My name is Rev. Gerald Palmer and I am an ally. I knew of many black LGBT allies who served in the ministry but the cost of being an open ally was too much for them to handle so they chose to stay quiet. For me, not addressing the injustice directed towards my LGBT brothers and sisters was worse than the social cost of being an ally. I have been an ally since 2002 and along the way I have learned some lessons that I have been asked to share for quite some time.
Lesson One: You don’t have to say that you are straight.
Starting your statement supporting LGBT rights with, “I’m not gay but…” implies that there is something odd about a straight person supporting LGBT rights. Just remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther’s quote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and support social justice.
Lesson Two: White LGBT don’t know what to do with you.
There is a myth that the black Christian is the most homophobic group in America. This myth has been played out before our eyes via the media and folks like Dan Savage. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) based their recruiting of African Americans on this myth and failed miserably. Of course NOM’s residue in black face (Rev. Bill Owens) is still barking, but like NOM he has no bite or relevance.
Because of this myth black Christian allies like myself are seen as an oddity even though are numbers are growing by leaps and bounds. There are many of us and yet the actions and words of the vile get the spotlight and the focus. Not only do they get the focus, they leave us with the bill. We are the ones who pay for their religious based homophobia. It is us who are met with the hostility and rage from those who have been hurt by those who are filled with hate.
I understand the rage and hostility, but that doesn’t mean that when it is aimed in my direction that it doesn’t sting a little.
Lesson Three. Black LGBT don’t know what to do with you.
I have encountered quite a few people in the black community who have no idea what an LGBT ally is. For some the word ally was code for bisexual. For others an ally was a person who was not be trusted. An ally was yet another person looking to gain something from a group that has lost so much.
It is not odd to have folks in the black community who support their LGBT loved ones. What is odd is having those like myself, who are vocal with their support. We are here and we support LGBT equality.
Lesson Four: Don’t hold anger for those that attack you.
Last week the name Michelle Shocked was added to the long list of those who use religious based homophobia against their fellow humans. What complicates matters the most is that she is a new member ot the Church of God In Christ denomination (COGIC). The COGIC has historically been one of the most homophobic black denominations and yet the most popular denomination for black lgbt Christians. The sad truth is that the COGIC has also given us DL Foster as well as G. Craige Lewis. Michelle Shocked has found a group of Christians as mixed up and confused as she is when it comes to religion and sexuality.
When I read Michelle’s comments as well as her difficulty accepting her own sexual orientation, I felt an immediate sense of déjà vu. We have been here before. Someone like Shocked makes an anti-gay statement and we turn them into villains while the Religious Right turns them into heroes. It is a dangerous cycle that feeds and breeds anger on both sides. It is anger that is directed toward individuals and not the systems that created the problem.
I have found healing once I pointed my anger towards religious based heterosexism/homophobia instead of the individuals.
Lesson Five: Loss and gain come with the territory.
I don’t know what it feels like to be LGBT in America. I do however know what it feels like to be an open and vocal LGBT ally. In my local Faith community I am viewed as a heretic and have been ostracized by former friends and even some family members. My own mother refused to allow me to use her property for an affirming church that I tried to start in 2009. Her fear was that she would lose clients because her property was used for a “gay” church. The church failed to get off the ground because Kansas City including black LGBT,are not ready for an affirming and welcoming black church founded by a straight guy.
With every loss that I have experienced, I have gained much more. Although the loss still stings and still continues, I am excited about the future. I have a loving and supportive immediate family an a loving new church home (where I am a member and not in a leadership position) who are okay with this heretic for social change.