(this blog is longer than usual and I apologize for taking advantage of your better nature, but I think the negative reaction of many in the black community to the President's announcement uninformed, superstitious and unChristian.)
I'd like to say I'm surprised by the negative reaction many in the black community had to the President's announcement that he favored gay marriage, but I'm not. A recent Pew study indicated that the Black Church community was more opposed to these marriages than any other, including Southern white evangelicals. The study cited 64 percent of African Americans opposing same-sex marriages, a rate that has held steady for several years, while the overall population has become more supportive with 53 percent now favoring gay marriage while those opposing it remains steady at 43 percent, according to the most recent Gallup Poll on the subject.
That gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage is patently wrong and offensive. While many Christians piously present this as their defense, they completely ignore a much greater threat to marriage, adultery and divorce. Despite church scripture, the Christian church has not come up with an answer. Literally, the church has no option other than play ball or it loses a large portion of its members, the ones that remain quiet about their sexuality.
At one time African Americans could not marry. Yet, even as slaves, blacks insisted upon marriage even though they could be sold away at any time. Still, slaves considered marriage a basic human right and even though slavemasters didn't sanction it, historical slave narratives and property logs show that it happened regularly. Keeping with their own people's history, African American LGBTs demand the same right as their ancestors to marry. Despite the church's issues with the demand, it must move positively and soon if it expects to escape unscathed.
Black neoconservative ministers have bought into a phony, white evangelical agenda that sidesteps reality and tramples compassion and common sense. So far, the black church remains homophobic and judgmental, refusing to embrace homosexuals and others. Many black churches share evangelical-conservative theologies and biblical fundamentalism akin to the Christian right, believing in prescribed gender roles for men and women in order to maintain the traditional composition of the heterosexual family.
Gays in the Black Community
Long known for its inclusiveness, the African American community stands alone in the United States as the only Americans brought here for the express purpose of slavery. Coming from a background marked by brutal oppression, institutional racism and the denial of the most basic human rights, it appears accepting homosexuals or bisexuals into the black community would come easily.
In general, the black community has a long history of demonstrating solidarity with other groups fighting for basic civil and human rights—except when it comes to gays. Homosexuality in the black community is seen as an aberration and unnatural. As in other parts of the country, homosexuals are subject to exclusion, derision and even violence.
It may come as a surprise to many that homophobia runs rampant in the black community, especially toward gay men. Without provocation, some black males react with anger towards gay men. Such unadulterated hostility masks much deeper heterosexual male issues including self-doubt, learned behavior, early sexual experimentation and even molestation as a child.
In more than 30 years of observing the black community, the main purveyors of homosexual angst are black men and the main targets of their derision— gay males. There is often a tangible feeling of aversion to homosexuals, as many males in the community have no problem saying demeaning things to gay men or women. In certain areas, words like faggot or queer fill the air regularly.
The fact that black men are most often the perpetrators, gay bashing opens the door to examine the concept of manhood in the African American community. Some black males see homosexuality as a threat to their masculinity and assume being gay makes for less of a man or detracts from maleness.
Obviously, the reaction of heterosexual black males to gay men is complex. Combined with the marginalization of black men in today's society and the stereotypes thrust upon African American males makes understanding such blind homophobia difficult.
Who's Ya Man?
Inbred cultural bias of what constitutes manhood in the African American community is at best confusing and for any man unsure of their own masculinity, the idea of male homosexuality is at once unnerving and even frightening. Much of black manhood depends on male and female interaction, in particular a man's domination of women.
The acceptance of fixed sexual roles, especially among African American men, may help explain homophobia among a large portion of black men. Stereotypes of male roles of sexuality, physical prowess combined with distorted ideas of masculinity provide keys to the black male view of manliness.
This distortion doesn't permit seeing homosexuality as a sexual orientation. Instead, it appears as a choice and therein lies the problem. Misunderstanding that homosexuality is not a life style, but an orientation causes fear and where there is fear there is hatred.
