Interview with Melvin Boozer
It is not good to be Black, Gay and closeted. That person becomes a zombie, not part of the living. As long as we are hiding, we give up energy, integrity an strength. It appears to be the second-best solution. I feel it is imperative to be visibly Gay
By Sidney Brinkley
Within the past year, Melvin Boozer has accomplished two "Firsts: the first Black person to be elected president of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), and the first Black Gay male to be nominated for vice-president at the Democratic National Convention. He has won an unprecedented second term as president of GAA. Melvin Boozer was born 35 years ago in one of Washington's ghettos. His keen intelligence led him first to Dartmouth where he received four-year academic scholarship then to Yale where he is completing his Ph.D. on a Ford Foundation Scholarship.
Blacklight: How did you become president of GAA? It seems as if you appeared out of nowhere.
Boozer: As soon as I joined the organization, I became very involved with it. I'm very competent. It's something I've developed over the years. College and graduate school helped promote self-confidence. Many Black people sell themselves short.
Some Blacks consider you the puppet of GAA. They feel you are being used.
I'm very much my own man. No one tells me what to do. One of the criticisms that has been made with GAA is that I am too independent. Some members of the "Old Guard" feel alienated because I don't consult them. I've had to establish authority in a deliberate way. A Black presence in GAA could be very powerful.
Another comment that I've heard Blacks say, "We don't know Melvin Boozer. He never comes around us. Are you alienated from the Black community?
Are "they" the mountain or Mohammed?
GAA is predominately White in a city that is 70 percent Black. What do you feel the reason is that more Black Gays are not involved in politics?
Someone once said that Blacks could have it both ways, be gay and still function. It is not good to be Black, Gay and closeted. That person becomes a zombie, not part of the living. As long as we are hiding, we give up energy, integrity an strength. It appears to be the second-best solution. I feel it is imperative to be visibly Gay. I compare it to the Biblical story of Esther. Esther was a closeted Jew. She was in the king's palace; she was the queen.
One day her uncle, Mordecai, came to the palace gate asking her to intervene with the king on her people's behalf. But she was very comfortable with her position and turned him away. Mordecai said to her, "If you do not help us, deliverance will come from another quarter." I say the same thing to Black Gays. How do you know you were not born for just such a time as this? It's a disaster to pretend to be straight. Straightness is responsible for the aggression that will destroy nature and human kindness.
Some feel that the Black community can deal with homosexuality very well on a one-to-one basis while having an overall negative view of it. How do you feel about that?
That may be true but I don't know what it means. I shy away from anything that is ideologically correct. That Black bond does not get in the way of Blacks hurting other Blacks. It does not stop Black men for oppressing Black women. So, what good is that knowledge?
Did you have any problems with your family or neighbors when you came out?
They didn't dare. The coming out works best when you can make a trade-off. They knew me to be a good person. They couldn't take it all back after they found out I was Gay. I was prepared for my family to say "get out", but they didn't. However, it was possible.
You grew up in the ghetto of Washington. Did you feel alienated from the upper class White students at Dartmouth and Yale?
Always! My freshman class at Dartmouth had exactly three Blacks. The fraternities were segregated and Dartmouth was anti-Semitic. My first roommate moved out because I was Black. My friends were either foreign students or Jews. Yale exuded a waspishness that let me know I was nothing more than a quest.
Why did you choose Dartmouth?
Dartmouth gave me a four-year scholarship. Howard University gave me nothing. How do you handle the fame, the high visibility? It's a mixed blessing. I like having my ego stroked. This year will be easier. I developed stronger ties with the city council., I can call up most council members and get them on the phone immediately.
Are you happy?
I enjoy what I do. I did no plan it. Sometimes I see myself as a sociology professor who has gotten himself in trouble. What frightens you? I'm afraid of becoming superficial. I'm afraid of burning myself out. The Gay rights movement has a way of doing that to some people.
Do you have a lover?
I am seeing someone but we don't define it as a strictly lover relationship.
Do you believe in open relationships?
I need a primary relationship, but I can have a secondary sexual relationship. I can separate the sexual from the emotional. Gays shouldn't flounder on the rocks by imitating a bad model and monogamy is a bad model.
Last question. Is there any message you would send out to the Black Gay community?
I would encourage more Blacks to become involved with GAA. It is where the action is. We have the expertise and the clout. GAA is effective. It is self-defeating for Blacks to ignore GAA. At the moment, there is no effective Black activist group in the city. A Black caucus within GAA could have an immeasurable affect on the quality of Black life in D.C.