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Sufficient As I Am

Originally published in
Spirited: Affirming the Soul and Black Gay/Lesbian Identity
spirited

Born and raised a Baptist, I was deeply involved with the church for the first nineteen years of my life. I spent an average of three days a week there: regular Sunday services, Wednesday night Bible Study, and youth/young adult activities on Saturday.

I was a Christian by rote. I could recite the books of the Bible and had memorized lots of verses, but didn’t really think about what I was learning. That began to change one Sunday morning with a discussion in Young Adult Sunday School class. Rev. Sam, the Youth/Young Adult pastor, asked, “What would you do if you were or had gotten someone else pregnant?”

There were about fifteen of us in the room and, like Stepford children, all of us just recited the correct answer. “Well, the right thing to do is marry the mother/father of my child.”

Then, the reverend threw us a curve ball. “What if you didn’t love or even like the mother/father of the baby? What if getting married to this person would be like entering a living hell?” I thought about it for a moment. “Don’t you still have to get married? If it’s a bad marriage aren’t you just suffering the consequences of your own sin?” Even as I said it, I knew it was a weak argument.

Rev. Sam drove his point home. “Do you really believe that a kind, loving God would want you to enter a loveless, lifeless marriage? Can you fix a situation by creating a worse one? Would that be good for you? For the baby? What society, your parents, or even your pastor tells you to do does not always reflect God’s will for your life.”

Those words rocked the foundation of my 16-year-old existence. It was the first time anyone had ever challenged me to examine my beliefs. Before when I encountered doctrine that I thought was strange, I glossed over it. After this Sunday School lesson I stopped mindlessly absorbing sermons and religious teachings and started really thinking about what I was hearing. I began sorting through my own thoughts and ideas. “Do I believe this because I really believe it or because it’s been drilled into my head as the truth?”

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As one of my New Year’s resolutions, I hope to encourage more Christians to read their Bibles with a brand new set of eyes and a compassionate heart.

Why?

Because the Bible has played a salient role in discrimination against all people at different times in this country. Both religious intolerance and fundamentalism foster a climate of spiritual abuse that leave many people in spiritual exile for the rest of their lives. At present , its excommunicated population is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Used too often as a controlling device and not enough as a spiritual compass, the Bible becomes a tool to promulgate moral and political agendas. For example, in 1998, the right-wing Christian groups — the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, and Americans for Truth About Homosexuality — ordered all its members to cease using the King James Version of the Bible because historians had proven that King James I of England, who was also known as James VI of Scotland, was indisputably gay.

Should the King James Version of the Bible, which has been around since 1611 and used worldwide, be discarded solely on the bases of King James’ sexual orientation?

Speaking at a press conference about this controversy, Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council said, “I feel uncomfortable that good Christians all over America, and indeed the world, are using a document commissioned by a homosexual. Anything that has been commissioned by a homosexual has obviously been tainted in some way.”

The justification for queer bashing stems from the belief of doing God’s will as purported in the Bible, and many Christians, both blacks as well as whites, believe only heterosexuals are elected to do so.

Gospel singers Angie and Debbie Winans released a single in 1998 titled “Not Natural,” in which they self-righteously denounced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as children of God. When queried by newscaster Travis Smiley on the cable show Black Entertainment Tonight what compelled them to come forth and sing this song, Debbie Winans stated, ” We don’t come as Angie and Debbie. We come as messengers of God doing his will.”

“Doing God’s will” is a prodigious task and unmistakably a human enterprise. As a human enterprise, “doing God’s will” is invariably subject to error because it is fraught with both humble intent and righteous indignation. Its anchor and its impetus are found in the human act of interpreting the Word of God.

Interpreting scripture as the Word of God is always subjective and is always suspect in intent, whether it is being done in the ivy towers of seminaries or within the holy walls of sanctuaries. Interpreting scripture with menacing messages — and with litanies of do’s and don’t’s — is not about embracing and empowering all people, but about authority and power over certain groups of people. The authority of scripture does not lie in what God said. It lies in the hands of those in power who determine what God ought to say.