In the African American community, manhood often finds a basis in little more than sexuality, ignoring the more important aspects of manhood like responsibility, integrity and a sense of duty. This aspect of what it means to be a man, too often goes unnoticed or is ignored and replaced by testosterone driven maleness, which causes reckless behavior leading to increased incarceration, unnecessary death and fatherless children. Without the acceptance of a human-based shift in becoming a man, African American men will continue in their homophobia until they make the connection or it is lost forever.
Running Out of Options
Unfortunately, many black men still see homosexuality as an option when in reality—there is none. Homosexuality is not a choice. It is who you are. Adding confusion to an already homophobic community is the current 'down low' phenomena affecting the black community. The idea of straight men having sex with other men strikes a nerve in the black community and for several reasons. First and most important, is the potential exposure of spouses and girlfriends to the AIDS virus. Second, the idea of men having sex with men and women strikes some as at least bisexual and perhaps homosexual. Yet, many of those involved in the 'low down' activity claim they are heterosexual men.
Gay Black Women
Gay African American women escape much of this unwanted attention and with good reason, homophobia is significantly lower among black females. In fact, even among black men, female homosexuals don't receive the same homophobic reaction, unless it is to passes made by black men who mistakenly believe that lesbian women are truly bisexual and become disturbed when they discover otherwise.
This is not to say comments made by black men and women don't come to the ears of gay African American females because they do and when it happens, the words usually carry history indicating some previous personal interaction. In many cases, it reflects a failed attempt by a male trying for a sexual conquest. Comments from women, especially concerning gay men, are far less hostile and many times even friendly. Gay women don't fare as well with other females, but comments from heterosexual women were far less caustic.
A Family Affair
Many in the black community believe that homosexuality is detrimental to family life. The black family holds an important place in the black community, but fear of homosexuals may be overstated as far as family is concerned as currently 2 out of 3 African American marriages end in divorce. Statistics on divorce, adultery and single-mother households shows the community needs no help in destroying the family unit.
Family and children are also important to gays. Studies on the viability of gays as parents find no developmental differences between children raised by gays in four critical areas: their intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment and popularity with friends. It is also important to realize that a parent's sexual orientation does not indicate their children's. Clearly, what passes for knowledge about homosexuality in the black community is in fact ignorance.
On the other hand, some in the black community have no problem sharing space with homosexuals, male or female. Why? The simple reason is a significant portion of people feel unaffected by homosexuals, especially when gangs, drugs, crime, violence and lack of jobs provide bigger concerns while attitudes toward gays drifts into unimportance.
The Looming Specter of AIDS
Bigotry against homosexuals in the black community contributes greatly to the AIDS epidemic. Today, AIDS drifts in and out of the top position as the number one killer of African American men and brings a host of denial and misguided ideas with it because of its association with homosexuality. As of December 2007, AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25-34.
Nevertheless, it is a disease that affects the African American community excessively. African Americans represent only 13% of the US population, but 49% of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV or AIDS are black. African American men die of complications from HIV/AIDS at 5:1 ratio compared with white men and African American women are over 21 times as likely to die from HIV/AIDS as white women.
Although African American women only represent less than 25% of all U.S. females, they account for almost 80% of AIDS cases in women. In addition, African American men more than likely will receive a diagnosis of HIV contamination in the latter stages of infection, meaning that treatment is less likely to be effective. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black adults and adolescents is 10 times the rate for whites.
From the beginning of the epidemic through December 2005, an estimated 211,559 blacks with AIDS died. About 25% of people in the United States infected with HIV do not know it and of that group, young African American males are the most likely to be unaware of their infection, but there is also a high instance of HIV among middle-aged and older African American men.
Often, the stigma of homosexuality in the black community thwarts African American men from seeking treatment until the disease is in an advanced and often untreatable state. Nearly 36% of black males with AIDS contract it from having sex with other males in African American community. A prime example of this dangerous behavior is the "down low" phenomenon.
