Homophobia in the Black community
By Thomas B. Romney
Debbie, an attractive college coed, makes no bones about it. She dislikes homosexuals and wants nothing to do with them. "If I found out that one of my friends was one I would stop speaking to them," she said. Ask Debbie why she reacts this way and she might reply that homosexuality is abnormal or perverted. Her answers might become vague, tinged with an emotional overtone of fear and anxiety. Debbie is a victim of homophobia.
Debbie is an intelligent woman, yet when pressed for a rationale behind her attitudes towards gays it is neither sound nor new. Would she react the same if she found out that one of her friends was diabetic, or suffered from cancer? Probably not, because she might understand those conditions and not feel threatened by them, threatened by the fear of the unknown.
Debbie is not alone. An overwhelming number of Blacks suffer from homophobia - a fear of homosexuals. Homophobia, as in other phobias, is rooted in the fear of the unknown. People generally fear something which escapes their understanding or which they lack sufficient information to adequately judge a situation. The over-abundance of erroneous information on homosexuality only serves to further confuse and complicate the issue.
The influence of the Black Church, the importance of masculinity and the role of the family appear to be the underlying causes of homophobia in the Black community. These issues deserve further exploration.
First, there is the issue concerning the influence of the Black Church. A majority of Black ministers view homosexuality as going against the teachings of the Bible and immoral.
Bishop William A. Hilliard, of the Third African Methodist Episcopal Zion District, is one of many in the religious community opposed to homosexuality. "The Church is diametrically opposed to homosexuality; we stated that as our official position last year at our national conference, it is a sin," he stated. Bishop Hilliard's colleagues are quick to agree. Bishop Jasper Roby, spiritual head of the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God, believes that unless homosexuality is stopped it will "destroy us all."
The Black culture is deeply steeped in the tradition of the Church. Representatives of the religious community exert a powerful influence on Blacks and their cry against homosexuality is taken up by the larger sections of the Black community. The general attitude of these ministers is that homosexuals should repent, as they contend that homosexuality is a matter of choice and homosexuals can change if they so desire.
Yet there are a few ministers who have taken a positive stance on the issue. These ministers, unlike the majority of their colleagues, do not condemn homosexuality but rather express compassion on the issue.
According to the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) in Kansas City, "The homosexual issue is too complex to conclude anything. We don't know the cause. The Bible offers some strong statements against it but any Bible scholar would tell you that even that is inconclusive."
Dartmouth College student Karen Alston, a 1977 presidential scholar, is annoyed to find that people will pick out specific verses from the Bible, out of context, to support their claims against homosexuality. The causes of homosexuality have yet to be determined and one cannot automatically condemn persons based on their sexual preferences.
Second, there is the issue concerning the importance placed on masculinity. Masculinity, or machismo, is highly valued in the Black community as an indication of the male sex role.