The Bible is replete with contradictory and damning messages to all people. Determining which messages are discarded and which are upheld is not a battle about biblical inerrancy or God’s will. It is an unmitigated battle of human will. For example, there are two creationist myths in the Bible (Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:22). The first myth says that God made woman and man simultaneously. The second creation myth is our “rib story” in which Eve is born from a rib of Adam. Undoubtedly this story has ribbed and poked at Christian women throughout the centuries, since it is the authoritative text for substantiating gender inequity in society. The Curse of Ham (Genesis 9:18-27), and Apostle Paul’s edict to slaves (Ephesian 6:5-8) served as the scientific and Christian legitimation for the enslavement of people of African ancestry. The Sodom and Gomorrah narrative (Genesis 19:1-29) is one of the most quoted scriptures to argue for compulsory heterosexuality and queer bashing.

As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, however, many of us allow the power of God’s will to be interpreted and executed by heterosexuals by not knowing the Bible ourselves. Our ignorance about the Bible, whether we are practicing atheists or recovering Christians, perpetuates our oppression and make us participants in this climate of homophobia. As more and more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people unabashedly take back the Bible, new theological and ethical questions must be raised.

As our society crawls toward diversity and inclusiveness while approaching a new year and new presidency, the moral imperative calls for the prophetic voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the same manner that the civil rights movement in this country called for the prophetic voices of African Americans.

Is it the will of God to devalue and to dehumanize the lives of women, people of African ancestry, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? On the question of race and gender, most Americans, both Christians and non-Christians, clearly see the answer as no. However, on the question of sexual orientations many of our heterosexual brothers and sisters are biblically challenged.

(c) 2001, Rev. Irene Monroe. All rights reserved.

One of my Sunday school teens, Jamal, asked me several Advent seasons ago if the church was going to hear the usual Christmas sermon about baby Jesus being born in a manger. Because if so, as he pointedly said to me, “I ain’t feeling it, Rev.”

I have been bothered every Christmas by our culture’s egregious form of commercialism that robs the season of its spiritual meaning — as well as our anemic recognition of other religious holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and the celebration of the winter solstice. And at that moment, I was both bothered and challenged by the teen’s remark.

Jamal was tired of hearing the same story about the same cast of characters in the Nativity narrative that rendered the same ending, and wanted to know, since he had to attend service on that day: What did Jesus’ birth have to do with him and his family?

Born of a “virgin” — in Mary’s day that meant a young teenage girl – Mary was pregnant before marriage with Jesus. In the economically distressed area of the Bronx where I was first sent as a pastor, the church I served was just across the street from a housing project where there were many baby Jesus stories of young black mothers like Mary. However, society immediately stigmatizes these unwed mothers as promiscuous and wild. At the birth of their children, society marginalizes, castigates and unabashedly calls and treats them as bastards. And as a pejorative epithet, both mother and child are made to experience a shared guilt and shame.

Similarly, viewed as morally reprehensible by both Jewish social and cultural laws, Mary’s pregnancy posed problems. Betrothed to Joseph, Mary’s commitment of marriage was more binding than an engagement, and could only be severed by a divorce. However, according to Jewish custom, if a betrothed woman became pregnant and not by the man she was betrothed to, she was scornfully viewed as an adulteress, and according to Jewish Law, could be executed.

According to the views of medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1275), if Mary was an adulteress that made Jesus an illegitimate child. In his magnum opus The Summa Theologica, Aquinas wrote, “I answer that, Children are of four conditions. Some are natural and legitimate, for instance those who are born of a true and lawful marriage; some are natural and illegitimate, as those who are born of fornication; some are legitimate and not natural, as adopted children; some are neither legitimate nor natural; such are those born of adultery or incest, for these are born not only against the positive law, but against the express natural law. Hence we must grant that some children are illegitimate. . . Although those who are born of an unlawful intercourse are born according to the nature common to man and all animals, they are born contrary to the law of nature which is proper to man: since fornication, adultery, and the like are contrary tot he law of nature. Hence the like are not legitimate by any law.”

While Mary’s pregnancy is lauded in Christian tradition as immaculate and the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit of God, in many feminist Christian circles Mary’s pregnancy raises a suspicious eye. These communities question society’s attitudes then – and now – about unwed mothers having children outside of the institution of marriage.

According to Jewish Law, these children of unwed mothers are called mamzerim (Hebrew for bastards), and are subject to a variety of restrictions and discriminations; thus, do not share the privileges of God’s children. For example, In the Jewish text Deuteronomy 23:2 it states, “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”

And because Mary’s pregnancy came at a time when she was an unwed woman, Jesus’ birth came at a difficult time along the human timeline. As an adult, Jesus was viewed as a religious threat to conservative Jews because of his iconoclastic views and practice of Jewish Law, and viewed as a political threat to the Roman government simply because he was a Jew. However, as an infant, Jesus being born in the non-traditional Jewish family was also about the struggle for human acceptance.

