A week ago, the NAACP held a groundbreaking discussion about LGBT issues in Los Angeles for its 102nd Convention. The panel was hosted by CNN's Don Lemon, and featured Wanda Sykes, Julian Bond and others along with NAACP President and CEO, Benjamin Todd Jealous. Below is a collection of several short videos of the event from NoMoreDownLow.TV and other sources, who reported that the discussion was both informative and a bit confrontational.
Don Lemon began a discussion about homophobia in black churches because:
"As a little bitty boy I would try to pray the gay away until I was a grown man. And that's because the black church is the backbone of African American society, right? ... So, what do we do with that?"
Wanda Sykes told her story of growing up in the church with relatives who "taught that being gay was a sin, it was an abomination." She said she feared and suppressed her feelings to the point of marrying a guy. She drew a connection between church-driven fear and high rates of substance abuse and suicide:
"I feel that the church -- it's a lot of fear, and you can get to people through fear.... What's this crap about, 'Hate the sin, but love the sinner?' That doesn't even make any sense! Either you love somebody or you're judging them. You can't have it both ways."
Julian Bond, the 70-year-old Civil Rights pioneer, delivered another excellent speech regarding the NAACP's strong work for LGBT equality. He addressed several areas of black culture where conflict exists between the LGBT and the African American communities.
"We know that black lesbians, black gay men, black bisexual people and black transgender people suffer a level of discrimination and harassment far beyond the level felt by straight black women and men.
''If you disagree, or if your Bible tells you that gay people ought not be married in your church, don't tell them they can't be married at City Hall. Marriage is a civil rite as well as a civil right, and we can't allow religious bigotry to close the door to justice for anyone....
"For some people, comparisons between the African American Civil Rights movement and the movement for gay and lesbian rights seems to diminish the long, black historical struggle with all it's suffering, sacrifices and endless toil. People of color, however, ought to be flattered that our Movement has provided so much inspiration for others, that has been so widely imitated, and that our tactics, heroes, heroines and methods, even our songs, have been appropriated as models for others....
"People of color carry the badge of who we are on our faces. But we are far from the only people suffering from discrimination.... They deserve the laws protections and civil rights, too."
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous joined the panel, but did not appear to appreciate the wording of one audience member's questions about the seriousness of the NAACP's commitment. The attendee challenged Jealous on why the organization has an anti-gay rights preacher, Keith Ratliff, on its board who claimed in March that gay rights activists have "hijacked" the Civil Rights movement:
"He did not say it in the name of the NAACP.... We have board members who hold all sorts of divergent views."
He pointed out that NAACP was the champion "in the black community for [blocking] Prop 8; as we were in Maine, as we were in Massachusetts, as we were in DC, Maryland, and so on." He got his words backward as he objected sharply to oft-heard criticism that California's black community bore responsibility for the repeal of gay marriage in California:
"It pains me as somebody, again, who's been in this fight since they were a kid on the playground looking out for their adopted [gay] brother, that all I hear is the bad news.... no celebration of the good news. I've got to wake up as a black Californian and be told that black people are the reason that Prop 8 [passed], when our percentage of the electorate is smaller than the margin by which it [succeeded]. And I'm tired, quite frankly, of LGBT organizers who come to the black community late, with an expectation, and don't treat us with the respect that they treat every other community -- in showing up early, organizing hard, working late, building the relationships .... We can't be out here by ourselves.!"
A transgender audience member, Ashley Love, took issue with something Don Lemon said, and pointed out the importance of including transgender people in the discussion. There was no transgender person the panel.
Camera shots of the audience, unfortunately, showed a sparse number of people in attendance, and Jealous said: "I encourage you to encourage more people -- this room should be filled."
As one member of the audience told NewsWire: "I just think we have to start where we start, and I think today was a great starting place."
Monday, July 25th
2:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. LGBT
Room 409 A & B, Los Angeles Convention Center
“OUR COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY: WHY WE MUST OVERCOME HOMOPHOBIA”
Building upon the ground breaking work of the NAACP LGBT Taskforce, this workshop will provide an in-depth analysis on social issues and policies that disproportionately affect the LGBT Black community, this public forum will examine the complex layers of homophobia within the Black community and new ideas on the important role of Black straight allies, civil rights organizations, families, churches and colleges to eradicate stigma, violence and discrimination of Black gay people. Like most Blackpeople, Black LGBT people share a common history and continued struggle to eradicate racism, yet their identities, talents and leadership are diminished because of homophobia. Through film, engaged dialogue and featured presentations from academics, activists, clergy and policy makers this informative and provocative forum will examine the signifi cant contributions of Black gay leaders within the Civil Rights movement, the role of Black straight allies in addressing homophobia and how we can collectively overcome LGBT discrimination.
Chairman Emeritus, NAACP
Professor of Women’s Studies
Writer, Activist and Scholar
New York, New York
Los Angeles, California