DETROIT — Community leaders in Detroit are starting what
they call the “civil rights movement of our time.” But
now journalist Brent Dorian Carpenter and other activists say the
movement will focus on the perceptions many in the community hold
toward homosexuality.

“We (the black gay community) are the Rosa Parks of our
time,” Carpenter said.

Recent studies, such as a poll conducted by the Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press on Nov. 18, 2003 — the
day the Massachusetts Supreme Court approved same-sex unions
— indicated 60 percent of blacks opposed gay marriages.

“It’s still a major taboo,” LSA junior Madison
Moore said on homosexuality as black church see it.“If
you’re black and you’re gay, (the thought is)
‘you’re going to hell.’ ”

In an effort to address the challenges of building bridges
between black gays and lesbians and heterosexuals, a panel of city
leaders and social activists at a town hall meeting last week. The
session covered issues such as gay visibility, mobilization, youth
outreach, education, the HIV/AIDS crisis and discrimination.

Organizers of the meeting are also scheduling similar events in
the future.

More than 300 people gathered to discuss homophobia in the black
community during the meeting, which was held after many Michigan
residents boycotted the Michigan Citizen, a Detroit-area
publication, for running a feature highlighting a black gay
men’s retreat.

Carpenter was the subject of media scrutiny after talk show host
Hodo, a well-known Detroit radio personality, blasted
Carpenter’s gay-themed article on Detroit-based radio station
WHPR late last year. Listeners outraged by the article cancelled
their subscriptions to the Michigan Citizen. Carpenter and Citizen
editor Theresa Kelly joined together to organize a series of events
promoting open dialogue about homophobia in the black
community.

Terry Lynn Howcott, a proponent of gay rights and a Detroit ACLU
Board Member, spoke during the meeting about the controversial view
of homosexuality as a “lifestyle” choice. “If a
couch potato decides tomorrow that he’s going to start
exercising and taking care of his health, that’s a lifestyle
choice,” Howcott said “But there’s no way
I’m going to change loving (my partner).”

Same-sex marriage and religion were salient issues at the town
hall meeting and are wedge issues within the black community.

Many gay blacks remain silent about their sexual orientation,
speakers said. “Visibility is the most important
thing,” said Donna Payne of the Human Rights Campaign. She
encouraged gay people to stand up in their families and
churches.

Reluctance to acknowledge homosexuality as an issue prevalent to
the black community and the high numbers of HIV and AIDS cases
among black men and women are interconnected issues, speakers said.
Once seen exclusively as a “white gay man’s
disease,” the virus is infecting blacks disproportionately
hard, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reports that AIDS is among the top
causes of death for black women ages 35 to 44 and men ages 25 to
54.

“AIDS is no discriminator,” said Gospel Against AIDS
organizer Rosalind Worthy regarding the rapid spread of the virus
in the black community and the denial over dealing with the issue,
“It doesn’t know if you’re gay or straight or
black or white. How many lives have to be taken before we get it
together?”

The challenges of discrimination and invisibility are not
limited to the black community, but tied to a much larger issue of
the lack of voices by gay people of color in mainstream gay culture
and politics. “Homophobia isn’t addressed because it is
seen as a white phenomenon,” LSA sophomore Michael Smith said
regarding the under-representation of gay people of color in
mainstream gay culture. “Most of the gay work is being done
by white gay culture. Most (black gay people) don’t identify
with it and don’t feel gay culture represents
them.”

Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson urged people to challenge
problems of homophobia in the black community, “Don’t
wait for somebody else to do it,” said Watson, “move
it.”

Efforts are being made to address the longstanding disconnect
between gay and non-gay groups. Moore will give a presentation at a
Feb. 27 academic symposium on race, gender, class and sexuality at
Miami University of Ohio. His work is entitled “Check Your
Skin at the Door: The Intersection between Blackness and
Homosexuality.”

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