Similarly, in my congregation, Jamal was born during a difficult time along the human timeline. Born as a black male into a society where the police profile and hunt black males as if on an urban expedition, Jamal was also born into a non-traditional family.

Called and treated as a bastard by society because his mother gave birth to him while a teenager, Jamal bears the sins not of his mother, but instead he bears the sins of society’s treatment of him and his mother as an illegitimate family.

In many feminist Christian circles, an acceptance of Mary’s pregnancy is not only the exaltation of the lowly, but it is also the exaltation of the different and diverse human configurations of the beauty of God’s family. Acceptance of Mary’s pregnancy as an unwed mother upholds the ethos that no child, no matter what his or her station in life might be, should be left behind. And it also symbolizes that those relegated to the fringes of society — the bastards — are the very ones that Jesus’ birth symbolizes and stands for.

Although Christmas is mostly thought of in terms of feasting and celebrating, Jesus’ birth is about the celebration of all families. Similarly, when I think of the birth of Jesus, one of the themes that looms large for me is homelessness, and how that social issue connects to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Why homelessness? Because many of us, myself included, do not really have a home to go to where we can sit at the family table and be fully out. Or, if out, we are not fully accepted, because we are the bastards — the illegitimate ones — in our families. As with Mary and Joseph during the time of Jesus’ birth, we travel from inn to inn to find there is no room.

In Luke 2:6-7 it states, “While they were there the time came for [Mary] to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son — her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Our birth, as individuals and as a LGBT movement, mirrors that of Jesus. It comes at a time when there is neither room nor tolerance for us at a difficult time along the human timeline. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us enjoy our time.

Let us make home, if not with biological families, then certainly with beloved friends.

And let this season serve as a marker that invites us to find home for the holidays and beyond.

(c) 2005, Rev. Irene Monroe. All rights reserved.

The Christmas season is a difficult time of year for me.

I am always bothered by our culture’s egregious forms of commercialism — and its either lack of or its anemic recognition of other forms for religious holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and the celebration of the winter solstice during this season.

Over the years, as I learned how other cultures celebrated their various forms of religious expression during this time of year, as well as learned that the underlying message of Jesus was the embrace and celebration of human difference and diversity — the less and less I have come to like this holiday season.

Too often we see the glitz and glamour that this holiday brings and we have totally missed its spiritual message. I truly believe if American Christians stayed more focused on the message and teachings of Jesus, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people would not have the annual angst of searching for home for the holidays.

Until the fourth century C.E., when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, Christians were despised as much in those days as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are today. As a matter of fact, to be called a Christian was considered a religious epithet, and it subjected Christians to ridicule, hate crimes and Christian-bashing in much of the same way as us queers are today.

Just as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people transformed the pejorative term “queer” into a positive word of self-reference, Christians transformed the word “Christian” into one of self-reverence.

Having known this history, I found calling myself a queer Christian neither blasphemous nor an oxymoron. Both are tied to the unending struggle of human acceptance, just at different times along the human timeline.

Religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of human life. Although its Latin root religio means “to bind,” it has served as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared hatred.

For example, I come out of a black religious tradition born of struggle for human acceptance. When slave masters gave my ancestors the Bible, their intent was not to make us better Christians, but instead better slaves.The Bible, at least according to slave owners, was the legitimate sanction for American slavery.

However, my ancestors took this authoritative text that was meant to aid them in acclimating to their life of servitude and turned it into an incendiary text that not only foment slave revolts and abolitionists movements, but also the nation’s civil rights movement. The Bible told African Americans how to do what must be done. And, in so doing, Nat Turner revolted against slavery, and Harriet Tubman conducted a railroad out of it.

My ancestors expanded not only the understanding of what it meant to be human, but also the parameters of what it meant to be a Christian.

Having known this history, I found calling myself a queer African-American Christian to my community neither less black nor less Christian. For all are tied, as my community ought to know, to the unending struggle of human acceptance, but at different times along the human timeline.

Jesus, birth comes at difficult time along the human timeline. Viewed as a religious threat to conservative Jews because of his iconoclastic views and practice of Jewish Law, and viewed as a political threat to the Roman government simply because he was a Jew, Jesus was nailed to a cross at Calvary because of the struggle for human acceptance on the human time line.

