Venus Magazine, a publication that for 13 years targeted the Black gay and lesbian community, is now a voice for the ex-gay movement.
Its publisher, Charlene Cothran, recently announced that she has been 'redeemed'; is no longer a lesbian; and is changing the mission and direction of the magazine. On the Web site she writes, 'As the publisher of a 13-year-old periodical [ that ] targets Black gays and lesbians, I have had the opportunity to publicly address thousands, influencing closeted people to 'come out' and stand up for them selves, which is particularly difficult in the African-American community.
'But now, I must come out of the closet again. I have recently experienced the power of change that came over me once I completely surrendered to the teachings of Jesus Christ. As a believe of the word of God, I fully accept and have always known that same-sex relationships are not what God intended for us.'
According to Cothran, a phone call from a local pastor about an article that appeared in another publication owned by Cothran, the Kitchen Table News, steered the 'struggling' publisher in this new direction. But that change, she said, had already begun around 2004 during a visit to Chicago for Windy City Black Pride.
'A jar sort of fell off the shelf for me in Chicago,' she said. 'That was sort of the beginning of the end for me. ... It took me probably two years to say it out loud—that I don't belong here. I was surrounded by Black people; I was surrounded by young people. … I looked around and thought to myself, 'I don't belong here.' I felt this sort of sadness. This is the saddest thing I have ever felt. … Look at all these folks on the wrong road. It was just sad. …I've never been to a Black pride ever again. I sent folks, but I never went again. …Proud of what?'
The mission of Venus Magazine has, of course, completely changed to one that will 'encourage, educate and assist those who desire to leave a life of homosexuality.'
Cothran does not consider herself to be a spokesperson, however, for the so-called ex-gay movement. 'I consider myself to be a spokesperson—if I am a spokesperson—for Jesus Christ,' she told Windy City Times, adding that she has applied to three universities and is prepared for seminary training.
Until Venus recently changed its mission and direction, the publication, at times, covered stories about the ex-gay movement. 'I remember the stories we did on ex-gay movements [ laughs ] in Venus years ago,' Cothran admitted. 'I understand our community's view of the ex-gay movement. My personal testimony has been skewed by their view of the ex-gay movement as I know it to be.'
When asked if at the time, articles on the ex-gay movement angered her, Cothran replied that she feels that she was never born a lesbian. 'I never, ever believed, even from the beginning. I certainly was a lesbian and loved women all those years, but never believed I was born that way.
'I always believed it was possible for a person to decide that they were no longer going to be gay because, again, I never believed we were born this way. Again, as a publisher of a magazine, it was important for me to present different views that the community wanted to present, and this was their—the African-American—forum, and this story was pitched to me. I looked at it and said, 'Okay, this is a forum—I don't have to agree with everything that's being printed.' That's why it ended up in Venus.'
Cothran said that she basically has a 'virtual staff,' and most continue to write for the publication, despite the news. 'Some of the long-time folks stick with us and don't think it's a big deal,' she said.
However, there are previous writers who she knew she wouldn't be able to contact once the publication changed. 'I would have to say my rolodex of people I can reach out for the kind of stories I'm going to be doing now, I am much more selective. I know now there are folks I won't call because their view is different than the views I want to present.'
As for readers of Venus Magazine, according to Cothran, only six have cancelled their subscriptions so far. In just one day last week, four online readers unsubscribed. According to Cothran, there hasn't been a mass drop-off of readers; moreover, she said that she's gaining subscribers in the form of parents of gay and lesbian children, and others.
There have, indeed, also been angrily letters to the editor, which have been put up on the Web site.
'I'd say even those who don't agree have been taken aback by how angry others have presented their view. Like, 'Gosh, are you reading the same articles I'm reading? She's not condemned anyone to hell.' I'm really glad to see some folks saying, 'Well, that's where she is—that's not who I am—but why do you have to be so angry?'
'… I would say that that kind of thing is supportive. Because again, my message is to those who want to hear this. There are several people who are not going to hear it. I know this is a message that isn't going to be widely received by many. But those who are struggling, those who are having the same issues that I had—those are the folk I am talking to.'
Clearly, the readers of the publication are rapidly changing. When asked if Cothran is giving new subscribers, such as parents of LGBTs who hope their children will 'change,' messages of false hope instead of messages to teach them to embrace their children, Cothran replies that isn't at all what she's about.
'I encourage them to embrace their children,' she said. 'Support your daughter, and allow God in his own time to draw her, if she is going to be drawn. Other than that, she's your daughter. Love and support her, of course.'
Condemning or vilifying lesbians and gays is something Cothran doesn't think of herself as doing. 'It's offering a way out through Jesus Christ and prayer for those who desire a way out. And I am getting letters from those who desire a way out.'
Windy City Times asked Cothran if she feels that it is responsible to keep publishing Venus, even though the mission has changed—especially when the Black LGBT community has few outlets and has struggled so hard to find a voice. 'I think that's obvious,' she replied. 'My target audience is the same. Why would I change that? And so for me to abandon the name and have somebody else pick it up and go on? That would be against my mission.
'… I know that there is a connection in the African-American and gay community at large. … The responsibility that I now have is that those people that are connected to it receive a different message. I will not change the name. I have not changed the distribution points. I have not changed the subscribers who have paid for it in the past but are still getting it. We built this business over 13 years to target Black, gay households and communities and outlets. That is still where we are going, but with a new message.'
Although all archives from Venus' past are now off of the Web, Cothran told Windy City Times she is not renouncing the publication's history, or her prior work within the Black gay and lesbian community. 'I'm very proud of the word I have done,' she said. 'The reason for the work is what I'm no longer proud of.'
Although Cothran sounds pleased with her new direction in life, she acknowledges that she is very alone. 'Don't think that I'm being welcomed with open arms now in Black churches, because I'm not,' the publisher said. 'I'm in a place where it's just me and God. Black churches are still like, 'Lord, how is she going to be gay all these years and then just stop on the dime?' My voice to them is, 'You have been vilifying Black gays and lesbians for so long, and this is why they go on to gay churches and don't go to church at all.''
Cothran's stance against vilifying the community she once worked so hard to give a voice has put her in a lonely position. She stands outside of the Black Church, who isn't willing to embrace her. She also stands outside of the LGBT community she was for years a large part of. She hasn't heard from any of the LGBT community leaders she worked alongside for years, and isn't surprised, because the issue of Black gays and the Black Church is such an explosive issue.
'I'm fine with standing alone,' Cothran said. 'I'm fine with it.'