August 11, 2005
RICHARD J. ROSENDALL
Integrating the Coalition
When Rev. Willie Wilson, in a malicious July 3 sermon in Washington, said, "Lesbianism is about to take over our community," he was sounding an old theme. The executive director of Louis Farrakhan's Millions More Movement, a celebration planned for October 15, echoed a speech by Farrakhan published in the 1989 book, Back Where We Belong.
Farrakhan said, "So we have a society now that's messed up, women falling down on women, men falling down on men…. And even the hardest lesbian when she meets a real man it touches something in her…. I'm saying in the presence of men I've seen lesbians get to talking sweet."
In other words, all we need is more "real men" and we'll eliminate lesbianism. This version of reparative therapy is no more in touch with reality than the Intelligent Design theory that President Bush wants to see taught along with evolution in science classes.
Rev. Wilson's homophobic and misogynistic remarks have given black gay activists a perfect news hook for their protest of his exclusion of gay organizations from participation in organizing the Millions More Movement.
The 1995 Million Man March, the precursor to this year's event, managed to transcend the notorious Farrakhan and inspire a vast crowd with a message of responsibility and healing. Little came out of it, however, so this time the organizers have renamed it to suggest an ongoing effort. The main problem with all this is that even many who criticize Farrakhan and Wilson tacitly accept their way of treating problems affecting the black community as if they are a private family matter.
In reality, while of course de facto segregation still persists, American cities are teeming with diverse populations whose fortunes are inextricably bound up together. In my own neighborhood of Dupont Circle, people from many continents routinely intermingle, and interracial couples are a common sight. While one cosmopolitan locale may not be representative, it remains the case that racial separatism is a proven economic and political dead end.
As some black ministers, who have been heavily courted by the radical religious right, try to scapegoat gay people for the problems in black families, black gay activists are rising to meet the challenge. But when that scapegoating enters the political arena, as it has with a proposed D.C. ballot initiative opposing gay marriage, it is time to expand the coalition. That measure, which has been temporarily withdrawn for redrafting in the proper format, would affect everyone in the District -- not just the 60 percent who are black.
Confronting the common threat requires us to reach out to gay-welcoming ministers, civic leaders, and others, but we must go further. We must find ways of talking to one another that encourage conversation rather than shutting it down; that challenge ideas rather than attacking persons; that facilitate learning rather than indulging in comfortable slogans that substitute for critical thought.
In all of this we must be honest and resist papering over our differences. Real barriers divide us that cannot be eliminated merely by choosing the right words. At the same time, we have more than sports teams binding us together, as the recent terror alerts help remind us.
The wrongs of the past are so great that anyone seeking reasons to mistrust will not have far to look. But if we honor our elders and ancestors, who faced the struggles of their time as we must face ours, we will recall that the Voting Rights Act for which so many risked their lives 40 years ago could never have passed without the support of the white majority. Similarly, gay citizens cannot gain equality without the support of our straight families and neighbors.
To defeat the assault by the radical right on American values, we must overcome our differences. As Bayard Rustin warned, we cannot afford "majestic isolation." In the apocryphal words of the dead white man on the $100 bill, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall hang separately."