Although Christmas is mostly thought of in terms of feasting and celebrating, Jesus, birth — like his death — was born of struggle, and that struggle was to be accepted. Similarly, when I think of the birth of Jesus, one of the themes that looms large for me is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and homelessness.

Why homelessness? Because many of us, myself included, do not really have a home to go to where we can sit at the family table and be fully out — or if out, fully accepted. As with Mary and Joseph during the time of Jesus’ birth, we travel from inn to inn to only find there is no room.

In Luke 2:6-7 it states “While they were there the time came for [Mary] to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son — her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Our birth, as individuals and as a movement, mirrors that of Jesus. It comes at a time where there is neither room nor tolerance for us at a difficult time along the human timeline. As we gear up for this holiday season let us enjoy the time. But let us not forget the struggle that has gone before us and the work we must continue to do with our communities and straight allies.

Let us make home, if not with biological family, then certainly with beloved friends.

To Christians and non-Christians alike, let us find home for the holidays.

(c) 2000, Rev. Irene Monroe. All rights reserved.

God is love. And, love is universal. I truly view the bible as a mere book that is wholly irrelevant to God. I view the human inventions of every religion and denomination as holy distractions from true spirituality. I find sexuality, race, gender, and class to be equally meaningless to the singular global spirit that all humans refer to, with diverse monikers, as God.

I study all religions as I do any other subject. Learning is an incessant passion of my life. I have read many religious tomes by biblical scholars. There is none better than “Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians & Gays in Black Churches” by stunningly handsome theological scholar, professor, and homosexual Episcopal priest Dr. Horace L. Griffin.

I adore Dave Chappelle’s political humor. One of my favorite Chappelle skits stars a blind black male who is unaware that he is black and is a zealous member of the Ku Klux Klan. He spews racist venom with a rabid intensity that belies his ebony skin and nappy hair…

I recall this tragically comical fictional character every time I am forced to attend a gaybashing black church (now only on very rare occasions of funerals and holidays). The thought of this hateful fool haunts me as I suddenly witness the sobering real life atrocity of black gay masochists paying tithes and singing in choirs for gaybashing black preachers…

When my spirit is assaulted by such humorless antics, I heal by reading a definitively scholarly work on the shameless evil that black churches have practiced historically, and brazenly continue to encourage eternally. “Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians & Gays in Black Churches” details exactly what it means to endure religious evil by being a black gay Christian in America.

This brilliant book documents the ancient and ongoing existence of homosexuality in Africa. It illustrates the history and reverence of homosexuals in many African tribes. It dispels the racist myth that homosexuality is a European disease. In fact, it clearly proves that European homophobia infected Africa and African homosexuals. That rabidly virulent infection continues to plague Africans in religious “sanctuaries” across the Diaspora.

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As I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded of the autumnal harvest time’s spiritual significance. As a time of connectedness, I pause to acknowledge what I have to be thankful for. But I also reflect on the holiday as a time of remembrance – historical and familial.

Historically, I am reminded that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a cause of celebration, but rather a National Day of Mourning, remembering the real significance of the First Thanksgiving in 1621 as a symbol of persecution and genocide of Native Americans and the long history of bloodshed with European settlers.

I am also reminded of my Two-Spirit Native American brothers and sisters who struggle with their families and tribes not approving of their sexual identities and gender expressions as many of us do with our families and faith communities.

“Yes, there’s internalized homophobia in every gay community, but as Native Americans we are taught not to like ourselves because we’re not white. In our communities, people don’t like us because we’re gay,” Gabriel Duncan, member of Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS), told the Pacific News Service.

And consequently, many Two-Spirit Native Americans leave their reservations and isolated communities hoping to connect with the larger LGBTQ community in urban cites. However, due to racism and cultural insensitivity, many Two-Spirits feel less understood and more isolated than they did back home.

But homophobia is not indigenous to Native American culture. Rather, it is one of the many devastating effects of colonization and Christian missionaries that today Two-Spirits may be respected within one tribe yet ostracized in another.

“Homophobia was taught to us as a component of Western education and religion,” Navajo anthropologist Wesley Thomas has written. “We were presented with an entirely new set of taboos, which did not correspond to our own models and which focused on sexual behavior rather than the intricate roles Two-Spirit people played. As a result of this misrepresentation, our nations no longer accepted us as they once had.”

