Black Gay To Serve on Obama Policy Council on Faith-Based Initiatives

From Gay Politics.com-Fred Davie, the openly gay president of Public/Private Ventures, has been named to serve on President Barack Obama’s Policy Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Davie will work to provide objective, nonpartisan advice to the president on a variety of public policy matters, including strategies to increase the effectiveness of social services delivered by community and faith-based organizations.

Before the gays break out the champaign–I don’t like the idea of government-funded social service programs to religious institutions. I don’t care who is on the decision making body (and if you look at the rest of the body, it is not clear that this is the most progressive of faith-based leaders, and they’re almost entirely Christian). Since the Bush Administration began the faith-based initiative project several years ago, it also allowed for faith-based institutions taking federal grant money to make decisions about hiring based on their, or an applicant’s, religious (read: moral) preferences. Obama, in announcing this new (but not new) office, has held off reversing this decision, which they say is under legal review, according to a story published in US News & World Report. Also, listed among the goals of the office, is to work on “abortion reduction and fatherhood participation” initiatives–both of which have the potential for more liberal, Daniel Patrick Moynihan-esque social policy that is about supporting patriarchial family structures in poor (and especially Black) communities.

I am all for churches who do good work–feeding people, caring for the sick & elderly, providing community spaces for people to gather. But I don’t want them to take money to do that work, and then turn around and preach shitty things about queers, or racist & misogynist fundamentalist churches as well. Also, what does this do to further paralyze Black churches, who have all but abandoned mass action and community organizing, to only turn them into service providers. Black churches historically have done both, but will getting government money further move them in that direction?

NOTE: I should say that I have known about Davie for many years. I used to work in workforce development where Davie is well known and very well regarded in progressive circles (you can find some of his speeches on the PPV website which seem OK. I don’t care for faith-based initiatives with government money, and have strong reservations about the office itself.

Young Black Gays Debate Homophobia in Hip-Hop

I founs this duo online who produce the “LesMan Show” and I am in love with smart young Black gay men producing media and trying to think thru some things. In this case, ‘Lil Wayne’s homophobic lyrics:

Black LGBT Folk To Protest Rick Warren’s MLK Day Sermon at King’s Church

The layers of the following story are a mess. But let’s jump in:

One year ago this weekend, then-Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church where he very directly challenged the Black church and by extension the Black Community on its treatment of Black LGBT folks. He said:

For most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community. We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them.

The leadership at Ebeneezer Baptist Church, the church that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. was pastor, and which played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement, paid that speech no mind, and President Barack Obama doesn’t seemed to have meant much by it, either. Why? Not only does Obama choose Rev. Rick Warren (Prop 8 supporter, evolution denier and anti-choice zealot) to give the invocation at his inauguration, but Ebenezer Baptist Church has chosen this white evangelical pastor to give the sermon at the MLK Day service!

Coretta Scott King and daughter Yolanda King (both deceased) were both allies to the LGBT community, and would have flat out disapproved of this choice, and so likely would have Martin. It’s hard not to think Sharpton’s speech one week before MLK Day in Atlanta wasn’t also given as an indirect scolding of Ebenezer choosing Rick Warren. But luckily, the Atlanta Black LGBT Coalition, being led by two friends/comrades of mine, Paris Hatcher & Craig Washington, are leading a protest of Ebenezer this weekend to express their outrage on this choice. Southern Voice (my favorite of all LGBT newspapers) writes:

“Warren not only compares women having an abortion to Nazis, and pro-choice supporters to holocaust deniers, but he also opposed the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer folk to marriage, as well as [admittance] to his church,” said Craig Washington, a founding member of the Atlanta Black LGBT Coalition, which is organizing the protest…These views, these words, are acts of oppression. They are incompatible with the dream of the beloved community Martin Luther King envisioned, and the spirit with which Coretta Scott King founded the King Center.”

