An interview with Andrew Young
by Larry Bush
Andrew Young is not just another Black politician, and his election was more than just another milestone on the road to the "new" South. Young has been a voice of conscience not only in the civil rights struggle, but in the creation of a new national vision. He spoke against the loss of life in war overseas, and the waste of life in cities at home. He called us back to American traditions too easily swept aside. And while he was a voice of conscience and often a bridge between opposing views, his was never a mild voice.
It was something of a surprise, then, when I learned that Gays in Atlanta were angry with Young. Before I arrived for this interview, Young had met publicly with the Gay community only once, and had just announced his refusal to sign a proclamation declaring Gay Pride Week. The Gay Pride Week proclamation has some history behind it. When former Mayor Maynard Jackson proclaimed Gay Pride Week several years ago, a public furor arose. In the years following, Jackson retreated from issuing a proclamation. The result of this has been an annual tug-of-war between Gays and the city administration over the issue of recognition. As the city has remained obstinate, Gays have upped the ante; last year, the request was for a "Lesbian, Gay, Transperson Pride Week" which, if proclaimed, would certainly have been a first for the nation.
Most of the politicians I talk with seem to have formed their opinions on Gay issues because of the Gay people hey know.
That's pretty much my case too. I guess there's just a certain level of tolerance and understanding which came to me from my family. It was essentially a non judgmental approach to life--to people, period--no matter what the differences were. The first group of Gay people whom I came in contact with were all involved with church work, and they had thought through their situation both psychologically and theologically. They were able to discuss quite freely the implications of their being Gay. I guess I've always been a pretty sensitive person in general, and particularly sensitive to other people.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry said that when he was growing up, being Gay was a taunt. He talked about his change of attitude having been a real revolution for him.
I don't think it was particularly for me. I think my first awareness of
homosexuality was when the tackle and the guard on the football team broke down a bed in the dormitory. I was fifteen then, so I never had the stereotype ... well, I quickly got over the stereotype; plus the fact that there were ministers who were willing to discuss it openly with me.
A lot of Black leaders are supportive of Gay civil rights. In Congress I don't thing there is any caucus more firmly on the list of cosponsors of the Gay rights bill than the Black Congressional Caucus, and most Black mayors are supportive. But most of the ones I speak with say they feel they are ahead of the Black constituency, which is conservative.
I don't know; I think there has always been an acceptance, a tolerance of life as it is, in the Black community. The Black church tends, really, to be a forgiving church rather than a judgmental church. They preach judgment all the time but, in fact, they are very accepting and forgiving of the human condition, whatever it is . . of human frailty, let's put it that way.
Do you think if you had signed a Gay Pride resolution, that would have become a primary battle?
I always felt that you couldn't fight two battles at the same time. In
the churches, in the early days, I would always discourage my Gay friends from ever raising the question of Gay rights. I said, "Let me raise that," because it's something that people are always going to accuse you of a self-interest angle. I said, "If you want to fight for a cause, fight for race relations." We still live in a society in which the only form of sexual expression sanctioned is one man and one woman. In so far as almost everybody has varied from that in one way or another, one really can't get into the business of making it vital. As long as there are people who are hungry, and as long as there is the threat of destroying the world on a day-to-day basis, I could never make any kind of fight for sexual self-expression a primary cause of mine; not that I don't think that it is legitimate.
What do you feel is really going on in the issue of homosexuality?
It's much more a matter of one's experiences of acceptance and
rejection. As one experiences more and more acceptance from one's own sex, that tends to be the easiest means of being reassured and reaffirmed. And as one adds to that, rejection by the opposite sex, one builds up a kind of Catch-22 that makes it the easy way out. I think that our society, for all its sexuality and its sexiness, has little or no preparation or understanding for how one should feel in developing sexual relationships. In most instances, particularly for a man, it's so much more difficult to take the initiative and develop relationships with the opposite sex. I just don't think that sexual relationships or sexual identity is static. We are all constantly growing in a variety of directions, and it is easier to grow in relationship to our acceptances, and it is more difficult to grow in relationship to our fears and rejections.
I have often wondered what I would say to my daughters if they were about to marry somebody that I knew to be Gay, or if they themselves were Gay. My tendency would be that love conquers all; that means that it is possible for them to have a wholesome, positive, mutually reinforcing relationship. How it expresses itself sexually is something they would have to work out, but if they were willing to take on that responsibility knowingly, I would see that as another burden--like an interracial marriage, or a Protestant-Catholic marriage. But it would be well within the human capacity to deal with.
The other thing that may influence this is that almost all of the people I knew early who were Gay were married and also had children, and, for the most part, had very good family lives. But there had been some understanding; they had attempted to deal with it within the context of the family, as openly as possible, and to stay in the family. I almost wanted to go to the Metropolitan Community Church, and I still may go, to preach one Sunday about why I did not sign a Gay Pride resolution.
It has something to do with the very concept of pride. If this had been self-acceptance day, self-affirmation, self-confidence, I would have been totally in support of it; but it's hard, whether you're heterosexual or homosexual, for anybody to take pride in the human condition as it now exists. We're all in need of some love, forgiveness, and acceptance, regardless of our sexual being. I don't even like Black Pride; in the South we didn't have to discover Black Pride. I can understand that for some people, after Black Pride has been denied, or any Black identity been denied, there is a necessary step to reaffirm.
But there is a special celebration and rediscovery in such events. It is something similar to what Langston Hughes wrote about his poetry, which captured a Black identity.
I jumped in my mind because, when you mentioned Langston Hughes, I never thought of him being Gay; I thought it irrelevant. But Baldwin is both Gay and Black; in fact, the first book of Baldwin's that I read was "Giovanni's Room." But you didn't know he was Black. I read that whole book, and I didn't know who James Baldwin was, and I didn't realize this was written by a Black man. Then I read his "Amen Corner"; you wouldn't know he was Gay. He's a great artist whose art transcends and accepts both being Black and being Gay.
Isn't that what Gay Pride is about?
That is the way I have accepted being Black. My parents helped me very early to accept being Black as very positive and not as a burden. They helped me understand discrimination was not my problem but other folks'.
What I hear you saying then...
...is that I am struggling with the whole situation.
One of the mechanisms that Dr. King had in the civil rights movement, I have always felt, is needed in the Gay movement and the women's movement. We never went into a campaign without trying it out. We had what we called the Research Committee. It wasn't really a research committee; it was really a New York establishment--WASP, Jewish, Black establishment. Before we started any program, we would go there and meet with them. If we couldn't answer all their criticisms, and if we couldn't make it make sense to them, we knew we didn't have a chance of getting it across to the general public. It served to be a very good corrective. All of the mistakes we made, I think we made because we didn't sound it out with that kind of group. Test ideas on people who are not Gay, or in the case of the women's movement, who are not even sympathetic. The thing we have in the struggle for human rights is a developmental process of the whole society. The problem of the Gay movement is not the Gay community; it's everybody else.
Larry Bush has been a journalist and publisher and served as top aide to former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos.
sexiness, has little or no preparation or understanding for how one should feel in developing sexual relationships. In most instances, particularly for a man, it's so much more difficult to sex. I just don't think that sexual relationships or sexual identity relationship to our fears and rejections.
From Blacklight Volume 4, Number 2 - 1983