Traditionally, Two-Spirits symbolized Native Americans’ acceptance and celebration of diverse gender expressions and sexual identities. They were revered as inherently sacred because they possessed and manifested both feminine and masculine spiritual qualities that were believed to bestow upon them a “universal knowledge” and special spiritual connectedness with the “Great Spirit.” Although the term was coined in the early 1990s, historically Two-Sprits depicted transgender Native Americans. Today, the term has come to also include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and intersex Native Americans.

The Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious persecution in their homeland, were right in their dogged pursuit of religious liberty. But their actual practice of religious liberty came at the expense of the civil and sexual rights of Native Americans.

And the Pilgrims’ animus toward homosexuals not only impacted Native American culture, but it also shaped Puritan law and theology.

Here in the New England states, the anti-sodomy rhetoric had punitive if not deadly consequences for a newly developing and sparsely populated area. The Massachusetts Bay Code of 1641 called for the death of not only heretics, witches and murderers, but also “sodomites,” stating that death would come swiftly to any “man lying with a man as with a woman.” And the renowned Puritan pastor and Harvard tutor, the Rev. Samuel Danforth in his 1674 “fire and brimstone” sermon preached to his congregation that the death sentence for sodomites had to be imposed because it was a biblical mandate.

Because the Pilgrims’ fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, their actions did not set up the conditions requisite for moral liability and legal justice. Instead, the actions of the Pilgrims brought about the genocide of a people, a historical amnesia of the event, and an annual national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush ironically – if not ignorantly – designated November as “National American Indian Heritage Month” to celebrate the history, art, and traditions of Native American people.

As we get into the holiday spirit, let us remember the whole story of the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers to the New World.

On a trip home to New York City in May 2004, I went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to view the UNESCO Slave Route Project, “Lest We Forget: the Triumph Over Slavery,” that marks the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution proclaiming 2004 “The International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and Its Abolition.”

In highlighting that African Americans should not be shamed by slavery, but instead defiantly proud of our memory of it, I read the opening billboard to the exhibit that stated, “By institutionalizing memory, resisting the onset of oblivion, recalling the memory of tragedy that for long years remained hidden or unrecognized and by assigning it its proper place in the human conscience, we respond to our duty to remember.”

It is in the spirit of our connected struggles against discrimination that we can all stand on a solid rock that rests on a multicultural foundation for a true and honest Thanksgiving.

And in so doing, it helps us to remember, respect, mourn and give thanks to the struggles not only our LGBTQ foremothers and forefathers endured, but also the ongoing struggle our Native American Two-Spirit brothers and sisters face everyday – and particularly on Thanksgiving Day.

(c) 2006, Rev. Irene Monroe. All rights reserved.

The goal of the event was to bring together LGBT writers, thinkers, teachers, and publishing and media professionals of African descent to discuss the position and importance of African diasporic LGBT literature.

In talking with Lisa Moore, one of the conveners of the conference as well as founder and editor of RedBone Press, an LGBT black publishing house based in Washington, D.C., I asked her what voice or voices do we as LGBT people of African descent bring to the literary canon.

“We bring voices that aren’t often heard in the gay and lesbian world of literature and writing,” said Moore. “We bring the poor black gay and lesbian voice; the club kids; the urban experience; the rural Southern experience; the Caribbean voice, in all its various flavors and accents; the Canadian-Caribbean immigrant experience. All of this is not heard from HarperCollins, from Simon & Schuster, from Farrar Straus Giroux. We want black writers to know we black gay and lesbian writers are their people too and we want white gay writers to know we’re out there, too, with a substantial body of work, and more being created.”

The exclusion we experience from publishing houses and the literary world due to homophobia and/or racism, at best, departmentalizes our works as either black or queer; thus erasing the LGBT of African descent literary canon, and, at worst, rendering us invisible and muting our voice.

In a statement by Barbara Smith and Joseph Beam in March 1988 at the Second National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College, in Brooklyn N.Y., they said, “In spite of efforts to ghettoize and exclude us, we are part of a long and proud Black Lesbian and Gay literary tradition. The Harlem Renaissance could not have occurred if it had not been for its Black and Gay participants, among them: Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Alain Locke, and R. Bruce Nugent.”

And Nugent was the only self-declared gay man in the bunch. “Harlem was very much like the village. People did what they wanted to do with whom they wanted to do it.”