Warren “preaches a message that is dated, harmful and dangerous about our bodies, our sexualities and our communities,” said Paris Hatcher, a lesbian activist with reproductive rights group Spark!, another protest organizer.“As members of King’s beloved community, we say that all communities are sacred,” Hatcher said. “And at times like these, Atlanta needs to hear a message of love and liberation that affirms everyone, not a narrow opinion that reinforces the dialogue of oppression and shame.”

The protest is scheduled for Monday, January 19th at 9am, at the corner of Jackson & Auburn Streets, across from Ebenezer.

The reality is that we’re going to have to continue to bring it to the rest of the Black community like this from here on in.

2008: Year of the Black Queer!

2008 is the year of the Black Queer!

OK. That sounds really cheesy. But I was thinking about what my end of year blog entry would be, and while watching the finale of the Keyshia Cole reality show on BET, that Black Queer folks have been extremely visible in a myriad of ways over the last year.

Reality TV

Black queers have been most visible in the realm of reality TV. While the First Housewives of Atlanta was the third (and most watched) of the series on Bravo, it also had the most recurring Black gay men and transwomen and otherwise gender nonconforming folks of any of the three shows. Dwight Eubanks, ATL Celebrity Hairstylist and “gay husband” to NeNe, was on the show regularly, and seemed most often to be the voice of reason in the midst of all the drama. Similary, On Keyshia Cole’s show, her sister Neffe’s good friend and hairstylist Darrell was on the show regularly. Though their sexuality was never really discussed (though Dwight and NeNe had an interesting exchange about gender on the show), it was interesting to see such Black gay men (especially who were very gender noncomforming) on popular television. Also, Laverne Cox, the Black transwoman was a contestant on P. Diddy’s I Want to Work for Diddy show. She left about halfway through the show, and many things happened that were transphobic in nature, she wasn’t tragic and the show showed some level of growth in some other folks on the show who were clearly originally very uncomfortable with her presence.

Wendy Wiliams

So Wendy is not queer, but the queen of gossip radio’s 5 week pilot-run in several major cities brought Black gay culture to the mainstream in ways that the unsuspecting hetero may not realize. Her signature “How You Doin?” phrase has for years been a a way to signify Black queer culture with her radio listeners, as well as other phrases that she is beginning to popularize that come from Black gay culture like “Alright” and “The Girls Are Sitting” and “What’s the Tea?” Much like Beyonce’s continued use of Black queer culture for inspiration in videos like “Single Ladies” (the choreography is ripped from the pageant scene in Black southern queer bars and clubs), Wendy continues to bring Black gayness to the masses.

Noah’s Arc

Speaking of Tea, Noah’s Arc, the Black gay television series produced by LOGO (MTV Networks), made its way to the silver screen and opened to stunning per-seat sales at the box office in the 5 cities where it screened. This little Black gay movie became the buzz of the industry that never thought a film with Black gay characters not as buffoons (though it is a very soap-opera ish) as the leading characters could ever do well at the box office.

Politics

Not only did Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick both become regularly called-upon pundits on CNN this year, mostly due to Paula Zahn’s now cancelled show, but because several political stories, Black LGBT became very central to of the framing of “gay issues” this year in a way we haven’t been. When Obama choose “ex-gay movement” mega church minister Donnie McClurkin to lead an event in South Carolina ahead of the primary, Black gays were most prominent in voicing our opposition. More recently, when white gays like sex columnist Dan Savage launched into many racist tirades to “Blame the Blacks” for the passage of Prop 8 in California, Black LGBT folk became somewhat prominent in the discussion. Race issues in the LGBT community are not new, but because of a number of popular Bloggers, writers and activists like Herndon Davis, Kai Wright, Jasmyne Cannick, Rod 2.0 and yours truly, there was an immediate and very public backlash from Black LGBT folks about Prop 8, and racism in the LGBT community. In fact when interviewing the back-peddling Savage, Steven Colbert even talked about Black gay people, specifically. In the 1970s-1990s, much of the response to racism in the community was documented by organizations and writers like Barbara Smith and Essex Hemphill, but it would be years before their works would be published and mass distributed. White queers who bought into the hype abot Black voters in California (I think) were quite taken aback by the Black queers who voiced our opposition to their racism in immediate writings, op-eds, blog posts, and TV/radio interviews.

