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From Blacklight Vol.1, No.4
From Blacklight Vol.1, No.4

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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.

In a recent interview comedian Richard Pryor said, "Straight black people often have a hard time dealing with gays. All my life I've seen that macho shit in the black neighborhoods, where you try to eliminate someone mentally, to get out of dealing with them by saying, 'Oh, you're a faggot, you don't know from nothing .'" In a recent article John Soares wrote, "Too many believe that (the street sissy) is the only gay role available to them because it is the only one they are full aware of."

A large percentage of Black males see homosexuality as a threat to their masculinity. According to gay men, straight males are very insecure in their masculinity and assume that being gay automatically makes them less of a man and detracts from their maleness.

On the other hand homosexuality need not affect one's sense of masculinity. Sexual preference is but one characteristic constituting the total person. Soares writes, "Perhaps too many reject being gay as a real option because their cultural screen prevents them from seeing that 'gay' is defined by sexual preferences only, and not any particular lifestyle."

It seems the very concept of what constitutes "masculinity" is on very shaky ground. Adherence to sexual stereotyping and rigid sex roles is partially responsible for the fear of homosexuality.

Third is the issue concerning the affect of homosexuality on the structure of the Black family. The family holds an important role in the community.

Among members of the Black community there is the contention that homosexuality is detrimental to family life. The idea of procreation is very important in the Black family.

Black gay activist Billy Jones said, "Many Blacks see the whole Gay movement as a means of destroying the Black family. When they talk about Gay men they see it as unmanly, weak. They don't think of Gays as being family people, as having children."

Within the community homosexuals are seen as degrading. Many Blacks not only cannot see them as having children but also as providing negative role models for Black youth.

However, when one investigates individual families a different picture emerges. In direct contrast to the larger community, the family is more accepting of family members that announce their sexual orientation.

On an individual basis, "Black families tend to be very accepting of family members who identify themselves as sexual minorities. They really make an effort to try to understand them and the love stays there," said Jones. Although in middle-class families there is a certain amount of difficulty in the acceptance of gay family members, for the majority of working-class Black people, gay lovers and steadies are accepted by, or even into, the family with a lack of flag-waving and statement making.

When confronted with homosexuality in their own families Blacks are far more understanding and accepting than on the larger scale of the Community. And the homophobia subsides as individual families begin to understand the unknown.

Whether we like it or not, right or wrong Black homosexuality is not going to disappear across the horizon. As Black people continue to struggle for their basic human rights they cannot afford to ignore the basic rights of a group within their own ranks for sexual preference. Divesting themselves of the irrational fears and ignorance on the issue of homosexuality, they will discover there are far fewer differences in their brothers and sisters apart from a failure to mirror the larger community's sexual preferences.

End



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