Marriage equality continues making its way across the nation. That includes, of course, here in Illinois. Maryland fought forand successfully secured the right to get marriedin November 2012. A documentary, The New Black, chronicles the campaign for equality from an African-American perspective, and that movie was part of a film festival April 26.
"Thank God [that it was made]," Dr. Donique McIntosh said. "I think, for too long, a lot of the narrative has been that the Black church has this monolithic voice, when it comes to sexuality [and] when it comes to same-sex marriage."
People packed the Chicago Theological Seminary fourth-floor chapel to watch the fifth offering of the Trinity United Church of Christ Prison Ministry-sponsored ( In ) Justice For All Film Festival on April 26.
McIntosh participated in a lively panel discussion, which Trinity UCC's pastor, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., moderated. Moss, whose family counted gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin a friend, noted what prompted his coming out as an ally.
"I made my statement out of frustration and passion," he said.
Moss said, as pondered his stance, his parents asked him for what his generation stood. He only came to one conclusion.
"This is an issue of rights," Moss said.
The discernment and decision-making process allowed him to uncover a queer family secret. Moss learned a transgender man had cared for his grandmother. That man's compassion, according to Moss' parents, allowed her to live a longer life.
"When I made the statement, my father stood up in the pulpit with me," he said.
The Rev. Phyllis Pennese of Pillar of Love Fellowship United Church of Christ, the Rev. Charles Straight of Faith United Methodist Church and Roderick Hawkins of Chicago Urban League joined McIntosh on the panel.
Hawkins, whose organization took part in Illinois' marriage-equality campaign, had already seen the film a few times. That didn't dampen his excitement about seeing it one more time.
"You could sympathize with every character in this film," Hawkins said. "I'm always excited to see it."
The New Black ended with celebrating Maryland's marriage-equality victory. For Straight, a gay Black man, witnessing that victoryand the Land of Lincoln's victoryrepresents a beginning.
"This is a great way to see the work that has to be done," he said. "It really helped me."
The film had a profound impact on Pennese, an out lesbian. It almost seemed biographical.
"It makes me want to both shout and weep," she said. "It's about the soul and the heart of my life."
Discussion transition from reactions to the film to how predominantly White conservative evangelical churches co-opted the Black church's message. Panelists pondered how to combat it. Straight said coming out "changes the dialogue."
"There's never a time that we shouldn't be 'pro-who were,'" he said.
Straight stressed battling against the "choose to be gay" narrative is imperative. With that said, Cohen noted that locating allies is also important. Penesse said we shouldn't allow ourselves to be injured with our sword.
"We don't allow them to use the tools in our arsenal against us," she said, noting conservatives' focus on the family. "We always worked outside the box as far as the family was concerned."
Pennese, however, isn't planning to debate vehement opponents. The 57-year-old, who came out at age 18, shared one life lesson she views as valuable.
"I have long learned not to expend my energy where it is futile," Pennese said.
Hawkins somewhat echoed her sentiments. He said he'd rather deal with those who are evolved or have evolved. Now, that marriage equality has come to Illinois, he said, Black churches should now ponder one question: Where do we go from here? And, Hawkins said it'd be good to give anti-gay forces a heads up.
"Warn the oppressor [that] change is coming," he said. "It's going to happen."
Pennese said there's only one way to change attitudes and perspectives.
"People's minds change, when their hearts change," she said.
Effecting change involves challenge. Straight said, when challenging anti-gay rhetoric, using the opposition's language is best. McIntosh said reclaiming the Black church's heritage is necessary. Straight had a strong reaction.
"It's not reclaiming [the heritage]," he said, "because we never did it."
Straight noted the Black church rejected gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Hawkins spoke to what drew Black people to the Black church.
"We started because there was no other place to go," he said, noting that there are "Open and Affirming" options now.
"Open and Affirming" is the United Church of Christ's movement, begun in 1985, in part, to welcome LGBT people into its houses of worship.
Hawkins said some Christians try to put themselves closer to God by putting others down. Penesse said others believe 'sharing" their God makes him or her less valuable. Moss gave his take on what's driving White evangelicals to oppose marriage equality.
"In order for the Right to maintain power, there has to be an 'other,'" he said.
Moss said they're searching for cracks in the Black community, in order to divide the community. He cited a film, "God Save Uganda," which chronicled White evangelicals' successful effort to "colonize" Uganda and get anti-gay legislation passed. Straight stressed the need for being alert and observant.
"We've got to know what's going on," he said. "If you've never been my friend before, why [are] you my friend now?"
The film series runs through May 3. For more information, visit www.injusticeforallff.com .