Getting Off the Bus…

“…he has never seen a gay person asked to sit in the back of the bus…” – Bishop Harry Jackson, High Impact Leadership Coalition speaking about an NAACP board member who resigned when the NAACP embraced marriage equality.

I recently watched the clip of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) that appears in an article (Black Pastor ‘Coalition’ Becomes Star Of NOM’s ‘Race-Wedging’ Strategy – Think Progress, Jul 16, 2012 by Zack Ford and it just made me sad.  I believe in religion and I believe in church leadership.  I also believe greatly in the black community.  I believe there is not only hope for a future that is rooted in equality, but one that is rooted in recognizing our individual and unique gifts based on our differences.  But listening to the pastors of CAAP made me think of how fear has created a self perpetuating ignorance in the black community that continues to keep us all down and out and “in our place” at the back of the bus.

The statement by Bishop Harry that starts this post says it all.  Here is someone, a religious leader, who is entirely unwilling to recognize his limitations in understanding a lifestyle that is different from his own or that challenges his concept of faith.  Listening to the other “leaders” in this clip it is also apparent that they are entirely unwilling to acknowledge the black LGBTQI community.  They speak as if there is a “gay agenda” that is entirely exclusive of the black experience.  True, there is a lot of media in the fight for gay rights, that has focused around the concerns and images of white gay men.  Historically, when we see our American gay communities, those that are dominated by white men, are the ones receiving the greatest benefit from advanced drug therapies for AIDS as well as the ones benefiting from progressive legislation regarding hate crimes, domestic partnership and parenting rights.  Watching the recent PBS special “Endgame: AIDS in Black America” this racial disparity is hugely apparent.  But we in the black community must take some responsibility for this disparity.  Although it was a white society that institutionalized orientation based hatred through damaging “sodomy laws” here in the US, it was also brave and progressive white people in those same communities who fought hard and bitterly to have those laws changed and to force attitudes of acceptance and create change.  Their efforts were not perfect, and have not been an absolute success, and they were not alone, but they set a role model for upsetting the cart.  It is inexplicable to me then to see traditionalists in the black community standing by, clutching to their Bibles while perpetuating an agenda of this same orientation based hatred while watching millions of black people die in the process.  By their actions they are accomplices in the racial marginalization of health and welfare.  These same “leaders” unwittingly support an environment whereby people of color are not only dying from AIDS, but through suicide and drug abuse and lives of desperation that come directly from being pushed out of community.  This is not a legacy we expect of women and men who claim to be inspired by the word of God.

In the video clip, Pastor John McCrutcheon, from Joint Hiers Fellowship Church, claims that “homosexuality is not a civil right.” I would agree, in fact “homosexuality” is only a medically derived label that doesn’t begin to embrace all of the different ways, shapes and forms in which human beings are blessed to be able to express loving relationships across gender lines.  I also understand when leaders from the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s are hesitant to draw a parallel between LGBTQI rights and those for black Americans.  The stakes are very different, even if some of the means have been similar.  However, the right to live and flourish with societal recognition and protection as part of a family IS a civil right.  I have said in sermons and in various notes and postings that I see Marriage Equality as neither being about marriage nor equality.  Marriage Equality is about family rights.  How do we define the family?  How do we defend the family? How do we support family structures that help us build strong communities?  I would say that we do not define, defend, support or build anything if we wield the Bible as a weapon in the process.  Even the Bible leaves the definition of family up to question, including throughout its various versions: widows, uncles, brother in law spouses, spinster daughters, and groups of inspired friends (think the disciples) etc. Nowhere does it consistently define the family as only being ONE man and ONE woman with a specific number of children.  The family may be a single mother of three; a single father; an uncle and his adopted nieces…and for that matter it may also be a lesbian/ trans couple and their biological children; a single person and their community of support; or two gay men.  Whether or not you believe in God or Jesus Christ, isn’t it basic for us to support the idea of a greater human family?  Family is community and community insures our future and honors our past.

In direct response to Bishop Harry Jackson, LGBTQI blacks have been asked to sit in the back of the bus for ages.  In fact, we have not only been asked to sit in the back of the bus, we have been told by many of our “religious” leaders that we are not even welcome on the bus and if given the chance, they will try to run us down with the bus if we try to get on.  We have been called an embarrassment, and abomination, a scourge, and for some of us who have stood up to this bigotry we continue to be met with dismissal and scorn.  In some ways, sitting in the back of the bus would be an improvement.  However, we are not willing to sit in the back of the bus…we are not willing to be told where to sit on anyone’s bus.  We believe that the bus our narrow minded church leaders are driving, is breaking down and creating toxic pollution that is serving only to destroy all of us.  We are called to create an entirely new mode of transportation and yes, some of us are turning to the Bible, to the Quran and even to the Tanakh as the ticket.  Jesus teaches a doctrine of compassion and deep faith, but that is not pity and we wouldn’t accept it if it were; those who speak of  “condemning the sin and not the sinner” miss the point of Jesus Christ or any faith entirely.  Faith teaches us that we must be humbled to our common human experience, that there is something greater.  Regardless of what we do or what we believe or how our reality presents, we are all human beings.  That commonality alone means that one cannot define themselves as somehow more deserving than another.  Just as we have no right to take the life of another human being, so we have no right to deny the life of another human being as they were created to live it.  If you do not wish to worship with people in the LGBTQI community, then so be it (your loss.) But do not preach hatred and exclusion and attempt to justify it through the love of God.  Whether or not you like it, God loves your adversary as much as God loves you.

So to Bishop Harry Jackson I say have a look at your transit map and think again.  LGBTIQI blacks have definitely been in the back of the bus…but maybe you just didn’t notice that we got off at the last stop, got in our limousine and passed you by.

One thought on “Getting Off the Bus…

  1. Excellent post, Adam. This is such a painful issue, so important that it must not be dropped. So many of us have a “foot” in more than one oppressed group and there is nothing harder than when the two sides turn on one another. My second year in social work school, the Black Students’ Alliance and what was then called the Gay and Lesbian Students Alliance (the term LGBT was only starting to be used) joined forces and hosted a six hour workshop: “Homophobia in the Black Community & Racism in the Gay Community.” It was about the most interesting and emotionally exhausting day we’d had. Also the most memorable. Lots of sharing of personal stories, but also small group “break out” projects where people had to acknowledge their own biases and assumptions. Reading Bishop Jackson’s statement at the top of your post, I kept thinking about what it might be like for all the gay men and women who were sent to the back of the bus, how they were invisible to their own people.

Leave a Reply