The name of this conference, “Fire and Ink,” is a spin-off from the literary magazine FIRE!! that was published by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. For these gay writers, as for our present-day LGBT writers of African descent, their sexuality was as central to their work as their race. However, the sexual politics espoused in their opuses were censored, and consequently only one issue of FIRE!! made it to print. The reading out or weeding out of the queer experience in the Harlem Renaissance was due to patrons who would not support openly gay writers or due to relatives in charge of their estates who weeded out any implied references or overt pronouncements about their sexual behavior or sexual orientation.

Being both of African descent and queer creates a distinctive epistemology that shapes not only our identity but it also shapes our distinctive interpretative lens we zoom on the world about politics, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, arts, music.

Our method of identifying and “languaging” our way of identifying as both of African descent and queer is evident in the terms we use like “in the life” — an identifier, a code, that derives from the Harlem Renaissance. Another is the term “same-gender loving” that became popular in our queer lexicon in the 1990’s. Both terms are indeed a radical pronouncement for LGBT people of African descent, because they are statements about openly engaging in sexual behavior, mannerism and lifestyle outside of the accepted norm, and about naming it in the face of virulent homophobia in the black community that could very well cost them their careers if not their lives.

Although the Black Church is a representation of black heterosexual male power and sexuality, we LGBT people of African descent nonetheless articulate, live and write about a black queer spirituality that derives from the church, and is part of the black religious cosmos.

Evelyn White, an African American lesbian and the author of The Black Women’s Health Book, stated in Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual African American Fiction that “The kind of bliss that Langston Hughes describes in Blessed Assurance, is his story about the erotic love between two black men that is made plain in the stained-glass sanctity of the historic black church. As the Shakespeare of Harlem was known to have said himself: Do Jesus! Lawd Today!”

Writing is a way to be visible and to be heard.

For my African ancestors, writing became a subversive tool, particularly in a Western culture that did not value the veracity of their lives told in an oral tradition. Writing allowed my ancestors to tell and to compile the stories of their lives as a sacred text. Hence, writing also makes visible, at least in print, those lives that are too often, with intent, omitted. Therefore, writing is a political necessity.

For LGBT people of African descent our writings create a counter voice, text, and knowledge that becomes a tool that not only gives us a voice and visibility, but also gives us power.

As LGBT people of African descent we write because not to write would cause us to participate in our own death. We write because those behind us, our progeny, will need it. We write because our opuses become a canon for survival, and our holy bible in spite of the claims that our sexual orientation is both an abomination to our community and God. And we write because we know our lives too are sacred texts.

(c) 2002, Rev. Irene Monroe. All rights reserved.

We have a crisis in the African American community: an epidemic of homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth. And they need our help. And like the AIDS epidemic ravaging the African American community, my folks are not addressing this problem either.

Of course, airing the problem publicly will be viewed by many in the black community as “airing our dirty laundry” or “putting our business in the street.” But when 42 percent of the country’s homeless youth identifies as LGBTQ, and approximately 90 percent within this group are comprised of African American and Latino youth from urban enclaves like New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles, the problem is already on the street. Why? Because our kids are. And during these summer months their numbers will soar.
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According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness”, released in June 2006, family conflict over youths’ sexual orientation or gender identity is the primary cause. And because of a lesser intolerance for bisexual and transgender youth they are disproportionately at a higher risk of becoming homeless.

And the perception that African American families and communities do not throw away their children because of the much touted out old African adage that espouses black unity, ”It takes a village to raise a child,” is false when it comes to our LGBTQ youth.

As a matter of fact, in June 2006 the Ali Forney Center (AFC) in NYC, the nation’s largest LGBTQ youth homeless services center, aggressively launched an advertising campaign asking the simple question: “Would you stop loving your child if you found out they were gay or lesbian?” Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, stated that “Our goal was to address the rising rate of LGBT youth homelessness, particularly in communities of color.”

Ali Forney, who the center is named after, was African American who identified as both gay and transgender.  And was a throwaway. Known also as “Luscious”, who sometimes referred to himself as “he” and at other times as “she”, Forney, like many throwaways, earned his living as a prostitute. However, once stabilized with a roof over his head Forney spent his remaining years dedicating his time helping his peers. But on a cold wintry December night in 1997 at 4 a.m. Forney was murdered by a still-unidentified assailant. Like most bisexual and transgender youth, they don’t expect to live a long and fruitful life.