Far too many people needlessly die of AIDS in the African American community. Yet, reckless behavior such as sharing needles when doing intravenous drugs contributes to 40% of AIDS cases. Other dangerous behavior includes failure to use condoms.
What Everyone Should Know
(The following information is specific and may be too graphic in nature for some readers. Continue at your own discretion.)
Today, 33 million people worldwide suffer AIDS and more than 90% of all new HIV infections result from heterosexual intercourse. In the United States, more than 50% of AIDS infections among African American men are the result of male-male sexual intercourse, while 22% comes from high-risk heterosexual sex. Finally, injected drug use accounts for 23% of African American male cases.
Among women in the United States, 70% of new cases come from heterosexual contact and the remainder, come from injected drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Because of greater mucosal exposure during sex, women are more at risk to HIV contaminated seminal fluid. Although, women suffer some of the same complications of AIDS that affect men, they also suffer gender-specific symptoms, such as recurrent vaginal yeast infections, severe pelvic inflammatory disease and an increased risk of precancerous changes in the cervix such as HPV. Other vaginal infections may occur more frequently and with greater severity in HIV-infected women.
AIDS and the Black Church
For various problems, the black church is about the only ready resource available to African Americans. During slavery, the church was the one institution African Americans controlled and it played a major role in overcoming racism and empowering blacks. The history of the church shows how it has been a catalyst for change in the African American community.
However, AIDS represents a case where the horse left the barn long ago as far as church concern and because of its squeamishness about sex millions of people suffer unnecessarily. The church slipped into the darkness when it came to helping in the AIDS epidemic, but, thankfully, as the problem grew, more churches stepped forward to confront a disease that now runs rampant in the community.
The church has been reluctant to talk about sexuality even before a person contracted AIDS, and thus may actually contribute to reckless behavior, such as unprotected sex and risky sexual behaviors that lead to transmissions of STDs. As recently as 2005, blacks were 18 times more likely as whites to have gonorrhea and 5 times as likely to have syphilis. Now, the AIDS crisis challenges black churches to examine how to provide spiritual support to individuals living with HIV.
The problems facing some black churches relate specifically to providing support without embracing homosexuality. The doctrine guiding some black churches causes discomfort for both homosexual and heterosexuals infected with the AIDS virus. Traditionally, the church stands with the rear echelons when fighting disease might mean talking about sex, in particular, homosexuality or bisexuality.
Despite the difficulty and soul-searching it may cause, the church must dive into the fray and become a leader, even it means exploring new ways to connect with important health issues. Instead of safely standing on the sidelines and saying "God will find a way when there ain't no way," the church must wade into the water surrounding the flock to offer assistance and seek answers.
The church could lead the way in setting the boat right with an aggressive approach to helping the community recognize that homosexuality is real and a normal part of life by making sure the congregation as well as the community know about the latest scientific findings.
To their credit, some churches lead the efforts against this devastating disease. These are not easy subjects for the clergy to discuss because often they reach into the church's stand on morality, scripture and may even conflict with human stands on the love and care of people.
It is also important to recognize as African America moves forward, the church has also been a hindrance when religion and science clash. At this moment, scientists are developing creams or gels, known as topical microbicides, women could apply before intercourse to protect themselves against HIV that would be non-irritating, inexpensive and unobtrusive.
Unfortunately, the church lags in its interest in helping and could be cited as aiding and abetting the spread of AIDS in the community by its failure to do anything. Clearly, when it comes to health, the religiosity of African Americans can hinder treatment. The power of religion sometimes helps people already afraid of going to the doctor; find another reason to stay away until they show up too late at the emergency room.
A Deeper Human Examination
A few churches broach these subjects, but most stay away from anything other than traditional teachings, which is a major problem as the world has changed considerably since the bible's writing. A doctor or pharmacist operating from a 2,000-year-old medical book would be laughed out of business or jailed for malpractice. As the third leading cause of death among African American men, AIDS is a matter needing the church's immediate attention. This is not a religious issue, it is a human issue, a caring about humans issue—an issue worthy of whys, not why nots.