Gathering Steam

Local meetings of GLBT blacks gaining momentum for Million More Movement demands

The local, monthly community meetings to discuss GLBT participation in the Millions More Movement (MMM) are quickly gaining steam. The seventh monthly meeting, initiated in February by the D.C. Coalition, drew about 125 people to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Last month, by comparison, drew about half that.

The large turnout, hosted by Faith Temple, filled a fifth floor hall of the building, and included Rick Rosendall of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; Peter Rosenstein of the mayor’s GLBT advisory council; John Wallace, director of the mayor’s office of community affairs; Bishop Imogene Stewart; and D.C. City Council members Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), and many other prominent faces.

Gray was among those who addressed the gathered: ”Discrimination should not be tolerated anywhere…. When we fight against one another, it simply serves the needs of the enemy.”

At issue is whether the GLBT presence at the Millions More Movement, an Oct. 14-16 event in Washington to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, will be one of protest or celebration. Members of the local GLBT African-American community say promises of gay-inclusion made by MMM organizers have turned out to be hollow. Further, homophobic comments made last month by Rev. Willie Wilson, national executive director of the MMM event, ignited simmering suspicions that the gay community’s role in the event was being diminished, or even eliminated.

It seemed those gathered were not swayed by an open letter published recently in The Final Call, official newspaper of the Nation of Islam. The letter, penned by Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam and organizer of the MMM, attempted to address the concerns of the GLBT African-American community.

”Each of us, who have agreed to work together for the benefit of the whole of our people, have said from our particular platforms, based on our beliefs and understanding or the lack thereof, words that have offended members of our own people and others,” Farrakhan wrote, in part. ”I cannot fault a Christian pastor for standing on his platform to preach what he believes, nor a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or a member of any religious or political party. All of us must be true to what we earnestly believe. I cannot fault a gay or lesbian person who stands on their platform to preach what they believe of self and how the world should view them…. [W]e 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.”

While some sliver of those in attendance urged reconciliation, the mood Sunday seemed largely to be skepticism.

”We’re not trying to crash anyone’s party,” said Philip Pannell, an organizer of these monthly meetings. ”We’re just trying to get them to live up to these public statements that we are invited…. The only thing they’re asking us to do is show up and swell their numbers…. There’s no way we can come to the table when you won’t even let us in the building.”

Among the demands of the GLBT community group and the National Black Justice Coalition, the country’s only national organization advocating solely on behalf of the African-American GLBT community, are that the MMM event on the National Mall in October include both a male and female speaker from the GLBT community, and that these monthly meetings be designated as an official Local Organizing Committee (LOC).

”Minister Farrakhan is claiming that gays and lesbians are welcome, but yet he will not designate a representative to meet with us,” says Pannell. ”Minister Farrakhan was invited to the last meeting…. If Minister Farrakhan claims that we are indeed welcome, why doesn’t he back it up with actions? He can at least designate a representative to come to our meetings.”

As these community meetings gather steam and more prominent Washingtonians lend support, they continue to become more organized, as well. Last Sunday, the group’s committees offered updates on their progress in preparing for the MMM, an impromptu request for donations by longtime activist Carlene Cheatam netted $700, and an new Web site for the organization was announced. Tamara Dunlap, speaking for a rally-organizing committee announced that $3,000 had already been raised for that Oct. 15 effort.

With two major African-American events slated for Washington in the period leading up to the MMM in October — the Black Family Reunion Celebration, Sept. 10-11, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 35th Annual Legislative Conference, Sept. 21-24 — many of Sunday’s speakers vowed to bring their demands to the attention of the fore of the national African-American community.

For more information on the African-American GLBT community’s involvement in the MMM, visit www.wearefamilyunityweekend.com. The MMM is online at www.millionsmoremovement.com.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.