Though there was lots of sad news this year in the murders of several people in our community as well. There were a couple victories– new trials for several of the New Jersey 4, and a recent high court decision in Uganda ruled in favor of lesbian activists that had been arrested and assaulted by police.

See you in 2009!

Interview with Writer/Director Stanley Bennett Clay

I don’t read a lot of novels, but when I read a good one, I definitely have to pass it on. Recently I read Looker, written by Stanley Bennett Clay. The novel’s basic story is of two black gay men, best friends, living in Los Angeles who struggle to find love—or to run and hide from it. But the novel is so much more than that. It’s a complex read of how Black people negotiate their own sexuality and inner desires through a lens that is often distorted by all the isms and phobias—class, race, age, (trans) gender. Some of the characters find sexual liberation. Some do not.I had a chance to talk to the author, Stanley Bennett Clay, a couple weeks ago. Clay has received three NAACP Image Awards for writing, directing and producing the critically acclaimed play Ritual, as well as the Pan African Film Festival Award for the film adaptation. He is the author of three novels, Diva, In Search of Pretty Young Black Men, and of course, Looker.

KF: I just finished Looker, and thought it was a really amazing novel. Can you tell me what inspired it?

SBC: I guess it was a part of my whole process of writing stories about the gay scene in Los Angeles and gay people in Los Angeles. I found oftentimes in reading a lot of black gay stories, there were few times when there was a discussion of the Los Angeles scene, and most of the stories were set back east. And being a really fanatical Los Angeles kind of person, I really wanted to put a spin on it and show the differences as well as the uniqueness of black gay life in Los Angeles, especially middle class black gay life. And just getting the landscape out there and introducing it to the readers.

KF: One of the things I really liked about Looker was that it explored people’s inner desires, particularly their desires around sex and sexuality, in a way that’s really complicated. Why did you decide to take on sex and sexuality in such an explicit way as you did in this novel?

SBC: I think that’s probably a trademark one would find in all my writing…I’ve always had a sort of a problem with America’s timid-ness and immaturity in regards to sex. I find it interesting that we live in a world were a movie can be shown and we can see dozens of people killed and maimed and mutilated and that gets a PG rating, but if you see a couple, a married couple, making love, and that gets an R rating or even an X rating depending on what is shown. There’s just this thing that really ticks me off which has to do with the way America views sexuality. I look at sex as very normal, and as this God-given thing, so I just show it very normally.

KF: I want to ask you specifically about the Black community and sexuality. For me, on one level through hip-hop videos and other kinds of media, you see a lot of overt sexual imagery of black people, but at the same time in the community you have a very conservative attitude or response to sex and sexuality. The characters in Looker deal with the full spectrum of that—either liberation or shame around his or her own sexual desires. So what do you think the take away is for the black community on sex and sexuality.

SBC: I think it goes back to slavery in a lot of ways. We don’t want to seem out of line with what society sees as acceptable, and because of that we have a tendency to be even more conservative when it comes to sex for fear that the white man is looking. And we don’t want him to do that we are doing some of these things. It comes back to the old cliché that there are black people who are ashamed to let people know that they eat watermelon simply because of the old stereotype, or who won’t buy a Cadillac because of the old stereotype of it being a pimp-mobile. We have to liberate ourselves from that sort of belief, and to be free enough to express ourselves any way we want to. Continue reading

NYT Article on Gay Youth and HIV Draws Mostly Misinformed Analysis

(originally written for Prevention Justice.org: The blog of Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project)

Want the good news or bad news first?

I’ll give you the bad news.

