The Role of Black Gay Men & Lesbians in the Million Man March A Position Statement from the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum (NBGLLF) (Prepared September 24, 1995, by Keith Boykin Executive Director and National Board Members Dennis Holmes and Steve Walker)
Earlier this year, representatives of the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS) called for a million black men to march on Washington to show a more positive image of black men than typically portrayed and to encourage them to bear responsibility for the black community. Because of the Nation of Islam's involvement in the march and its history of homophobia and sexism, many black gay men have expressed concerns about whether or not to participate and whether they can do so openly and safely.
In light of these concerns, the Board of Directors of the National Black Gay & Lesbian Leadership Forum met last weekend and discussed these issues in detail. Members of the Forum have also met with march organizers regarding these concerns. After serious discussion, the Forum has decided to encourage all black gay and lesbian people, and particularly men, to participate openly and visibly in the March. We will no longer allow outsiders to dictate who is welcome at the black family table or to divide African Americans by sexual orientation or by gender.
The Forum did not vote to endorse the march because we do not agree with its sexist and patriarchal tone and the homophobic comments made by some march organizers. Despite these problems, we have been told by the march organizers that ALL black men, including Black gay men, are encouraged to participate. The march organizers also have told us that women who come will be allowed to participate.
We believe the March provides a unique opportunity to empower black gay men and lesbians and black gay youth. Because black gay people are part of the black community, we will see positive images of open, courageous, proud, and diverse black gay people. Hundreds of black gay people participating openly in such an event will send a powerful message, one that will enable many black gays to abandon their masks of invisibility and assume or maintain their rightful place as citizens, mentors, and leaders of their communities.
The position statement of the Million Man March says this event "will be filled with the spirit of love for self, love for each other, love for our families. . . and that it will be a day when we will see the value of never allowing artificial barriers to impede the advancement of our people."
Our participation in the march gives us an occasion to confront those artificial barriers. Homophobia and misunderstandings about sexual orientation have impaired our ability to work honestly and effectively toward the betterment of our lives, our families, and our communities.
Participation in the march is an opportunity to demonstrate that we are members of the black family, that we are brothers, sons, and fathers, as well as caretakers, counselors, supporters, benefactors and leaders within our black communities. Our involvement as black, openly gay people is necessary, lest our absence or low profile become complicit to the silence and invisibility that undermine our role as agents of change. Staying home or marching incognito colludes with those who wish to keep us invisible.
At the march, we must come together with black people, gay and straight, to work and think in coalition about the enormous and urgent problems that are common to all Black Americans, regardless of our acknowledged sexual orientation. We should challenge and enlighten those who deem black gay people as marginal, insignificant or threatening to black unity. We also must challenge the hypocrisy, divisiveness, and violence that result from the refusal of the black community to acknowledge and value all of its members.
Toward that end, the Forum has created an ad hoc committee to organize and coordinate a national black gay and lesbian effort around the march. The committee has prepared the following six-point plan of action.
First, the Forum will hold a pre-march rally for black gay men and lesbians to energize our contingent and distribute our identifying symbols.
Second, black gay and lesbian participants, joined by members of the national and local press, will march as a visible contingent on Monday, October 16, 1995. Remember, there is strength and safety in numbers.
Third, the Forum will conduct a post-march press conference to review the march. At this time, we will address the positive impact of the march and respond to issues of homophobia and sexism that may arise. All march participants are encouraged to attend the press conference to provide a visual backdrop for the Forum's presentation.
Fourth, in the weekend preceding the march, the Forum will present three workshops on issues affecting our community. As part of the Million Man March educational conference, the workshops will focus on (1) the role of women in the black community, (2) homosexuality in the black community, and (3) HIV/AIDS issues.
Fifth, the Forum will sponsor a spiritual service for black gay men and lesbians. The service will be conducted on Sunday, October 15, 1995.
Sixth, the Forum will host a social gathering for march participants on Sunday evening, October 15, 1995.
In addition to the plan outlined above, the Forum is working with march organizers to secure an openly gay black man to speak about the role of black gay men in the black community. The Forum also hopes to secure a person living with AIDS to speak at the march about issues of HIV and AIDS.
Although the Forum does not endorse the march, we strongly encourage you to participate in the activities we have planned. Please contact Dennis Holmes at (314) 454-1654 [firstname.lastname@example.org] or Steve Walker (713) 864-2242 [email@example.com] or the Forum office at (213) 964-7820 for more information about this or any aspect of the weekend activities.
To fight the battle against racism, sexism and homophobia, the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum relies on you. We need your support.
To maintain an accurate account of those who will participate, please return the attached form to register for the Forum's weekend. Your registration fee of $5 will help defray the cost of the weekend programming and ensure the activities are successful. If you cannot afford to pay the registration fee, please check the appropriate box and we will register you anyway. If you cannot attend the weekend or if you can contribute more than $5, please check the appropriate box below to indicate your contribution.
__ Yes, I will participate in the Forum's march activities. Enclosed is my $5 registration fee and an additional contribution of: ___ $10 ___ $25 ___ $50 ___ $100 ___ Other (please specify)_________ __ Yes, I will participate in the Forum's march activities. Enclosed is my $5 registration fee. __ Yes, I will participate in the Forum's march activities. Please register me although I cannot afford the fee. __ No, I cannot participate in the Forum's march activities. However, I want to support the work of the Forum. Please accept my contribution of: ___ $10 ___ $25 ___ $50 ___ $100 ___ Other (please specify)_________ __ I would like to join the Forum. Enclosed is my check for $35 for annual dues. Name____________________________________ Address__________________________________ __________________________________ Phone # ( )_____________________________ __ My enclosed, tax-deductible check is payable to "The Forum" Please mail to: 1219 So. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90019 __ Please charge my Visa or MasterCard Number___________________________________ Expiration Date_____________________________ Signature__________________________________
Last updated: 08 January 1996 by Chuck Tarver