"Black by Birth/Gay by God/Proud by Choice." Those were the words my trembling hands scribbled on the poster board in the brisk morning air at a black gay rally a few hours before the Million Man March.
Hundreds of black gay men and a handful of lesbians joined together last Monday [Oct. 16] in an historic openly gay contingent in the Million Man March, proudly representing the tens of thousands of black gay men who were there but could not be a part of our group. Our premarch rally drew prominent speakers from around the country, including noted law school professor and civil rights activist Derrick Bell, who is heterosexual, and the black, openly gay mayor of Cambridge, Mass., Kenneth Reeves.
Uncertain of what might lie ahead, we left our rally and quietly began the 30-minute procession to the march assembly on the Capitol Mall. A few passers-by hurriedly moved out of the way, two people driving their cars along the adjoining streets honked their horns in support and a number of pedestrians stopped and stared.
Sensing no negative reaction, our group grew increasingly ambitious and empowered. We began to chant: "We're black! We're gay! We wouldn't have it any other way!" Still, no one in the crowd of people we approached reacted critically.
The lesson in this experience is that when we believe in ourselves, other people believe in us, too. When we believe in ourselves enough to come out of the closet and be open about who we are as black gay men and lesbians, our community not only accepts us, they respect us more. For many march participants, last Monday was the first time they had ever seen black homosexuals openly, visibly and unabashedly acknowledging themselves as a part of the black community. Given the opportunity to succumb to peer pressure prejudice, they took the high road and greeted our participation. They know that the battle for black liberation requires many soldiers, and in this army, at least, gays are welcome in the military.
What happened on the Mall that day was the beginning of a revolution in our thinking as black people and as black gay people. Black men loving black men is a revolutionary act. In a culture whose popular music and film glorify blacks' violence toward other blacks, the simple act of loving our brothers as brothers becomes an act of rebellion against fratricide.
Who is better suited to help black men learn the value of loving one another as brothers than black gay men, who have been loving one another as brothers for years? Who is better suited to demonstrate to black men how to care for and show affection for one another than black gay men, who have been caring for and showing affection toward one another when no one else would? And who is better suited to lead the long-overdue revolution against patriarchy and violence against women than black gay men? Indeed, as Black Panther leader Huey Newton presciently observed in 1970, "a homosexual could be the most revolutionary" of the revolutionaries.
Despite the welcome extended by march participants, the organizers and speakers missed two crucial opportunities: First, to include an openly gay speaker and, second, to teach black men how to save their lives in this era of AIDS; prevention was never discussed. Unfortunately, the disease will continue to take a toll on our community so long as black people and our so-called leaders remain too afraid to address publicly issues of sex, sexuality and sexual orientation.
Nevertheless, I hope the presence of our openly gay contingent will help to begin the much needed dialogue on black sexuality and teach the organizers what the vast majority of rank and file marchers already know: Black gay men and lesbians are not a threat to black unity, they are a key to it.
Last updated: 08 January 1996 by Chuck Tarver