If anyone knows me, they know that I’m going to speak up when others sit quietly by.
When other presidential candidates ignored the issue of gay marriage in 2004, I showed my support by marching in New York’s Gay Pride Parade. While other Black preachers decry the gay lifestyle, my sermons say there is “no Greek, no Jew; no male, no female; no straight, no gay.
I may be looked upon as a firebrand for liberal causes, but I’m compelled to take up the cause for gay people in this country. In 2005, I sounded a clarion for Blacks to adhere to a forgotten beacon guiding human relationships: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. I want Blacks to apply that standard in regard to homosexuals, too.
In the summer of 2005, I vowed to take a message of gay acceptance to Black Americans. Using the airwaves, I issued public service announcements to remind Blacks that they have been and often still are victims of injustice. So how can they discriminate against homosexuals? How can people that have been the focus of American racism promulgate discrimination against gay people?
A 2003 online article published by the American Association for Public Opinion Research said 31 surveys of 7,000 Blacks and 43,000 Whites indicated greater Black disapproval of homosexuality. What’s more, religious and educational differences had little impact on the survey groups opinions.
“Blacks remain more disapproving of homosexuality,” wrote the author of synopsis of the piece. “But are moderately more supportive of gay civil liberties and markedly more opposed to antigay employment discrimination than are Whites.”
A consensus of disapproval among Blacks promotes victimization of homosexuals and bisexuals. The ostracism results in gay men going underground, hiding “on the Down Low,” as it were. The phrase refers to Black gay and bisexual men who pretend to be exclusively heterosexual. These men go both ways and use their female sexual partners to cover their same-sex activities.
Researchers believe this web of secrecy has brought about the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS among non-Hispanic Black women in the United States. In 2003, Black women accounted for about 69 percent of all American women infected with HIV/AIDS, according the Journal of the American Medical Association. They most often reported contracting it through unprotected sex with Black men.
So now, in order to combat this growing health threat, I say acknowledge and accept gay Black men, bring them into the light, kill the need for secrecy. Light > Dark. Therefore the light of knowledge will win out in this situation. Eventually, as gay/bisexual men feel comfortable publicly acknowledging their sexual orientation, new infections among Black women will decrease. Infection rates in the overall Black community will slow.
Still, the long and short of it is that going directly to the people with a plan that may stem the spread of HIV/AIDS is just plain smart. It just makes sense. Why? Obviously, our elected representatives aren’t getting the word out. Those elected to represent the people, all the people, show little concern.
At a recent National Urban League conference, I first chastised Blacks for under-girding democratic politicians who have enjoyed unquestioning minority support for decades. But, then I upbraided the Democrats for giving a modicum of attention to the rising HIV/AIDS infection rate among Blacks while raking in Black votes.
Black people must consider how much or how little help they get from campaign hawkers that come by and get our votes. Those same politicians never get around to addressing why they sit here in Washington with an epidemic proportion of HIV/AIDS in our community, unemployment in our community; they do nothing to deal with eliminating those problems.
Neither can the issue of how homosexuals are treated cannot be folded up and put in a political box. There is an element of emotion here, as well. The juggernaut of Black group dynamics that oppose homosexuality was once played out in my presence. Long before HIV/AIDS fixed itself in the collective consciousness and culled out an us-and-them culture among gay and straight Blacks, I saw the pain that homophobia spawns.
My mentor, Bayard Rustin, a close associate to Martin Luther King, Jr., in the struggle for Black civil rights, was mistreated by some Blacks also working with Dr. King. They had learned that Mr. Rustin was homosexual. The leaders admonished King to cut off his friendship with Mr. Rustin. He didn’t, but I recall the turmoil that invaded Mr. Rustin’s life.
In the final analysis, my goal is to root out the occasion for HIV/AIDS to rape the Black community while I work simultaneously to galvanize responsible political thinking within our ranks.
Rev. Al Sharpton n is the president of National Action Network