President Obama's support of "marriage equality," not gay marriage, may turn the tide of opinion regarding this issue among black Evangelicals. According to an article in the Daily Beast, negative attitudes towards gays among African-Amerians went from 67% negative in 2008 to 47% negative in just four years. Considering that 51% of Americans support the President's stance on marriage equality, that sounds about right.
There's some distance between "tolerating" gays and approving of them having the right to get married. That's a prickly issue in the African-American community where the memory of interracial marriages being banned just a few decades ago haunts us, along with the denial of legalized marriages among slaves a little more than a century ago. Marriage is a right that many in our community seem to feel gives us legitimacy in more ways than one, although you'd never know it by the way some of African-American men shirk marriage and any responsibility for the children they sire.
Let's go back to that "tolerance" of gays attitude most African-Americans now have. Tolerance doesn't mean acceptance or approval. Actually, many men in the African-American community seem to view homosexuality as the opposite of masculine and manliness. One of the reasons, I believe, so many men in our community are on the "down low" (married or involved with women, but having sex with men) is because they fear their manhood would be questioned if anyone knew they were gay.
Black men have fought hard to be men. No excuse for deceiving women and putting them in danger of getting infected with HIV/AIDS, which I address in my play about homosexuality and AIDS in the African-American community, B.R.AIDS (Black Response to AIDS). Think about it. The U.S. Constitution still has the statement in it relegating black to "three-fifths" of a man. That was a hard blow to black manhood as was enslavement and denigration as subservients, treated like and called "boys."
Black men have fought in every war to prove their manhood and after emancipation, many worked hard and supported families (and still do) to prove they are men - not boys. One of the worst things anyone can do to a black man is to call him "boy." But it's not as bad, in the eyes of many black men, as being called "gay."
"I ain't no fag!" I hear this denouncement repeatedly, even when the subject is not gays. If a black man is chided for wearing a certain color, like pink or peach, you'll hear this. Or if he's teased because he's close friends with another man - better not be a gay man! - this will likely be his retort.Why?
Why after over a century of freedom and having a black man in the White House, do black men still feel their manhood is at issue? Most likely it's because they still seem to be a threat to the likes of George Zimmerman and are more likely to be suspended from school, drop out altogether, go to prison, be unemployed, and be killed by the police or another black man.
Obviously, there are black men who overcome these statistics through their own determination and concerted efforts, but while they are more plentiful than the media would have you believe, those aren't the black men you see on the news night after night and on shows like "Cops," making the "gangstas heroes and more "manly" in the eyes of many undirected, young black men.
But even among well-educated, successful black men, there's a need to prove manhood and a perception that being gay is unmanly. Many black men on the down low are successful, often highly-paid atheletes and entertainers.
Why can't these men be openly gay? Well, many of them are respected and supported by the black community. They fear losing that respect if they come out of the closet. So, they marry often unsuspecting women, have families, and have risky sex with men. They often don't use condoms or take other precautions that would prevent them from contracting HIV or other STDs.
At one time, Toledo, Ohio, where I live and taught the public schools' first sex education class in two junior high schools due to our county having the highest rate of teen preganancy in the state, had the highest rate per capita of black women with HIV/AIDS. Why? Men on the down low.
A local black Baptist preacher who wanted to pastor a church was told he needed a wife in order to be a pastor. He'd never gotten married because he was secretly gay. But he did what he was told and eventually contracted HIV and gave it to his wife. He ended up living in a residential facility for PLWAs (People LIving with AIDS) and had to divulge the names of his sex partners.
Somehow "the list" circulated around the community and the names on it included some of the black community's top church leaders, all of whom were either married or had been married, except one. The pastor that was forced to get married spent the last year of his life ministering in a mostly white Episcopalian church because he was a pariah in the black community.
Remember Prop 8 in California? Black Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted against gay rights and their views were echoed in black communities across the country. However, as the statistics quoted in the Daily Beast indicate, the numbers of black people opposed to gay rights has definitely dwindled.
But I'm not sure the numbers opposed to gay marriage has. President Obama's announcement may change that. I certainly hope so.