The news of Venus Magazine changing its mission from one that has supported the Black gay and lesbian community for 13 years to one that encourages spiritual change among Black gays and lesbians and to leave the life, has sparked discussion in the community.
While publisher Charlene E. Cothran has expressed anger that some have dubbed her publication as a voice for the ex-gay movement, some within the community beg to differ, saying that her publication is no longer welcoming of Black gays and lesbians, and can be used as a powerful tool for the ex-gay movement.
The publisher of Venus Magazine has recently shared with readers her personal story of redemption, saying she is no longer a lesbian and the mission of her publication has changed. In the most recent issue of Venus, an article titled, 'Redeemed! 10 Ways to Get Out of 'The Life' if You Want Out!' gives 10 steps to leave the gay life, embrace spirituality, and recognize being gay as a sin.
The current issue also has a Q&A chat with the author of Only God Brings Us Out of the Closet: An Uncensored Testimony of One Woman's Struggle with Life and a Lesbian Spirit, Rev. Carla Thomas Royster, a pastor who says she has been delivered from being a lesbian.
'I wasn't surprised by her decision,' said Rev. Deborah Elandus Lake, executive director of the local Sankofa Way Spiritual Services, Inc., who first heard of Venus' new direction a couple of months back. 'It reflects a larger environment among Black same-gender-loving people where we [ feel like ] we have to make decisions against who we are.'
Sankofa Way is a non-profit, faith-based organization that addresses social issues.
What did surprise Lake, however, was the vocal argument presented by the publisher following the announcement. 'What surprised me was her whole argument that separates lesbian life from spiritual life,' Lake said, adding that treating physical same-gender love and spirituality as mutually exclusive categories vilifies the community, particularly Black lesbians. 'It makes it very disturbing that she's taking this position very vocally.'
Lake added that the publisher's stance 'sets people up to hate themselves.'
'She is reinforcing that and falling for it,' she continued.
Rev. Irene Monroe used to be a writer for Venus Magazine. Like Lake, she was not surprised by the news. 'The little that I knew of her [ Cothran ] , I knew she was struggling,' Monroe said.
Monroe is disappointed with the direction the publication has taken. 'It was a platform to affirm our sexual orientation and this was a magazine that spoke to our community,' she said, adding that she applauds Cothran for having done that for many years.
The writer speculates that Cothran has not dealt with her own internalized homophobia. 'This is a public display of her internalized homophobia,' Monroe said.
'I have to always applaud those in communities of color who remain out courageously,' she added.
Monroe doesn't understand why Cothran continues to target the Black gay and lesbian community with Venus. 'We hear that all the time. Why would we want to buy that?'
Affinity, a non-profit organization that provides programs and services for Chicago's Black lesbian community, is also upset by the direction the publication has taken. 'This isn't a part of why we connected ourselves to that publication,' Chris Smith of Affinity told Windy City Times.
Smith said that for years, Affinity only received one copy of Venus each quarter. But just last week, 200 copies of the most recent issue were sent to the organization.
'We were shocked and saddened,' Smith said of hearing the news of Venus' new mission. Smith described the publication as now being 'a powerful mechanism for the ex-gay cause.'
Of the 200 copies sent to the office, Smith said the organization has taken an official response. 'Part of it was the loss of the publication; part of it was the angst we saw,' Smith cited as the reasons the organization is so outraged. 'It morphed into a hate machine. … I think she's out on her own campaign.'
Smith said they intend to send back all 200 copies, along with a letter of response. 'We cannot support the direction of the publication,' Smith said. 'Her personal decision should not become a public cry for the rest of us. It's like if we [ Affinity ] decide we are a Christian organization. We have a responsibility to let people know, and the respect not to target them.' Smith also added that she feels that the publication is not embracing the Black GLBT community, but vilifying them.
Smith hopes that other Black GLBT organizations and groups will respond to the change.
In the meanwhile, while Cothran does receive letters of support for her transformation and new direction for the magazine, others have voiced their dismay and anger.
In a letter to the editor that appears in the current issue, Andreas of New York City, writes, 'I'm just hurt deeply at the remarks made by Charlene Cothran. Having worked with Charlene on many activities both in Atlanta and New York, I can't believe how quickly she has become a gay basher.'
A Los Angeles reader writes, 'I would've had a whole lot more respect for Charlene had she just said that she's decided that she no longer wishes to be a lesbian … period. But she didn't. Instead she choose [ sic ] to revert to what pastors have been doing to Black gays for years and use the Bible as her own personal weapon of choice against her own people. To me, Charlene is worse than the pastors who bash gays from the pulpit.'
In addition, a previous writer for Venus Magazine calls Cothran 'an enthusiastic spokeswoman for 'ex-Gays'' in another letter to the editor.
Only time will tell if the new mission of Venus Magazine will impact its current advertisers. In the current issue, there are two full-page HIV/AIDS-related ads. Although the publication still targets the Black gay and lesbian community, the reason for targeting the community has completely changed. Monroe speculates that the advertisements might soon change, because the publication's base of support will shift.