I'm compelled to write this letter by my mother. She's as good a Christian woman as you're going to come across. And she has a Black, gay son.
Recently, she has been placed in a very challenging position when engaging some of her spiritual peers in the Black Christian church as the subversive narrative has turned extremely homophobic in the wake of Illinois' attempts to legalize gay marriage. She tells me how they speak of "those" people, not knowing that I am a proud Black AND gay man who has been out to his family since I was 17.
Their ignorance forces her to choose between endorsing the negative rhetoric of her congregation, which flies in the face of everything she knows true through 34 years of being my mother, or living in the margins of her spiritual community because she chooses to rebuff it. This dynamic becomes magnified when looking at the recent bigoted campaign being led by Black ministers in Chicago like James Meeks and Larry Trotter.
Leveraging an alliance with conservative group National Organization for Marriage, Meeks and Trotter have spent more than $70,000 on media buys and robocalls lobbying for their religious interests against gay marriage. It disgusts me that in a city like Chicagowith unrelenting violence, high unemployment and schools closing by the dozensthe imperative issue for this group is gay marriage. Is there no better use for the money they're spendingsay, a scholarship for a Black college student like myself, forced to incur crippling student loans while working to better himself? I struggle to comprehend how the pundits and funders of this campaign don't feel genuine shame.
Those advocating against the issue ground their opposition in an intellectually lazy binary that assumes one can only be Black or gay, sacred or secularthere is no room for intersection. However, the Black Church wouldn't have half of its unique brand of soul and social activism without the contributions of "church sissies" around the country. These suppressive efforts by Meeks and his peers work against the interests of these very parishioners. This kind of cognitive paralysis is reminiscent of the South during Jim Crow days and stunts the Black Church's potential as an agent of progressive change.
Being someone familiar with the role religion has played in the marginalization of certain groups in America (perhaps most notably African-Africans in support of the transatlantic slave trade), it troubles me to see those claiming to speak for our interests being so narrow in their vision. While the Black Church has historically been regarded as a voice for the larger Black community, these events illustrate why that thinking needs to be re-evaluated. There is a counterproductive fixation by some in the Black Church on restricting the rights of the LGBT community that, fortunately, does not reflect the hearts of a majority of the Black people I know.
The role of marriage in our society reaches far beyond the walls of the church. The heteronormative narrative that says only God-fearing straight people should have access to the rights and privileges marriage affords must be challenged and upended. When I look at people like Rev. Meeks and his supporters, I see an oppressed group attempting to use the tools of oppression to achieve some sense of superiority (see: Loving v. Virginia). I am thankful for people like my mother who do not relinquish their humanity and dignity while hiding behind the mask of religion. Save for them, I would think all people of faith lack the capacity to grow and love.