Sex columnist Dan Savage whose syndicated column Savage Love is read weekly by millions in alternative weeklies around the country, wrote a blog entry for the Seattle news site The Stranger about the NYT story on rising HIV infections among young MSMs. His blog post was his usual snarky self, but horribly misinformed. He writes:

” so long as gay health educators refuse to level with gay men–there’s no “moderating” your meth use; you can suck too much cock; anal sex isn’t a first-date activity and having anal sex with hordes of anonymous partners, even with condoms, is sure-fire way of contracting HIV–these new campaigns won’t have much of an impact. And so we’ll be reading this story again in a couple of years, yet another story about HIV infection that makes tragic heroes of guys like Javier Arriola and goes on to suggest that straight talk about HIV infection is part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

Though Savage is very clever in his use of 4-letter words, he actually contributes to a problem of stigmatizing gay men who are HIV+ and/or in higher risk categories, but he also doesn’t understand the role race plays in all of this. CDC Behavioral Scientist Greg Millett recently published a meta-analysis of studies of Black MSMs and found that “…the assumption of higher risk behavior among black MSM-as measured by unprotected anal intercourse, total number of sex partners, and commercial sex work-was not found to explain the differential in infection rates relative to non-black gay and bi men. This conclusion was based on a review of more than 25 separate studies (Gay City News).”

The Washington Blade’s News Editor Joey DiGuglielmo tries to respond to Savage in their blog, but actually perpetuates a lot of the misinformation Savage spreads in the first place. DiGulielmo writes:

“…what HIV experts have often told me is that gay men who contract HIV in the ’00s almost always have done so by taking needless sexual risks. My friend Dane, who’s also well read on the topic, has even said that any gay man who contracts HIV these days is pretty much always making irresponsible sexual decisions.”

What? “My friend Dane who is well read on the topic?” I know he was writing for the blog and not the paper, but how does that pass as substantive expertise? Is the blog not held to similar standards as the paper? Doesn’t the news editor have access to sources (in DC, land of the policy wonks, to boot!) who could answered some quick questions on this? Even dropping by the CDC’s website would have given more useful information and data.

So that’s the bad news. Literally, and figuratively.

The good news, you ask? Thank GOD for GMHC Executive Director Dr. Marjorie Hill’s letter to the NYT’s story, which sheds some real light on a few contributing factors to the rising numbers.

Young gay men need real support and education before they have been infected and when they are at greatest risk. Research shows that key resiliency factors for gay youth are family acceptance and school-based interventions, such as gay-straight alliances and anti-bullying initiatives.

Sadly, when the New York City Council passed the Dignity for All Students Act ensuring these protections, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg vetoed it. When the Council overrode his veto, Mr. Bloomberg chose not to carry out the law.

Our political leaders bemoan the continued spread of H.I.V. Yet when faced with real opportunities to address homophobia and other root causes of the epidemic, these same leaders fail us. It’s time that we recognize antigay bias for the public health threat that it is and seek its eradication.

All this could have been avoided if the original news story had gone one step further in explaining the structural interventions that would be useful for young Black and Latino gay men, and less stigma and blame.

NYC Theater Bags ‘Dirty Laundry’ After Smash Weekend

This is an instance where “green” does not override “black.” Even in limited release in LA and NYC, the new comedy “Dirty Laundry” was the highest grossing movie per screen this past weekend, making a whopping $12,000 per screen, with The Golden Compass coming in second at $7,308. And yet, the Chelsea Clearview, the theater that caters to the white gay community, decided to close the film this Thursday, after only one week. The film opens widely on the 28th.

According to Keith Boykin.com, the film producers don’t want people to protest, but would rather focus on the positive, and gear up for the nationwide opening. Apparently the theater said that the opening success (with two sold-out shows in a 24 hour period) was not enough to keep running the film. Mind you, I know I have seen films at the Clearview with a damn near empty house, and yet somehow or another, ‘Dirty Laundry’ didn’t make enough money? Chile please!

I haven’t seen the film yet. I was out of town this weekend, but had made plans with a friend to try to catch it this weekend. Now, I guess that will not happen. I hope Maurice Jamal and the rest of the production team pushes to get the film opened elsewhere.

I don’t really know if the Clearview is a white and gay owned establishment. But I do know that is who they cater to. And this goes to show, (contrary to the people who like to think we’re “beyond race” and it’s just about “class” now) Black queers are still black and white people still see us as such, gay or not. In addition, black people’s buying power is never respected to the degree that if this had been a white gay film opening.