“I believe that one day, the Lord will come back to get me. Hallelujah…. all my trials and tribulations, they will all be over. I won’t have to worry about crying and suffering no more….because my God, hallelujah, is coming back for me.” Forney recited this poem at his favorite event of the year: Talent Night at Safe Space, a program for homeless youth in NYC.

African American LGBTQ homelessness among youth also culminates from an ongoing cycle of abuse that homophobia exact on their lives that remains unexamined and unaccounted for in the black community. For example, with Biased Agenda-Driven (aptly abbreviated as “B.A.D.”) science like the seminal text “The Endangered Black Family: Coping With the Unisexualization and Coming Extinction of the Black Race”, by renown African American husband and wife scholars Nathan and Julia Hare, help shape the community’s attitude. Their use of fear, shame, misinformation, and any other means necessary to eradicate homosexuality from the black community is part and parcel of the type of pseudo-social science and ex-gay ministries that have taken root in the Black community. And these homeless youth are merely a small liability for the greater gain of saving the black heterosexual family.

But the problem of homeless LGBTQ youth in the African American community does not merely fall in the laps of B.A.D. scientists. The continued problem of homelessness is both fueled and ignored by our present administration and the Black Church.

With an administration that believes that restoring a spiritual foundation to American public life has less to do with government involvement and more to do with participation of faith-based groups, Bush slashed needed government programs by calling on churches and faith-based agencies, at taxpayers’ expense, to provide essential social services that would also impact the lives and well-being of its LGBTQ citizens.

And with the Black Church whoring for Bush’s faith-based monies coupled with its particular brand of homophobia has both unapologetically and unabashedly closed its doors to its LGBTQ population. And despite the fact these kids looked to the church for help these youth have neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance. However, in spite of the fact, that the church had not a prayer for Forney, Forney, nonetheless, had his own:

“Whether I’m a man with a dress and a wig, my God will love me for who I am! I might not walk like I’m supposed to walk. I might not have sex with who I’m supposed to have sex with. My God will love me for who I am!”

In the African American community you grow up hearing your parents admonishing you about disclosing family secrets with them saying, ”What goes on in this house, stays in this house!” But many of them have broken the sacred racial code of silence by throwing their kids out of the house.

(c) 2007, Rev. Irene Monroe. All rights reserved.

I have mixed emotions about the new Harvey Milk High School for homosexuals in New York City. I prefer to see gay students enjoy equal rights and equally safe space inside integrated public schools. But, I know my preference will not protect their spirits or skulls…In the real world, homosexuals are tortured daily in high schools all across America.

Teens typically bully and abuse lots of other teens. However, gaybashing is the only form of bullying that is sanctioned by law and frequently blessed by “God”. Other victims are protected by faculty. Faculty often encourage gaybashing with religious lies or even join teens as they bash gay students emotionally, verbally, and physically. Gay students are the only bullied students who are essentially told daily: “If God and Jesus were students here, they would beat/tease/reject/abuse your faggot/sissy/dyke ass too!!!…They are both gonna send you to hell after graduation too…”

I was deeply closeted as a teen to avoid such sheer torture. I lived a lie until I was 21. I attended a university at age 12. I buried my life and my gay secret inside textbooks for as long as possible…I was a coward. I admire all the out gay teens who are far braver than I was. I applaud those NYC administrators who reward their bravery with sanctuary rather than with slander and apathy.

I have heard arrogantly ignorant and uneducated gaybashers who do not even know who Harvey Milk is dare to feign a valid opinion on this topic. Typically, most are pseudo-christians who are closeted homosexuals. These hypocritical idiots dare to argue that public tax dollars should not be used to fund this high school. Simultaneously, these fools dare to demand that public funds be used to urge public politicos to fashion bigoted laws that adhere to their own twisted and hateful religious beliefs. Are gay teens not public citizens also? Do their heterosexual/homosexual parents not pay taxes? As always, special rights are equal rights for despised people…

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It was great getting up on June 27, 2003, to read the headlines stating that the highest court of this land struck down the Texas law that had criminalized sexual relationships between consenting adults. The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision was momentous — especially given the conservative composition of the court and the reactionary times in which we reside.

To see photos of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner of Houston — the two men who spurred the case — giving the nation a victory smile signaled, at least legislatively, a shift in protecting the private lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in this country.

