Wednesday, July 25, 2012

End Game: The Final Chapter...

Recently I had the pleasure of viewing the PBS documentary entitled Endgame: AIDS in Black America.  The documentary is powerful and I thoroughly applaud all that were involved for it spoke to our community about our community.  What was so poignant about this documentary is that there were topics that were discussed that for DECADES have been off limits for public consumption.  I think with the continued rate of HIV infections in our community we can honestly say that Silence = Death.  The documentary highlighted the major cracks our foundation. 

Many African-Americans are uneducated about HIV and how it is transmitted as well as viewing it as a gay issue.  This has caused many to walk blindly directly into the oncoming high speed traffic of HIV.  There are several stories within the documentary that have stuck with me, however, the overarching message I walked away with is that we (each individual) learn acceptance if we ever want to see the infection rates decline. 
One of the stories that spoke to me on many levels was that of an older woman that had been divorced or 14 years before meeting a deacon in the church they both attended.  After dating and falling in love they decided to marry.  One day while doing some chores around the house she found a letter indicating that he was HIV positive.  The irony of it all is that the letter was dated a year prior to them becoming husband and wife.   I could consider them both casualties of our community’s inability to address this very serious issue.   Her husband made the conscious choice to not inform his wife of his HIV status. While that is wrong and does not render sympathy from the masses, the underline issue is that he lives in a community and attends a church that does not discuss sex and sexual behavior, nor do they embrace him as a gay or bi-sexual individual.  We have seen the personal flogging and bashing of men that are not considered “real men” within our community.   Therefore self-acceptance is not an options and hiding who we really are is the only possibility.  Churches have had members die from HIV/AIDS and still find it easier to remain silent.   I was left wondering what it would have been like if the deacon was able to live an authentic life and not one of judgment and stigma for his sexuality and/or his HIV status.  I tend to bet anything that he would not be married and possibly not HIV positive.  On some level we all worry about what others think of us but living an authentic life is very freeing.

It was just reported that the infection rate amount young black men who have sex with men (YBMSM) has dramatically increased.  Young BMSM, aged 13 – 29, are at even higher risk, experiencing a 48% increase in HIV incidence between 2006 and 2009. More specifically, most new HIV infections are occurring among YBMSM under the age of 30. YBMSM accounted for 63% of the HIV infections among MSM aged 13 – 24 in 2009 compared to only 18% for young White MSM and 16% among young Hispanic MSM.

It is very important to change our attitudes about those that are impacted with the virus as well as those that are HIV positive.  Testing and education alone will not decrease the infection rates of those in the African-American community without a change in our attitude about those that are HIV positive. 
The power is within us as a community but we have to address our issues and take steps to correct them or we will continue to spiral out of control.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Me and the Black Church

As I sit and close my eyes I can still hear the Hammond B3playing and picture the white painted walls with the wood trimmed windows andbaseboards of Truelight Baptist Church. The pews were wooden as well with red padded seat cushions.  My experience with the black church is one ofvery fond memories in my formative years.   My siblings and I were in church every Sunday where my father was aproud and respected member of the deacon board. This was also the church of my maternal grandmother.  My first memory that I can recall is melaying my head on her lap at in church taking a nap.  My grandmother was the matriarch of thefamily.  Even though my mother had passedaway when I was two years old my father ensured that my siblings and I kept avery close relationship with my mother’s side of the family.    
The black church and all that it offers is in my DNA.   The benefits that the black church has donefor the black community cannot be denied or debated.  It was the place where African Americans gotmost of their information that helped changed our communities and furthered usas a race of people. 
As I began to get older I saw some of the negative thingsabout the black church that affected me. When I became about 13 or so I began to understand my sexuality andrelated that back the teachings I heard from the pulpit.  At this time I began to understand but notfully accepted my attraction for men. However, I was torn for my religious teaching said that I was going tohell because of feeling I could not control. This was the same teaching that led me to believe that God made me inhis image.  If that was indeed the casehow could what I felt be wrong.  I thinkthis is when I really began to feel perplexed.  For the next 5-6 years I made the move to not attend churchanymore.  In my true adult years Ireturned to the black church.  However, Iwas blessed enough to find a church that did not spew a homophobic message.
The church has always fed the SGL men and women to theproverbial wolves so there disappointment is not surprising.  Homosexuality was/is considered the mostreprehensible sin.  Even knowing that Icontinued to attend and serve in the church throughout my adult life.   Over the past year or two I have become morecritical of the church.  This criticalstance has caused me to feel a bit ambivalent about serving in a place thatdoes not include all of me.  As I havesat with this issue weighing heavily on my mind and heart I had to ask myself “Why should I attend a party to which I havenot been invited?”   You see the black church is like myfamily.  If any of my siblings were notto accept who I am fully and authentically I would feel a void in my life.   Therefore, with my spiritual family I havefelt that void for some time.  Slowly Ihave drifted away from the attending church, however, let me state that I havenot moved away from God but just the institution of the organized religion.  The black church has always taken the stanceto be exclusive of same gender loving (SGL) men and women.    However, there is no secret that many SGLindividuals hold key positions in almost every black church in this country andthey continue to be damaged by the hate that is spewed from the pulpit in manychurches.  Organized religion has donemore internal damage to my fellow SGL men and women with a doctrine of disdainwhile preaching in the same sermon that God is a God of love.  There is something very disturbing about thatmessage.  Why are SGL men and womensingled out when there are a multitude of issues that are going on in the blackchurch that pastors turn a blind eye to.  
Every Sunday I think about attending church and being in theplace of joy and worship and then I think about the obvious.  The altar that my casket will sit in from ofat the time of my death while those who love me sit in the pews in grief is thesame altar that I can’t stand in front of to express my love for my partnerwhile the same individuals celebrate our love for one another. 
So as you can see, my love affair with the black church isnothing less than complicated…  And guesswhat, I am not alone for many of my SGL brothers and sisters feel the sameway.   The God I serve and love is notpleased.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Consider Me Evolved!!!

Today is May 9, 2012.  I have had the pleasure of hearing President Barack Obama announce his support for marriage equality.   I feel a since of esteem and overwhelming respect and joy at this time.  Back in the early years of his presidency he was asked about his stance on marriage equality.   President Obama at that time noted that he believed marriage was between and man and a woman, however, he was evolving.  Throughout his presidency he has included same-sex couple and families to the White House for various events.  As the years progressed he disbanded the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation as well as gave the Attorney General the directive not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  In the course of four years he has let his actions show his overwhelming support of the SGL community. 

As a SGL African-American man this day is very important.  I have lived to see one President all but overlook the HIV/AIDS epidemic and not even utter the words of the virus while many of mothers, fathers and partners were burying their loved ones.  Another President signed into law the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation as well as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell resulted in service men and women being forced back into the closet as well being discharged from the service because of their sexual orientation.  DOMA is a federal law signed in September of 1996 that defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.   

The President noted in his statement of support that he has evolved because of conversations with his wife and children.  He noted that he has come to know same-sex families in committed relationships up close and personal.  These individuals were no longer “those other people” but people with whom he work, became friends and those that serve in the armed forces he command.   As SGL men and women and our heterosexual allies, we must take the time to converse and take a public stance on this issue to assist others evolve as well and not be shy about taking a stance.  Evolution is a great thing for it means to develop, grow; progressive change.  Evolution is a very positive process.  While this announcement by the President does not give every SGL man and woman the ability to marry the person they love it does make a HUGE statement on numerous levels to not only the citizens of this country but to everyone on this earth. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.