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Anti-gay forces in religious black community stray from the message of King

A couple of days ago I blogged about Bishop Harry Jackson’s incredibly homophobic column at Town Hall, “Why Do Gays Hate Religious Freedom?”  The honcho of the High Impact Leadership Coalition heads up a group black pastors that appears in an outlandish ad opposing hate crimes legislation (left, click to enlarge).

As I commented in the other thread, these leaders in the pulpit, representatives of an oppressed group, have decided to join an oppressor (conservative white evangelicals) who, back in the day would have made sure those pastors rode at the back of the bus. The bigots in the white evangelical power structure know that by addressing the religious black voter — through black ministers like Jackson — they can garner support for anti-gay measures such as state marriage amendments, and opposition for legislation that extends civil rights for LGBT citizens. The religious right knows exactly what it’s doing — divide and conquer, using the Bible as a weapon. An article in The American Prospect, The Future of Anti-Gay Activism, summed up the issue quite well:

As a political strategy, it doesn’t come out of nowhere. The powerful political operations like Focus on the Family and FRC have, over the past several years, increasingly taken steps to recruit black followers beyond traditional white evangelicals (as has the GOP). Through preachers like Jackson, they can reach the audiences in the country’s non-denominational, neo-Pentecostal mega-churches, which draw large black followings both in their pulpits and through televangelism, even when the preacher (Rod Parsley or John Hagee, for example) is white.

How did we get to this sad place? Those who wish to lead this country as president, as they seek support from the black community, need to address this problem head on.

This sad state makes me miss the sane presence of Yolanda King, the eldest child of Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, who passed away in May. Like her mother, she was a strong public supporter of LGBT rights; the hateful, irrational rhetoric of Bishop Harry Jackson seems small and petty when juxtaposed against the words of King.

[G]ay activists around the country are getting nervous that they are about to experience an embarrassing political setback. Instead of amending the hate crimes legislation that protects churches in a substantive way, they are simply crying out in a louder, more threatening manner. Gay advocates are not looking for fairness; they are looking for an upper hand.

…Both gays and blacks should get justice in America, but we cannot allow either group to receive special privileges at the expense of another group of Americans. If the loopholes in this legislation are not closed, Christians and Bible-teaching churches could become victims of a strange brand of reverse discrimination. These actions are tantamount to the gay community saying, “Freedom for me, but bondage for you.” This attitude is just not consistent with America’s ideals.

Yolanda King:

It’s a dream about freedom. Freedom from exploitation, from oppression, from prejudice, from poverty, from violence. The dream of a nation and world where each and every child can have the opportunity to simply be the very best that they can be. I believe that along with racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, homophobic attitudes and practices are unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who truly believe in Democracy…Conscience demands that freedom-loving people should have a policy of zero tolerance for the persecution and repression of any one or any group of people.

Yolanda King delivered this message in 2000 at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Detroit, and it proves how she carried on the fight for equal treatment under the law, unlike the pastors in the above ad — or her sister Bernice, for that matter, who has spoken out and marched against marriage equality.

Below the fold is Yolanda King’s entire speech, courtesy of HRC. Many thanks to Director of Public Affairs Christopher Johnson for getting the transcript to me.Transcript of Yolanda King keynote speech at the Human Rights Campaign 2000 Detroit Gala Dinner

Thank you so very, very much for that very warm introduction that equally warm and wonderful welcome. You know, we are all participants in the creation of the present and the future, whether we like it or not. Either way we go-through silence, or through our raised voices. Through work that activates and motivates, or that which produces slumber. Whether we commit ourselves to what can be done or passively accept what is. Either way we go, all of us are participants.

