On the Offensive On the Web

On the Offensive On the Web|On the Offensive On the Web

Black gay leaders threaten homophobic ministers with outing

Two prominent black gay and lesbian activists have taken the first steps in an Internet campaign that could lead to the outing of homophobic African-American clergy.

Though launched only this week, the effort by Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick already has the Internet crackling with controversy.

Cannick, a writer and social commentator who is profiled in the current issue of Essence magazine as one of 25 women shaping the world, and Boykin, a former staff member in President Bill Clinton’s administration who is an attorney, best-selling author, and reality TV star, are board members of the National Black Justice Coalition, a group established in 2003 to combat their community’s invisibility among both Africans Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans.

Boykin and Cannick have decided to start playing hardball with Christian fundamentalists who oppose gay rights in the African-American community. Their targets are the private lives of influential black clergymen who consistently attack the queer community arguing that homosexuality is anti-family and incompatible with a Christian life. Homophobic beliefs inform these ministers’ sermons, their writings, and the Sunday school programs they develop for youngsters in their congregations. Some of them have become public figures beyond their congregations, casting their lots with influential Republicans, including President George W. Bush, and warning that the Democratic Party has been hijacked by militant homosexuals.

Neither Boykin nor Cannick has identified specific rumors about any of the six ministers they have so far profiled in postings on their Web sites this week—with four more to come by week’s end. Instead, the activists are making a more general point: “Our experience has shown that the people who are the most homophobic also tend to be dealing with their own issues about their sexuality. People who are comfortable with their sexuality usually don’t care as much about other people’s sexuality. Which leads us to an obvious question.”

In each profile, Boykin and Cannick then ask if the minister they are writing about is gay and invite readers to forward any information they may have about the “the secret lives” of these clergymen “outside the church.”

Blog responses on Boykin’s site suggest that the effort has caught people’s attention, for better or for worse. Whether information suggesting that any of the homophobic ministers is in fact gay will be forthcoming is unclear. Nor is it completely clear that developing such evidence is the primary goal Boykin and Cannick have in mind.

“We’re tired of the hypocrisy and divisive ‘Christian’ rhetoric that too many black pastors are spreading,” Boykin and Cannick wrote in announcing their Internet effort.

On her Web site, Cannick justified the effort by arguing that the media has typically given black ministers a pass on bigoted positions they’ve taken on the gay community.

“It shows that we aren’t afraid to out these ministers,” Boykin said in an interview. His objective is to stop the homophobic activities of the clergymen. Boykin said their Internet effort would be halted if the ministers stopped preaching homophobia, but in the meantime, he said, he and fellow activists are “investigating” what he characterized as persistent “whispers” about the sexuality of some of the most anti-gay ministers.

Anyone who recalls the initial right-wing attacks on Bill Clinton—many of them circulated first on the Internet—will recognize the tactic Boykin and Cannick have adopted. Culprits are identified and the suggestion is made that there may be more to their stories than meets the eye. That gets the ball rolling, the buzz started. From there, supporting evidence might surface and reporters may begin investigations.

At the very least, embarrassing questions will likely confront individuals who have made the crusade against homosexuality a cause célèbre.

Tensions between black ministers and progressives have a long history. The National Baptist Convention, the most venerable organization of black church leaders, didn’t back Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights agenda, with some of its key members barring him from preaching in their churches. In one sermon, King implored his fellow ministers to “admit that even the black church has been a tail-light rather than a headlight.”

Homosexuality played a role in this split. Bayard Ruskin, the gay black man who organized the historic 1963 March on Washington where King delivered his “I Have A dream” speech, was not allowed to speak there because his homosexuality had generated unwelcome controversy, including a denunciation on the floor of Congress.

Boykin and Cannick’s group, the National Black Justice Coalition, was launched shortly after the historic Massachusetts marriage ruling came down in November 2003, to educate both the black and the LGBT communities about African-American gay life and to argue that full marriage equality was an important goal for LGBT blacks.

NBJC’s launch could not have been timelier. In response to the Massachusetts decision, many black ministers began to speak out more openly about their opposition to same-sex marriage and their moral rejection of gay sexuality. Karl Rove and others in the Republican leadership immediately seized on the marriage issue as a means of pealing off at least a sliver of the traditionally overwhelming Democratic black vote, in preparation for Bush’s 2004 reelection drive. This effort dovetailed nicely with the president’s ongoing rhetoric about faith-based social service initiatives, which promised dollars to inner city religious groups eager to expand the reach of their efforts. King warned decades ago about those ministers “more concerned about the size of their car’s wheelbase” than with the problems of the people whom they serve.

