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February 24, 2010

Unlearning homophobia (Part 2)

My best friend growing up was an African-American boy named Bobby. He looked like all the members of Boys II Men rolled into one, with the mischievousness of Bobby Brown and a smile like Theo Huxtable. We got along well and went everywhere together. He taught me the moves to Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video in my parents’ garage and taught me how to do the running man in my Hammer pants.

I don’t remember having a single conversation about the color of his skin, and he never said a word about me being an overt tomboy (with a crush on the oldest sister in “The Sound of Music”). We just focused on what was important: spending time together and being ourselves. But the more I hung out with him, the more I felt he was invisible to adults, especially when they would ask questions like, “Is Bobby here with you now?” It turns out Bobby was invisible. He was my imaginary friend, and when I realized this, he disappeared. I haven’t seen him in more than 20 years.

Of course, I grew up to have many real, live black friends, and, just like all of my friends, they are either homo-friendly or LGBT themselves. As a result, the issue of homophobic African-Americans has always been a non-issue with me. I have been lucky to be surrounded by a diverse crowd of friends with different backgrounds and upbringings, but who share a core value: Just be yourself.

I know there are statistics out there that might pit some African-Americans against homosexuals, but when I look around and see only loving, accepting black people, statistics don’t really mean that much to me. When I turn on the TV and see Wanda Sykes and RuPaul, I don’t think, “Wow, they are black and gay.” I just like their personalities.

So when I walked into the Fairness Campaign’s screening of the third portion of the “Unlearning Homophobia” film series, which deals with homophobia within some African-American churches, I thought I knew everything there was to know about being gay and having black friends. You can imagine my bewilderment when I learned some religious African-Americans would condemn my homosexuality, seeing it as a sin, and would consequently not like me. Shocking, I know! Many black LGBT members of churches from across the country told stories of rejection, confusion and ultimate resolution with African-American Christianity, and some recounted the struggles within their own families. Thankfully, the film, entitled “All God’s Children,” focused on powerful individuals working toward inclusiveness within their churches and carried a message of healing and acceptance. “If you can reason with people, reason with them. If you can love it into them, love it into them,” a black reverend from Los Angeles explained. “The church exists for all of God’s children.”

I left feeling hopeful and enlightened about a situation I had never before seen face to face, and came to appreciate the bravery and honesty of my black LGBT friends within their own community. The more visible African-American LGBT individuals become, the more they can say to themselves and their community, “I exist,” and the more dialogue, understanding and acceptance will reach society as a whole.

However, no one in the film mentioned bi-racial imaginary friendships, and I am pretty sure that’s not in the Bible, so I have to wonder: If Bobby had been real and able to grow up, who would he be? What if he was gay and grew up with an unspoken stigmatization within his family or church? Or, on the other hand, what if he is off somewhere being an imaginary anti-gay right-winger, preaching about how 8-year-old white girls use their dreamed-up black friends as scapegoats when they draw with permanent marker on the furniture? (Sorry, Bobby.) What if, as adults, our conversations turned to the Bible or whether my sexual preference is acceptable in the eyes of God, rather than enjoying each other’s hypothetical company? I would hope that, however we were raised, as adults we would see each other the way my real black friends and I see each other: with love, appreciation, understanding and a lot of laughter.

This I know for sure: If love is not at the top of your agenda, then we just aren’t going to get along, whether you are white, black, straight, gay, religious, real or imagined.