When I was in high school, a small group of football players would brag about going out on Friday nights to beat up fags.
I didn't hang with that crowd, and I don't know what standard they used to ascertain who was a fag. In retrospect they probably couldn't even tell who among our fellow students was gay although there surely were some gays among our Roman Catholic, 800-plus all-male student body. Still, on Monday mornings we would sometimes hear tales about some poor fellow they had punched out.
That was in the late '60s and the first couple years of the '70s. Gays were objects of snickering jokes, though I had never knowingly met any of them. I was never a part of the gay-hunting group, but I don't think it particularly shocked me. It seemed more of the kind of thing my big brother did in fighting some guys from the east side or from another school.
These days those kinds of attacks on gays would be called a hate crime.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center's spring Intelligence Report magazine, there's a lot of hating going on. The issue's theme is "The Year in Hate," and among the haters are a group of black anti-gay pastors. A package of stories profiles some of these African-American, right-wing conservative ministers for whom homosexuality "is what has destroyed the black community." At least that is the conclusion of Chicago's Rev. Gary Daniels.
Former Detroit City Council member Bishop Keith Butler and his Southfield-based Word of Faith International Christian Center is among those profiled. Butler declared himself a Republican in 1982 and has been active in statewide and national Republican politics ever since. That includes his failed bid to win the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate last year. Butler ran on a basic Republican conservative platform that included opposition to gay marriage and support for traditional family values. He's denounced the "gay lifestyle" in a Free Press editorial, and nationally he's referred to as a leading opponent of gay marriage. In February he co-hosted, with the recently deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, a reception for Sen. John McCain at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Orlando, Fla.
Consider that Falwell has run an anti-gay agenda for decades and once said that "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
In function, the black conservative Christian movement has pretty much the same family values agenda as the white conservative Christian movement except in blackface.
The Christian right blames most of the ills of American society on homosexuals, abortionists and feminists. That's pretty much ditto for the black Christian right.
Could it be that gays are the cause of the crisis in the black community and the crisis in black families? I guess that drugs and alcohol have nothing to do with it. I guess that heterosexual young men who take no responsibility for their children have nothing to do with it. I guess poverty and the effects of discrimination have nothing to do with it.
It's the gays who are tearing us apart.
But what really puts the black religious right on their moral high horse is when gays suggest that the gay rights movement is similar to the civil rights movement.
In 2004, Butler and a group of black ministers released a statement finding "the gay community's attempts to tie their pursuit of special rights based on their behavior to the civil rights movement of the 1960s-1970s" is abhorrent. They declared that "being black is not a lifestyle choice."
I can hear someone screaming that being gay is not a lifestyle choice. After all why would a person willfully choose a lifestyle that will get you discriminated against, make you hide who you really are, refuse you the right to marriage, make you the target of ridicule and violence, or get you killed a jolly good choice that is.
I'm not going to argue whether being gay is a choice or not, or whether the gay rights movement is similar to the civil rights movement. Neither of those arguments gets you anywhere. What I do say is that discrimination is discrimination no matter whom it is applied to. Hatred is hatred. Violence is violence no matter whom it is used against.
In the 1970s, I met a lot of gay and lesbian people, some of whom became lifelong friends. And to be truthful, there were some who were gay for years, even decades, who suddenly figured out they weren't gay. And we've all heard stories of people who led heterosexual lifestyles for years who at some point realized they were gay and I'm not talking about the ones who were sneaking around leading double lives.
That's not to say it's a choice. I don't mean to be wishy-washy, but deep down I think some people are just born straight, some people are born gay, some people are born bisexual, and, well, sometimes things change.
The same thing goes for being black. If you take a penetrating look at race, it's questionable that black is just black and white is just white. People have moved back and forth across the color line for about as long as there has been a color line. It's just that most of them don't want to talk about it. Not to mention that dark-skinned Africans, Arabs, Hispanics and people from the Indian subcontinent don't face near the same kind of discrimination as run-of-the-mill domestic, nappy-headed African-Americans. You can be black as tar but if you have naturally straight hair, or talk with a foreign accent, that pretty much makes you something else.
And if everything is so cut and dried, why are people questioning if Sen. Barack Obama is black enough to represent African-American interests?
It's complicated. When my godmother (who recently died at age 103) entered New Orleans as a teenager from what was then known as British Honduras, based on a cursory look the border agent declared her black and her mother and sister were declared white. What was the truth?
But to get back to the gay issue, I remember being on the picket line during the 1995 newspaper strike. On one side of me a union brother was screaming "faggot" at the scabs going into the Free Press building. Literally next to me on the other side was a union brother I knew to be gay. Eventually the gay man crossed the line and went back to work. And considering the number of times I heard invectives like faggot and punk fly out from my side of the line, I don't blame him.
My parents were good Catholic people. When I brought a man home who after a few meetings they pretty much knew to be gay, they didn't say a thing about it. They sat him down at the table and fed him just like they did everyone else I brought home. Years later I found that my entire family parents, sisters, brother all knew he was gay. But they liked him, so it didn't matter.
My family didn't fall apart due to his presence. The problem is that the conservative religious right wants to think about gays only in terms of their sex lives when the majority of their day-to-day lives are just like anyone else's. Maybe it's our sex-obsessed society.
That's where the gay movement is similar to civil rights. The haters want to focus on something that is arbitrary and irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former Metro Times editor. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org