I am so pleased to be able to join with you this evening in this joyous celebration with an organization that has chosen to participate in the creation of not only a better present, but a better future, to a more compassionate and just America. On this the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Campaign, I salute you, for your powerful dedication to the creation of a society free of homophobia, indeed free of all forms of bigotry and intolerance. HRC’s contributions have improved the lives of countless members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered community and in the process has strengthened the very fiber of our democracy. Let me take a moment to also commend and congratulate those who have been honored. Through your efforts you have affirmed the truth found in the statement made by Booker T. Washington. “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” And truly that spirit of dedication, of perseverance, of courage, of commitment, of stick-to-it-iveness is sorely needed in these times which we find ourselves. Yes, these times.

For some, perhaps the best of times. But for far too many, the worst of times. These times call not for merriment, but for movement. Not for cheerful contentment but for constant commitment. Now before I go any further I do have to make one thing perfectly clear one time. I am a 100 percent, dyed in the wool, card-carrying believer in the dream. That is capital T, capital D. The dream that led my father from a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama to the vision of the mountaintop in Memphis, Tennessee, that’s the dream I believe in.

It’s a dream about freedom. Freedom from exploitation, from oppression, from prejudice, from poverty, from violence. The dream of a nation and world where each and every child can have the opportunity to simply be the very best that they can be. I believe that along with racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, homophobic attitudes and practices are unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who truly believe in Democracy.

Now there are the folks who for whatever reasons, have chosen not to believe. I call them the bystanders, standing as they often do on the sidelines of the great issues of our time. Of course, I know none of them are in this room. But I think you will recognize them. I think they tend to fall into three groups. The first group I like to call the woulda/coulda/shoulda folks. Now, you see these folks can really fool you because when they talk they sound pretty dedicated, but when it’s time to get down to business, time to do some real work, they’re the first ones out the door. That is, if they showed up in the first place. “Girlfriend,” they’ll tell you, “I woulda come to the meeting if I coulda, but you shoulda CALLED me.” Ha. “And then I woulda asked my brother-in-law to ask his sister if her boyfriend coulda run me by. Believe me, I woulda/coulda/shoulda.” These folks are a trip. They can talk the talk but you’re in for a real disappointment if you expect them to walk the walk.

And then of course, there are the “can’t” folks. For whatever reasons they have decided that they just can’t do any dream work. You know I’m always saddened when I speak with them because you see they sit back and they hold their hands, hoping and praying that somebody, anybody will come along and deliver the dream. But you see I’ve always been taught that you’ve got to take at least one step. You’ve got to do your best, and then god will do the rest.

Now if those who can’t make me sad, then those who won’t make me mad. They frustrate me the most, because you see in most instances they understand the importance of what is needed, but they are caught up in ignorance or hatred or fear or conformity. And I guess the worst excuse of all is “Aw it’s been like this always, and nothing’s gonna change anyhow, so why bother?” Oh yes, I have heard it all and you know what, I am still a believer in the dream. And now, it’s true some of it is because I am the great-great-granddaughter, the daughter, the niece, the sister, the cousin of ministers. When I was growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I must have spent eight days a week in the church. And so my faith has been nurtured and confirmed for as long as I can remember.

I have been taught that the universal, natural order of peace with justice will one day be restored, that unconditional love and unarmed truth will have the last say. I know in my heart that the dream will be realized, and so I’m a believer.

And of course another reason is because my parents, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King were, and mother still is, modern-day architects of the strategies for achieving the dream. As you know mother has been on the frontlines in support of this organization across the country. I am a child of the dream.

But another reason I believe is because I choose to believe. That’s right, you see choosing is a very powerful act and it is available to every last one of us. It does not matter who you are, what your circumstances are. In every moment of your life, you can choose. You can choose patience over impatience, understanding over anger, action over inaction, compassion over condemnation. I have chosen to believe. And that choice gives meaning to every other choice I make. That is how all of our lives are fashioned-one choice at a time. What makes each of our lives unique is the individual set of choices that we make.

Choice, it’s a powerful tool, and the alternative, well, as someone has once wisely remarked and observed, we do know what happens to people who stand in the middle of the road? They get run over.

