Washington, D.C.--Leaders of the black LGBT community were shocked and dismayed at the rollercoaster of reconciliation and inclusion, then the last minute rejection of their participation in the Millions More Movement event on the National Mall October 15.
The event served to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March and reinvigorate community empowerment. This time the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam had the support of many other leaders of the African American community who had shunned the earlier gathering.
In February, Farrakhan publicly welcomed the participation of gays and lesbians in activities but a series of communications between march organizers and LGBT leaders resulted in little progress toward that end. There was a further setback in July when Rev. Willie Wilson, executive director of the event, made what many considered to be inflammatory remarks about the community while preaching at his Washington, D.C. church.
The National Black Justice Coalition took Farrakhan to task for continuing to exclude them from the event, at a news conference on October 11. That resulted an October 12 meeting with Farrakhan and Wilson.
�There were times when the discussion was very heated,� said NBJC executive director H. Alexander Robinson. Much of it focused on Wilson�s feeling that he had been attacked by the gay community in Washington, and �he still did not understand the hurtfulness of what he had said about us.�
�Rev. Wilson was a huge obstacle. He refused to shake our hands when we walked in, he yelled and screamed the whole time,� said NBJC president Keith Boykin. �Minister Farrakhan was very understanding, polite and respectful.�
According to Boykin, �Wilson said the gay community attacked him and he feels the same way about the gay community as he feels about white people�a few of them are alright but the rest of them, I don�t want to have anything to do with them.�
Robinson continued, �We had a very good conversation with Minister Farrakhan on a wide range of issues that we share. At the end of the meeting it was Rev. Wilson that suggested that Keith be the speaker, and Minister Farrakhan agreed.�
At the event
�We showed up at 8:00 am [on Saturday] to get VIP credentials for me, Alexander, and Donna [Payne, NBJC vice president and a field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign], and they didn�t have any for any of us. We were escorted to the stage area to talk with Sister Claudette Muhammad who was our liaison to Farrakhan,� Boykin said.
Payne said, �Rev. Wilson came over and said to me, �You will not be speaking.� He had a smirk on his face.� Wilson claimed the group had not responded in time and he walked off.
Boykin disputed Wilson�s allegation. He said, �We even tried to fax the organizers a copy of the speech I was going to give, so that he would not be surprised at all by what I was going to say.�
Robinson said, �It appears that Rev. Wilson is up to his same old games�he says one thing in a meeting and you leave the room and find that things have changed.�
�People are disappointed that they reneged on their promise, but frankly, they aren�t that surprised. Which is bad because it says that the rift between parts of the black family is so deep that people are not surprised by the dishonesty.�
There was a gay speaker at the event, but he represented a local, not a national, organization, and one that is primarily geared towards the interests of men, while the NBJC also actively fights sexism.
Cleo Manago founded the Black Men�s Xchange. He is a controversial figure within the LGBT community in part because of his rejection of the word �gay� as being white, and use of terms such as �same gender loving� in its place.
Speculation has run rampant that Wilson�s snub of Boykin was in retribution for an outing campaign that Boykin and his colleague Jasmyne Cannick launched online days after the NBJC �Tying the Wisdom Knot� summit for LGBT African-American leaders in late September.
Cannick, another NBJC board member, and Boykin profiled six black clergyman online who are known for their anti-gay rhetoric, including Wilson. They asked anyone with information about the profiled preachers� �extracurricular� activities to contact them.
Other ministers targeted by the duo include gospel singer and paster Donnie McClurkin, who acknowledges a �homosexual past,� Grace Jones� brother Noel Jones, T.D. Jakes, Eddie Long, Gregory Daniels, Paul Morton, Charles Blake and televangelist Creflo Dollar.
Attorney Leslye Huff of Cleveland, who is the vice president of the board of BlackOut Unlimited, Ohio�s largest organization for LGBT African Americans, warned against viewing the cancellation of Boykin�s speech as an indication of homophobia in the black community. She is also a member of NBJC.
Huff pointed out that one of the main problems with only having Manago speak at the event was that there was no national LGBT viewpoint presented, as Black Men�s Xchange is a local organization. She also noted that one of the NBJC�s desires throughout the planning process was to have both a gay man and a lesbian speak to counter not only heterosexism, but also sexism.
She went on to point out that Boykin was not the only one who was prevented from taking the stage, as popular singar India.Arie was also bumped due to time constraints.
�I can�t tell you how singularly disappointed I was that I didn�t see Keith there, along with any of our other board of directors, Mandy Carter, Donna Payne, the board vice president and field organizer for HRC. Jasmyne Connick would have been excellent as well.�
Freedom Plaza rally
The NBJC and the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays had organized a rally as part of the We Are Family Unity Weekend. They gathered on Saturday morning, a few blocks away at Freedom Plaza prior to marching to the Mall.
�Rev. Willie Wilson is a snake in the grass, and he must learn that his ignorance, arrogance, and backstabbing will not be tolerated,� Sterling Washington, co-chair of the DC Coalition, told the rally. �If he wants a fight, then a fight he will get.�
Bishop Zachary G. Jones of Unity Fellowship Church in New York City said, �In my family, I know that when those heterosexual couples have their little problems, and they need somebody within the family to kind of bridge the gap, and they need the gay uncle to participate with financial support, they know how to pick up the phone. That�s the inside voice.�
Boykin was the last to speak. He said the point of his prepared speech was to get beyond the past. �Today, because of one person, we are unable to do that.� Instead, he read it at Freedom Plaza.
Boykin profusely praised Farrakhan�s recent acts and statements of inclusion. �The diversity of speakers assembled here today is a powerful signal that we in the black community will not allow ourselves to be divided by differences of opinion, religion, gender, class, or sexual orientation ever again.�
He raised the names of Bayard Rustin, Billy Strahorn, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Alvin Ailey as having added much to both the black and gay communities through their work. He said, �That�s why I am here today�to honor their legacy.�
�We share the same goals and aspirations of the rest of the black community, but none of us can accomplish those goals without unity and courage,� Boykin said. �We all need courage in our lives. It took courage for you to come here today. It took courage for Minister Farrakhan to invite me to speak today. It will take courage to heal the wounds that have divided us for far too long.�
�Tying the Wisdom Knot,� held September 21 to 23, presented an opportunity for African American LGBT leaders from across the country to learn from one another.
The Washington, D.C. summit featured panels with the leaders of organizations as diverse as the NAACP�s Washington bureau, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, People for the American Way, the Gill Foundation, members of Congress and the leaders of the largest LGBT organizations in the country, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Victory Fund.
The summit wrapped up with an awards banquet emceed by comedian Karen Williams of Cleveland.
�She was masterful in her humor and the appropriateness, as she always is, but also in reminding us what a momentous occasion it was, and also giving us a perspective on her life, since she�s been doing this for a long time and breaking barriers,� Huff noted.
She summarized the conference: �Joy is what happens when you know that you are completely in sync with what you should be doing at that time, not only for yourself, but for the good of all, and that�s what we felt.�
�I could see the future, our children�s children�s children, taking about that time that Alice Huffman stood up and drew the attention of the NAACP to the need, to the plight of the African American LGBT community,� she said.
Huffman is the president of the California chapter of the NAACP, who pushed successfully for the chapter to support same-sex marriage legislation in the state.
�And because I could see the energy, confidence, certainly capability, expertise, it gave me a cadre of people now that I can call on to say, �How did you do that in Milwaukee, how did you do that in South Carolina?� so we can maintain our rightful position in black communities and exert our leadership ability in the LGBT community as a whole,� Huff concluded.��������������
Anthony Glassman contributed to this story.
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