on presenting the black community as an entity which is staunchly Christian and non-queer. Of course we all know this to be a blatant fallacy, but the constant disavowal of black queer persons and calls to ignore issues that concern them on intersectional levels is both unjust and an impediment to establishing a united, multi-faceted black community.
Reverend William Owens, founder and president of CAAP, stated that “black people face acute and urgent needs, from unemployment to education, family fragmentation, discrimination, and crime.” To be frank, black LGBTQ folks are no less worried about these same issues than their straight counterparts. We still harbor anxieties about discrimination in employment and unprovoked violence. Sadly, Owens’ quote by implication eliminates the possibility for a black and queer existence, as if an individual can be only one or another and face the oppressions of one specific identity at a time. To his dismay I can state that this is a false notion; many of us do face racial and queer conflicts at the same time while searching for a secure and welcoming space in an effort to find belonging. Spouting rhetoric such as this feels like an attempt to de-racialize us (black queer individuals) as black persons because we do not conform to traditional gender and sexual norms. The black community and the Civil Rights Movement relied and continue to rely heavily on extolling the virtues of diversity and pluralism. In order for such a goal to be achieved, we must practice what we preach within our own community if we hope to extend it effectively and convincingly beyond ourselves.
Unfortunately, Owens does not operate on such a wavelength. He claims that the NAACP “is supposed to be an organization for black people who were beaten, who were mistreated, and who were enslaved” without acknowledging the fact that plenty of LGBTQ, as well as straight, black folks have faced and continue to face such atrocious conditions. In some instances, the abuses LGBTQ folks of color face are worse considering there are fewer resources addressing their unique needs. As homelessness, poverty, and HIV-infection rates climb amongst our nation’s queer youth, especially amongst those of color, there needs to be a greater focus on providing care and finding solutions to ameliorate systemic problems. Many of the black issues CAAP and NAACP seek to correct affect black persons regardless of a queer sexuality and/or gender. Discounting black queer individuals due to their queerness only perpetuates oppression and strips a campaign of a valuable mind and set of hands to aid in the task at hand.
Contrary to the agenda being pushed by CAAP, being black should not require being of the same-mind and religion. We are a diverse people with a rich and layered history, living a complex, diasporic existence. I find it shameful for Owens and other CAAP leaders to use language and propose ideas that seek to divide our community. Amazing figures such as Bayard Rustin were integral to the success of the Civil Rights Movement. His sexual orientation did not stop his devotion to his race and people. Let us take a page from his book and appreciate our brethren for who and what they so that we all may advance together. The discourse provoked by our differences as black persons produces egalitarian and comprehensive solutions to our difficult problems; squelching one fragment of our ranks only demonstrates a minority repeating a process of marginalization upon an even more vulnerable constituency.