Rev T. D. Jakes, who runs the Potter’s House Church in Dallas, was the first target on Boykin’s Web site. Both Bush and Al Gore paid tribute to Jakes—who has called homosexuality a “brokenness” and said he would never hire a sexually active gay person—by making campaign stops at the church in 2000. In profiling his ministry in a cover story, Time magazine quipped that “gay Americans would have no reason at all to consider Jakes their preacher.” Jakes recently announced support for a campaign to launch Bible clubs in public schools to combat the pro-homosexual climate created by gay-straight alliances. He is also a supporter of constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

“To date, I have not seen scriptural authority that allows me to stand on behalf of God and say I now pronounce you husband and husband, and wife and wife,” Jakes told USA Today. “This is an issue the government is undecided about. The Bible is not.”

On her Web site on Monday, Cannick profiled Bishop Eddie Long, who came to national attention when he joined Bernice King, the daughter of the slain civil rights leader, in a march against marriage equality that began at Dr. King’s former home in Atlanta and ended at his grave site. Cannick outlined Long’s idiosyncratic views on the perfect natural fit that heterosexuals have for sex—only women have a womb which he terms “an entrance.” All other orifices are “exits” in this clergymen’s view.

Long was recently one of a number of African-American pastors who met at the White House, though he denied being a “closet Republican.”

“Just because we went to the house, doesn’t mean we had intercourse,” Long said, in what some gay activists might well take as an open invitation to dig deeper.

Since Monday, Boykin and Cannick have also profiled Rev. Willie F. Wilson of Washington, the national director of the Millions More March this fall to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Louis Farrakhan’s massive event, who recently lamented that his son could not find a prom date because all of his female classmates are lesbians; Bishop Noel Jones of Los Angeles, the twin brother of Grace Jones, who recently traveled to Jamaica to oppose loosening of that nation’s anti-gay laws; Bishop Paul Morton of New Orleans, who attended last year’s Republican National Convention and joined with Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition to call on the Congressional Black Caucus to support a federal constitutional amendment barring gay marriage; and Chicago’s Rev. Gregory Daniels, a Bush supporter, who last year told The New York Times that , “If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them.”

Boykin and Cannick promise four more profiles this week of homophobic African-American preachers.

On the eve of the Boykin-Cannick drive, the National Black Justice Coalition held a summit in Washington last weekend scheduled to coincide with a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus—a conscious effort to remind the legislators of LGBT concerns. Boykin is convinced that the Coalition is making other black groups pay attention. NGJC successfully pressed Julian Bond, the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, to publicly support marriage equality. Other issues of concern to the Coalition are AIDS prevention, the heavy incarceration of black men including those living with HIV, and the lack of focus on the positive role models so many LGBT African Americans provide.

The national gay leadership appears eager to see the Coalition grow, with many key figures in attendance this past weekend to discuss among many things the Republican effort to use marriage as a wedge between the African-American community and the Democratic Party. One panel during the summit included Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Kevin Cathcart executive director of Lambda Legal, Neil Giuliano the new president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and a former Republican mayor of Tempe, Arizona, Susanne Salkind, a managing director at the Human Rights Campaign, and Chuck Wolfe, the president of the Victory Fund that works to elect openly gay and lesbian office holders.

Major financial support for the Coalition is provided by the Gill Foundation, a major funder of gay causes.

HIV infection rates in the black LGBT community and racist law enforcement practices emerged as particularly pressing issues at the summit.

The summit’s highlight undoubtedly was a rousing speech by Alice A. Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the NAACP. Her talk at the awards dinner drew enthusiastic cheers, as she warmly embraced the struggle for LGBT rights. When the California marriage equality legislation moved through the state Senate and Assembly, she explained, there was no question in her mind that the issue should be framed as a basic civil rights issue. The state NAACP played a pivotal role in attracting votes for the successful legislative drive.

Huffman laughed off the complaints she said she heard from other state NAACP chairs about her stand. She silenced them by pointing out that her membership surged after the group announced its support for the legislation.

“The memberships came in and I went back to the other state chairs, and they couldn’t argue with me, she said.