Too Many Black Ministers are Fomenting Anti-gay Bigotry

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OP-ED: For the Progressive Media Project op-ed syndicate

Too Many Black Ministers are Fomenting Anti-gay Bigotry

By Kai Wright

An African-American minister in Atlanta is just the latest figure to help the religious right hide behind blackface.

On Dec. 11, the Rev. Eddie Long rallied his congregation in opposition to same-sex marriage. He led thousands of his suburban mega-church congregants on a march through Atlanta’s historic black neighborhoods, declaring his rally as a call to “stop the silence” about the myriad ills plaguing black communities.

But his media pronouncements have made it clear that he considers our leading problem to be gay people getting married. With characteristic flare, Long had the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice, pass him a torch lit from the eternal flame that adorns King’s gravesite.

King would likely have been dismayed.

Civil rights veterans–ranging from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.–loudly proclaim support for same-sex marriage. “Homophobia is as morally wrong and as unacceptable as racism,” Coretta Scott King once declared. “We ought to extend to gay and lesbian people the same respect and dignity we claim for ourselves.”

But in the mid-1990s, the religious right launched a massive series of anti-gay ballot initiatives. It won those campaigns, in part, by pushing black ministers to the fore.

When the same-sex marriage debate erupted this spring, black ministers again fronted for the rightwing. One Chicago minister even copied an infamous line from the mid-1990s battle over an anti-gay initiative in Cincinnati. “If the KKK was opposing same-sex marriage,” Gregory Daniels said at a Family Research Council press conference, “Reverend Daniels would ride with them.”

Gay-bashing disturbingly resonates in black neighborhoods. Long’s rally drew an estimated 15,000 marchers. And Bush won a surprising 16 percent of the black vote in Ohio, largely by scaring people about same-sex marriage.

Homophobic ministers and their white counterparts often win black supporters by perpetuating the myth that gay rights represent the work of privileged white folks who want to usurp our civil rights legacy.

This recurring show of bigotry will loose its currency only when black lesbians and gays stand up and defend themselves. And that’s exactly what we have started doing.

A small but vocal group of black gay and lesbian demonstrators greeted Long’s odd parade in Atlanta that weekend. And this summer saw the birth of the National Black Justice Coalition, which has offered a black gay voice to counter each of the right’s black puppets of hate.

Long says its time to “stop the silence.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Kai Wright is the editor of BlackAIDS.org. This op-ed was syndicated to daily newspapers nationally through the Progressive Media Project.

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