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Panelists discuss fairness for Black gay men
by Blair Mishleau

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People from every age group and many ethnicities filled all 180 seats leaving standing room only at "Justice for All? What is Justice for the Black Gay man?," a forum held Jan. 28 at the University Center, 525 S. State.

The event—in honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day—was held to discuss the challenges and triumphs the gay Black community has faced.

Topics, discussed in panel format, included HIV/AIDS, same-sex marriage, discrimination within the gay community, homophobia within the Black community and economic parity.

Keith Boykin, a former aide to President Clinton and commentator on stations such as CNN, was on the panel along with E. Patrick Johnson from Northwestern University and Antonio D. Jimenez from the UIC School of Public Health.

The panel discussion was hosted by Jim Pickett, a leader in the local HIV/AIDS community, and Dr. Keith Magee, a Chicago newcomer with an education in theology.

Pickett and Magee asked the panel a variety of questions, beginning with a reflection of Boykin's book, One More River to Cross, which he wrote 15 years ago. The book tackled the similarities and differences within the Black and gay communities, and how these intersect and divide.

"Since writing One More River to Cross in 1996, how do you find this message resonating, both with the Black community in general and the Black gay community, specifically?" Magee asked Boykin.

Boykin discussed his changing views regarding the biggest challenge in the gay Black community. When the book was written, he viewed the paramount challenge to be "racism from the white community and homophobia from the Black community." Now, he views the biggest challenge to be the Black gay community's "own internalize prejudices."

Johnson was then asked to talk about his project, Sweet Tea, which collects stories about Black gay men ages 19-93 who live in the South. He was asked to speak of a common theme between the gay Black community throughout the country.

" [ Gay Black people ] are looking for affirmation as gay Black men. They are also looking for confirmation, looking for community. Even though we are supposedly in a post-racial age, walking down the street as Black gay men we know that this is not necessarily true. Young people are looking for some kind of affirmation that we have … a history of struggles that we have overcome."

After the hosts' panel questions, the floor was opened to audience members who wanted to ask questions and make suggestions to the community. Audience members discussed everything from what life is like for a gay Black man outside of the United States to how people identify.

"For me, I don't associate myself with being rigidly defined as Black or rigidly defined as gay; I associate myself with being human. Being Black or being gay doesn't surmount to the totality of my identification," attendee Drew Williams told fellow audience members.

The event's sponsors included LifeLube, Chicago Black Man's Caucus, Communities of Color Collaborative, Project CRYSP, the Test Positive Awareness Network and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

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