In the 1950s and 60s, African-American men and women made some choices, often dangerous ones. They were joined by men and women of good will from all races, and together, tremendous progress was made toward the betterment of our nation. This is where the seeds that have blossomed into the human rights campaign were planted. Martin Luther King, Jr. people were compelled to get up and do something toward the betterment of our society. He made us look at ourselves honestly as a nation, as individuals, black, white, red, yellow and brown, rich and poor. And he began to transform and we reordered the conditions of many of our communities.

As African-Americans we threw off the feeling of inferiority that had shackled us. We pulled ourselves up, and demanded our god-given rights. As my father said on many occasions, a man can’t ride your back, unless it’s bent. Many white people were freed from the shackles of bigotry that had suppressed and distorted their true humanity. Other people of color were encouraged to assert their rights, their values, their contributions. We came closer to being a multicultural society where people could come together in a spirit of compassion, sharing power and working together. The civil rights movement signaled some of the most important changes in the history of our country, and we must never forget the sacrifices that were made to achieve the gains that resulted. In far too many instances, however, we have forgotten, our memories have blurred.

Those of you in the audience who are my age-that is 39 and holding, or as a friend of mine says, thirty-through. Those of you who are 32 years of age and younger in this audience, you were not even born when Martin Luther King, Jr. walked with us. And for some of you the civil rights movement may seem like ancient history.

I was out on the road a little while ago and this little boy came up to me. He was about six years old, and he said, “Is it true? Os it true, are you really Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter?” And I said yes, and he said looking at me as if I was a ghost, “Then why aren’t you dead?” Eons and eons of years ago. But as we all know it was not.

Only 40 years ago, the ugly signs of segregation surrounded us. The sitting on the back of the bus, the signs that read for whites or for colored only, the terror of cross burnings and lynchings. And during the course of the struggle that started in 1955, the snapping dogs, the searing firehoses, the beatings and the bombings that turned cities around the country into battlefields. They all seem like misty images from a horror story that we may have perhaps read about or seen on television.

But the civil rights movement was not a mirage, it was not a documentary, it was not a television special. It was live, and in living color.

On December 1st, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a courageous woman named Rosa Parks who now lives in this city, she chose to standup by remaining seated on a city bus, and she triggered a movement that propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. into leadership, a movement that would change America forever. All because she chose to stand up. What did I tell you about the power of choice?

The civil rights movement served as the inspiration for all of the movements for human rights which followed it. The women’s movement, the peace movement and of course, the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. Progress has been made. The twenty year history of HRC has seen its share of successes and some defeats. It has been an uphill battle, and much remains to be overcome. However, as an uneducated but wise sage has said, we ain’t what we used to be, we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank god, we ain’t what we was.

Certainly the cause that brings us together this evening is a reflection of the dream. For you see justice is indivisible, and discrimination against any group of people cannot be tolerated. The civil rights movement that I believe in thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion.

As my father said on numerous occasions, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny, an inescapable network of mutuality. I cannot be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.

As your theme states, we are equal. Conscience demands that freedom-loving people should have a policy of zero tolerance for the persecution and repression of any one or any group of people. Again to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in terms of challenge and controversy.

On some issues, cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it polity? Vanity would ask the question, is the position safe? But conscience asks, is it right? And sometimes we must take positions that are neither safe, nor polity, nor popular, but we must take them because conscience dictates that it’s right.

And so I stand with you, my brothers and sisters with the faith that conscience and truth will prevail. The upcoming national elections provide an opportunity for all of us to continue the progress toward a more progressive society. Too many people have given up on voting because they see it as removed from their own self-interest, from their families, from their communities. We cannot buy into that.

As the human rights campaign has proven, it works if you work it. We must turn out on Tuesday in record numbers to support the candidates, and I think we should know by now, if we didn’t before we came tonight, after tonight we should know the candidates that have proven their support of our issues. But see I know everybody in this room will be voting. But in addition to that each one of you should ensure that at least five people that you know will be voting on Tuesday. Get on the phones, call them. Take them to polls if necessary.

