Reflections by Keith R. Green
On Saturday morning, Oct. 15, the stage was set for an atmosphere of division and animosity that is rapidly spreading throughout the Black LGBT community. From the National Black Justice Coalition to the Black Men's Xchange to the executive committee of the Millions More Movement, personal agendas and deeply rooted rivalries have marred what many would call a historic moment in the fight for equality for Black gays and lesbians in America.
The Bayard Rustin Brigade headed to the Millions More March from Chicago in support of the National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC ) . Responding to Minister Farrakhan's invitation to include Black gays and lesbians in the 10-year commemoration of the historic Million Man March ( MMM ) , NBJC had been lobbying for a representative of the Black LGBT community to be allowed to address the crowd. The group submitted a list of 10 progressive and well-respected Black gay men and lesbians, which included such legends as Angela Davis and E. Lynn Harris, for consideration by the executive committee of the MMM. After several months of meeting and negotiation, organizers of the Millions More March announced that they would, in fact, allow a representative of the Black LGBT community to take the stage. From there, the confusion begins.
The Black Men's Xchange ( BMX ) was founded in 1989. The organization's primary focus is to affirm, unify and educate same gender-loving ( SGL ) people as well as a diverse Black community. Since 1998, the group has been actively involved in bridging the gap between the Nation of Islam and Black homosexuals. With several straight-identified members of the Nation present, BMX hosted The Great Debate on Homosexuality in the Black Community, a no-holds-barred discussion where same-gender-loving Black men shared their personal experiences and struggles of being Black and homosexual in America. From there, an ongoing relationship between the two organizations developed and, over the years, has made great strides at reducing homophobia while promoting tolerance and acceptance of same-gender-loving men and women throughout the African-American community at large.
On Oct. 5, 2005, the Nation of Islam announced that Cleo Manago, founder and executive director of the Black Men's Xchange, would represent the Black gay and lesbian population at the Millions More March. This news, however, did not reach the masses who were anxiously following the work that the National Black Justice Coalition had embarked upon to ensure that Black gays and lesbians received proper representation. Instead, media reports and updates posted on www.keithboykin.com, the Web site of the executive director of the NBJC, spoke of an ongoing struggle with the executive committee of the march, headed by the notorious homophobe, Rev. Willie Wilson.
The ongoing rivalry between Boykin and Rev. Wilson has been an extremely heated and public spectacle. Following Wilson's infamous Sunday morning sermon which vividly described gay sex as unnatural and accused Black lesbians of conspiring to take over the world, Boykin launched an outing campaign against Wilson and many other African American pastors. Wilson blames Boykin's supporters for hate mail and phone calls that he has since received, which has left him in great fear for the lives of himself and his family.
So, when reliable news sources, including Chicago's ABC 7, announced Oct. 14 that Keith Boykin would take the stage to represent Black gays and lesbians, supporters of the NBJC, though surprised, declared victory. The tone of the organization's weekend of events, which included a reception at local Washington, D.C., AIDS service organization Us Helping Us and an anti-Millions More March protest and rally to be held at Freedom Plaza, transitioned into celebrations of that victory. A victory that, unknown to followers of the NBJC, would be short-lived and controversial.
According to Boykin, upon his arrival at the VIP entrance to the Millions More March on Saturday morning, Rev. Wilson looked him in the eye with a 'smirk' on his face and teasingly boasted, 'You all will not be speaking here today.' Acting on only a verbal agreement that he allegedly had with Minister Farrakhan, Boykin, the NBJC and its supporters were turned away at the door with no recourse to the blow they had just received.
Without ever mentioning that there would, in fact, be some representation for Black gays and lesbians on the stage, although it wouldn't be him or any of the 10 people that the NBJC had recommended to speak, Boykin proceeded with the anti-March rally and protest at Freedom Plaza. After delivering the soul-piercing speech that he had prepared to present to the masses, Boykin led his tribe of angry supporters down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol lawn, demanding that March attendees and organizers acknowledge and accept them as 'part of the family.' This move has been labeled by many within the Black gay community as egotistic and neurotic on the part of Boykin, and is causing an increasing amount of division within the community, specifically between supporters of the NBJC and the Black Men's Xchange. It has also evoked a great deal of unfounded animosity towards the Nation of Islam by members of the Black gay and lesbian community.
Because Cleo Manago does not identify as gay, but rather as a same-gender-loving Black man, supporters of the National Black Justice Coalition feel that he does not represent the greater Black gay and lesbian community and therefore was woefully unqualified to speak on their behalf. Many in the community, however, question whether or not the issue of identity truly makes a difference in the greater scheme of things.
'If our sole purpose is to be included and have representation, what difference does it make how we choose to identify,' asks Charles Nelson, member of the Bayard Rustin Brigade and program director at the South Side Help Center. 'The term 'same-gender-loving' encompasses all—whether you identify as gay, bisexual, straight ... whatever. If you pursue loving relations with members of the same gender as yourself, then you are same-gender-loving, correct?'
Kai Wright, a Black gay author and editor of BlackAIDS.org, feels that the whole debate is a distraction from the bigger issue at hand, which is total tolerance and acceptance of Black gays and lesbians. 'This is a personal rivalry between a handful of people that has transitioned into a communal feud that is of no real significance to the greater population,' declares Wright. 'In the 'real world' we are not fighting over how this person or that person chooses to identify their sexuality. We, Black gay men in particular, are fighting to stay alive.'
Cleo Manago agrees with both Nelson and Wright and maintains that the Black Men's Xchange has no issue with the National Black Justice Coalition. 'Having a same-gender-loving speaker at the Millions More March is a victory that we should celebrate as a community,' said Manago. 'Let's build from there and continue to move forward in our work to eradicate homophobia within our community at large. As a unified body we will stand, but divided we will surely fall.'
Keith R. Green is Associate Editor for Positively Aware and contributing writer for BlackAIDS.org .