The Million More March and the Truths of Community

After eight months of discussion, four productive conversations with Minister Louis Farrakhan, and a heated exchange with Rev. Willie Wilson, the Millions More Movement March took place on Saturday and I was not allowed to speak. Although I believe we have opened the door for historic and positive dialogue with Minister Farrakhan, Rev. Wilson does not appear to be ready for such dialogue.

This is what happened on Saturday. After I arrived at the VIP tent shortly after 8 in the morning, my colleague Donna Payne spoke directly to Rev. Willie Wilson backstage, and he informed her that no one from the National Black Justice Coalition would be speaking that day. Donna told Rev. Wilson that he was violating our agreement, and Wilson replied that the agreement was void because the Coalition had not responded by Friday. That was not true.

Rev. Wilson’s excuse seemed a mere pretext to prevent us from speaking. Sadly, I am not surprised. He has been an obstacle to this process all along. Ever since his controversial July 3 sermon in which he blamed the rise of lesbianism for the problems in the black community, Rev. Wilson seems to have developed ill feelings toward the black gay community for responding to his attack. That was three months ago, and I had hoped to use my speech on Saturday to extend an olive branch to Rev. Wilson to move beyond our differences and heal our wounds, but his actions that morning made that impossible.

The remarks I would have given at the Millions More Movement March and instead delivered to a rally staged by the National Black Justice Coalition, are below.

Good Afternoon. Today I am honored to stand here at the Millions More Movement March as a representative of the National Black Justice Coalition, the country’s only national civil rights organization for Black lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people. The National Black Justice Coalition strongly supports the goals of the Millions More Movement for unity and inclusion of our entire community.

In February of this year, Minister Farrakhan and I participated in Tavis Smiley’s annual State of The Black Union event in Atlanta. During a press conference that day, Minister Farrakhan announced that women and gays would be encouraged to participate in today’s March. “The makeup will be our people, whoever we are,” he said. Then he added, “Male, female, gay, straight, light, dark, rich, poor, ignorant, wise. We are family. We will be coming together to discuss family business.”

“After the press conference, I spoke to the Minister and I introduced myself. “Minister Farrakhan,” I said, while shaking his hand, “My name is Keith Boykin, and I am a Black gay man. And I want to thank you for your inclusive comments about gays in the Million Man March.” Without missing a beat, Minister Farrakhan responded to me with a long, warm embrace. “Brother, I love you,” he said as we hugged. “We are all part of the family. We are all part of the same community.” That was an historic moment.

Ten years ago, I joined more than a million of my brothers on this very location for the Million Man March. At that time, there were no openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual speakers at that March. This time, however, I am able to speak here today as an openly gay man because of the courageous leadership of one man—Minister Louis Farrakhan. I publicly and honestly thank him and salute him for the invitation to speak. The diversity of speakers assembled here today is a powerful signal that we in the Black community will not allow ourselves to be divided by differences of opinion, religion, gender, class, or sexual orientation ever again.

As Minister Farrakhan himself said in August, “We must not allow painful utterances of the past or present, based on sincere belief, or based on our ignorance, or based on our ideology or philosophy to cripple a movement that deserves and needs all of us—and, when I say all, I mean all of us.”

Earlier this week, two of my colleagues and I sat with Minister Farrakhan, his wife, his daughter, and his son, and with Rev. Willie Wilson, the executive director of this March. Minister Farrakhan said it was the first time he had ever sat down with a group of openly gay and lesbian African Americans. Let me be honest. It was an intense, passionate, and candid meeting where both sides shared their pain and frustration with the other. At the end of the discussion, however, we made progress. We realized that there are no both sides of the table. There is only one side, and that is the side of justice.

So today I accept the olive branch offered by Minister Farrakhan and Rev. Wilson and offer an olive branch of my own. We acknowledge the hurt and pain that has been caused by both sides in our past conflicts, and we fully commit ourselves to heal the deep wounds that have hurt us. Thank you, Minster Farrakhan and Rev. Wilson for the love.

We have disagreed in the past and we may disagree in the future, but we all agree that we must move forward together. We all agree that we will not allow ourselves to be manipulated by the media to create divisions among us. We all agree that we are stronger together than we are apart. And we all agree that the struggle for the liberation of our people is more important than our individual differences of opinion.

Fifty years ago, Ralph Ellison wrote, “I am an invisible man… I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.” Ralph Ellison was talking about the invisibility of the African American, but the same could be said of Black gays and lesbians.

When Dr. King spoke at the 1963 Civil Rights March, he called on one person, Bayard Rustin, a Black gay man, to organize that march. When Duke Ellington performed “Take The A Train,” he called on one person, Billy Strayhorn, a Black gay man to serve as his composer. And when Black actors and directors put on performances of “A Raisin In The Sun,” they call on one person, Lorraine Hansberry, a Black bisexual playwright, to serve as their muse.

Black culture as we know it today would not exist without the words of James Baldwin, the poetry of Audre Lorde, or the choreography of Alvin Ailey. That is why I am here today—to honor their legacy.

But I am also here to honor the living heroes and sheroes of today. My good friend Phill Wilson likes to say that our people cannot love us if they do not know us. So I want you to know who we are. I want you to know the activist Angela Davis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, the Grammy-nominated recording artist Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello, editor-at-large and former executive editor for Essence magazine Linda Villarosa, and the former adviser to New York Mayor David Dinkins, Dr. Marjorie Hill.

And I want you to know the living male heroes. Men like New York City Council Member Philip Reed, former mayor of Cambridge Ken Reeves, mayor of Palm Springs Ron Oden, best-selling author E. Lynn Harris, and Harvard University chaplain Rev. Peter Gomes.

And finally, I want you to know that we are your brothers and sons and fathers. We are your sisters and daughters and mothers. And we are your cousins and nieces and nephews as well. We cannot separate ourselves from the larger Black family because we are an integral part of the Black family. We raise our families, we send money to our nephews, and yes we sing in the choir as well.

The issues that affect Black gays and lesbians are issues that affect all Black people. Last year I sat in the living room of a young mother who had lost her child to violence in Newark, New Jersey. Her 15-year-old daughter, Sakia Gunn, was murdered because the killer thought she was gay. When Black homosexuals and bisexuals are murdered, Black heterosexual family members still have to bury their kin. What happens to Black gays and lesbians directly affects Black straight people as well.

HIV and AIDS is the leading cause of death for young Black people, gay or straight. Forty-five million Americans do not have health insurance, and too many of this group are Black, gay or straight. Unemployment is still too high among Black people, gay or straight. We are all connected.

When Black people were forced to sit in the back of the bus, Black gay people were forced to sit in the back of the bus. When Black people could not vote, Black lesbians could not vote. And when Black people are beaten and abused by the police, Black bisexuals are beaten and abused by the police.

We share the same goals and aspirations as the rest of the Black community, but none of us can accomplish those goals without unity and courage. We all need courage in our lives. It took courage for you to come here today. It took courage for Minister Farrakhan to invite me to speak today. And it will take courage to heal the wounds that have divided us for far too long.

In the timeless words of Audre Lorde, “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision—then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

So I say to you today: Be strong, be proud, be courageous.