We must turn out for this election. But you see, once those people get in office, we also must hold our elected officials accountable. That’s the second part of the process. We must work with them and when it is necessary we must work on them, as HRC has done magnificently, to make sure they honor their promises.

What we must all do in the community of human rights organizations and activists is to become more active in working for a common vision, as well as the agendas of our respective organizations and interest groups. We must build a coalition of good will. Take the time to become better informed about each other’s issues. Support each other, speak out and take action for justice for all people.

The issue of affirmative action comes to mind. Right-wing politicians are waging assaults on affirmative action, in dozens of states across the nation. Make no mistake about it, they are supported by the same homophobic groups that are trying to stop every item on HRC’s legislative agenda. You must remember that affirmative action directly benefits the membership of HRC that are women and people of color. And indirectly it benefits all members, because it affirms the spirit of inclusiveness in the workplace. If we want to create a truly just and decent society then we must work together to rectify injustices against all people.

We must hold fast to the dream of the beloved community, as my father called it, which people can live together in the spirit of trust, understanding, harmony, love and peace.

It has been said there are three kinds of people in the world. There are those who stand on the sidelines and watch things happen. There are the few who get involved and make things happen. And there are the many who don’t know?what happened. What kind of person are you? It’s time to make a choice.

I, for one, choose to dream, and to act on my dreams, most importantly, following the example that my parents taught, and remembering the words of Bobby Kennedy, “some see things that are and ask why? I see things that never were, and ask why not?” And remembering and realizing the truth found in a statement of Edmund Burke. “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in this world, is for enough good people to do nothing.”

And to anyone who would choose to defer the dream, all of our dreams, this is what I have to say to them, in the inspirational words of Dr. Maya Angelou.

“You may write me down in history, with your bitter twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust I’ll rise. Does my sassiness affect you? Why are you beset with gloom? ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells pumping in my living room. Just like suns and like moons with the certainty of tides. Just like hope springing high, still I’ll rise. Did you wanna see me broken, bowed head and lowere eyes? Shoulders falling down like tear drops, weakened by my own soulful cries. Does my confidence upset you? Oh, don’t take it so hard, ’cause I laugh like I’ve got goldmines digging in my own backyard. You may shoot me with your words. You may cut me with your eyes. You may even try to kill me with your hatefulness, but still like life, I’ll rise. Does my sexiness confound you? Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs? Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise. Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise. I am an ocean that’s wide, leaping and welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise. Bringing the gifts that our ancestors gave, I am the dream.”

You, each an every one of you are the dream. We are the hope of the brave. I rise. You rise. Together with WE WILL RISE. God bless you and thank you.


An interesting related sidebar — the Broadway musical The Color Purple has been grossing more than $1 million a week, and busloads of church-going black folks are streaming in. American Idol winner Fantasia as Miss Celie has been drawing them in since she joined the show in April.

As blogger Michael Baker notes, the play features Celie in a lesbian subplot with the character Shug. One has to wonder how this plays with the church ladies. It’s probably a case of complete disconnect political disconnect for many of them.

The musical version of “The Color Purple” deals with the lesbian relationship between Shug and Celie in a tasteful but quite frank way. One of the loveliest, truest moments in the show is the duet they share, and they even swap a kiss onstage. And the churches keep coming. Somehow, I suspect that a good portion of them are not gay-affirming churches, either.

…Of course, this should surprise none of us. All of us, particularly those of us from more rural areas, probably know people — perhaps even family members — who are virulently homophobic but have no problem with us as individuals. Well, guess what? That’s a step. It’s why we come out, folks. It’s why we tell our stories. It’s why we celebrate pride.

A towering figure is gone
The activism of Rosa Parks and Bernice King

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