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Panel Discusses Homophobia and Black Churches
by Andrew Davis

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Everything from the military to trauma was discussed at 'Black Homophobia, Black Churches, Black Lives: Our Griots Tell Their Stories,' a forum held Nov. 13 at Bella Bacino's, 75 E. Wacker.

Approximately 50 people packed the meeting room to hear facts and opinions from such speakers as Dr. Terri Pease, Father Juan Y. Reed and Rev. Tommie Lee Watkins, Jr.

Pease—a consultant and educator who has extensive experience working with trauma survivors—told attendees that, as a people, Blacks 'have been isolated in naming our own grief. ... Having something dreadful happen without having the words to explain [ has been part of ] the experience. ... Human connection heals trauma.' In citing a study that showed that people physically suffered the more they internalized wrongs committed against them, Pease asserted that 'talking about pain is critical for our health.' She asked the audience, 'Do we, as same-gender-loving African Americans, deserve love, safety [ and ] nurturing? It's something we need to talk with each other about. ... Naming pain in a safe environment frees us.'

Reed, in an emotional delivery, said that the gay community 'is well-represented in churches. The homophobia and the abuse of gay people in Black churches could not happen without our participation. The 'open closet' is a way of keeping homosexual people in church without revealing our sexual orientation. In many churches, we are obvious and invisible at the same time.' He also mentioned Michael Williams, a 14-year-old gay Black murder victim who was discovered in Lincoln Park in August 2005: 'As the news stories appeared, family members said things like, 'He couldn't be gay. He's a junior deacon in the church. He's an excellent student.' This is one example of why not addressing same-gender sexuality in churches is dangerous.' He added that, in order to talk about sexuality in church, people have to discuss more than sex itself: 'Every Sunday, you come in shouting about the same old shit ... . We need a religion that is going to inspire, challenge and move us to make some changes in our lives and communities.'

Watkins, although not as fiery as Reed, gave a speech that was no less enlightening. 'I submit to you that maybe the original sin had nothing to do with the fruit, but that it had to do with believing the word of an entity superlative to your Creator. ... I believed those who had authority in my life when they said that something was wrong with the way God created me. I knew I did not choose to be a same-gender-loving person. ... I decided that I wanted to be delivered from the opinions of other people,' he said. 'Many times, our culture is based on what other people think of us.' Watkins went on to talk about his legal victory against the United States Navy as well as his work as a community activist in Miami Beach.

Other speakers included Rev. Deborah Elandus Lake, executive director and founder of the local organization Sankofa Way Spiritual Services; and Cleo Manago, founder and organizer of the Black Men's Xchange. Audience members were also encouraged to share their experiences and thoughts.

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