However, while you can alter laws in this country to do the right thing toward a disenfranchised segment of the population, you cannot always alter the hearts and attitudes of its citizens. For some, this victory is seen as a signed decree sanctioning sexual depravity, and Newsweek reported on its “ick factor,” the revulsion some heterosexuals feel toward the way we LGBT people engage in sexual intimacy. Altering the hearts and minds of these folks will take a while, if not a lifetime.

Not only does this victory infuriate certain segments of the population, it highlights two volatile issues still operative in this country, and we no doubt will see a backlash.

First, the silent issue in the Lawrence v. Texas case is race. While race was not on trial, it was certainly the elephant in the room. The legal protection for interracial coupling was won in the now-famous case Loving v. Virginia. Mildred Loving, an African-American woman violated the anti-miscegenation laws of Virginia, laws that were prevalent throughout the U.S., by marrying a white man. Struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 1967, no state today can prohibit such a union. The interracial component of Garner’s and Lawrence’s relationship disgusted some folks — black and white — just as much as them being gay. Many have speculated that the bogus call to the police about a burglary from a prying neighbor was not only about “gross indecency between males,” that gay writer Oscar Wilde in 1895 was convicted of, but also motivated by racism.

Second, Justice Kennedy stated in favor of the ruling, “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.”

While many of us know that the legal heart of this matter is about privacy, that all sexual relationships — heterosexual and queer — between consenting adults should feel safe from unwarranted intrusions into our homes by the government, many still feel, however, that the moral soul of the issue is that an act of sodomy is an abomination to God.

In an interview with The Associated Press months before the Texas sodomy case was decided, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the number three man in the Republican Party leadership and a devout Roman Catholic who attends Mass everyday, stated, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything,” he said. “All of those things are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”

The invention of sodomy is rooted in Christian theology. The anti-sodomitic theological tradition derives from a homophobic and misogynist reading of the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis 19. As one of the most quoted scriptures to argue for compulsory heterosexuality, the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative has become authoritatively damaging not only to LGBT people, but to women as well, because women are the real victims we read about in the text, and LGBT people are the scapegoats who are read into the text.

Functioning in this culture as one of the paradigmatic biblical text of terror, the narrative is used to police the sexual behaviors of LGBT people and women, but the text is not used to police the sexual behaviors and sexual violence of men. The preferential treatment given to men in this text ironically carries over into our real lives today; thus, setting up unequal gender and sexual dynamics that sets the stage for unequal power dynamics in our bedrooms that is not only unsettling for women and LGBT people, but also unsafe for them. How often have we heard of women being raped not by strangers on the street, but instead by male members in their families? And how often have we heard of “The Gay Panic Defense,” an anti-gay strategy employed by attorneys to win an acquittal for a homophobic client who claims that a LGBT person came on to him — providing his “justification” for killing the person.

Our understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation is a relatively new concept that we read into the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative. It reflects the culture in which we presently live. Just as there is no word in the Bible for homosexuality, there is also no word in the Bible for sodomy. Peter Damian, an 11th-century medieval theologian invented the word “sodomia” to mean sinful behavior in engaging in diverse acts having to do with the genitals. Historically the word “sodomy” became an umbrella term for any sexual practice by both heterosexuals and queers deemed licentious and dishonorable that digressed from the sanctioned missionary position. This included not only anal sex, but also homosexual sex, oral sex, and masturbation. Over the years, however, these sexual acts came to be used to criminalize only LGBT people.

Present day feminist and queer biblical scholars who are in opposition to anti-sodomitic theological tradition contest that the narrative has nothing to do with homosexual sex, but instead the text is about inhospitality to male strangers and sexual violence toward women.

For example, in reference to the two uninvited male strangers/angels who come to the city of Sodom to inform Lot of the city’s impending destruction, Lot says to the crowd of riotous men outside of his door (verses 7-8), “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

Therefore, one would argue that the sin of Sodom is not about the sexual acts between consenting LGBT people, but instead that the sin of Sodom is about the cultural acceptance of sexual violence toward women, and in Lot’s days women were the property of their fathers and husbands. Also, all later biblical references to the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative does not associate the story to homosexuality, but instead to wickedness, idolatry, desolation and destruction.

Overturning Texas’ same-sex sodomy law marks a new era not only for LGBT people, but also for all Americans. The sanctity of our private sexual lives must be protected, because the issue of our private lives is a matter of justice not only to be argued openly in the courtrooms, but also is a justice issue to be acted out privately in our bedrooms.

(c) 2003, Rev. Irene Monre. All rights reserved.

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