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Souls a' Fire—Reclaiming Stonewall
by Amy Wooten
2005-08-01

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Black community members are putting their heads together to explore how scholars and religious leaders can articulate a vision to health professionals and community leaders to create support for the Black LGBTQI community.

In a panel discussion for the second Souls a' Fire conference, 'Reclaiming Stonewall,' physical and mental health professionals and religious and community leaders discussed how the Black LGBTQI community can build coalitions in order to set agendas for, and participate in, their own community, rather than having the white LGBTQI community determine their political and social agendas. They also discussed just what 'Reclaiming Stonewall' means to the Black LGBTQI community.

Panelist Makani Themba-Nixon, the executive director of the Praxis Project, said that the community must first remember the purpose of churches. Churches reflect the economic conditions and histories of a community, Themba-Nixon said. They can offer a space for people to interrogate and challenge stereotypes and homo-negativity. Therefore, the Black church community must take action. 'So when all those right-winger folks are writing letters, we are writing letters, too,' she suggested. 'We have to be willing to be more political because other folks are not. They should not be up there by themselves.'

Next, Victor Rogelio Ponds, an employee of the South Side Help Center, explained that the white LGBTQI community leaves Blacks to combat racism alone. Reclaiming Stonewall is a grim reminder to many that they have been left to fight their own battles, and are often excluded from the movement. 'The civil-rights, gay-rights and women's movements were never—I repeat never—about freedom for all,' Ponds said. 'The civil-rights movement was and still is only about heterosexual men.' The women's movement has been 'blatantly exclusionary' of women of color, and dominant groups within the gay-right's movement have silenced the voices of others, he added.

'The rainbow is made of not seven or six colors, but a whole continuum of colors even beyond the colors I can see,' Ponds said. Reclaiming Stonewall is about not surrendering one's racial identification to the gay community and settling for becoming a 'tolerated guest.'

'Reclaiming Stonewall is about telling our stories,' he continued. 'It's about looking into our own mirrors.' Only then can the community start to build bridges and gather support.

Even when the Black LGBTQI community does take action, having 'true and lasting intersections' after events is a problem, said Rev. Yvette Flunder. Flunder, a lesbian, has been a pastor for the gay community for 20 years. The Black LGBTQI community has difficulty coming together to have 'one little something' and create political and economic clout, she said. 'We need to find ways to not be so divided.'

One of the problems, Flunder explained, is that, 'We have not been able to help [ LGBTQI people ] cultivate their voices!' Flunder suggested that the Black community celebrate its differences in order to get something done. 'Celebrate diversity,' she said. 'Don't cast it away.'

One of the ways in which this celebration can occur, added panelist Juan Reed, an Episcopalian vicar, is by creating tolerance in the church. 'Gay people are well-represented in African American churches in the choir, in the pews, in the pulpit—everywhere,' Reed said. The church could not go on without their participation, yet Black gays passively accept intolerance in silence. 'It's not just tolerating the presence of LGBT people. It's not just being in the leadership. It's voice. Once we open our mouths, we make room for a whole lot of other people.'

Coupling breaking the silence with linking spirituality and social justice can help LGBTs create change in the church and elsewhere, Reed added.

Rev. Toni Dunbar, who serves as chaplain for the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, added to Reed's discussion of social justice with her stories of the hardships LGBTQI juvenile detainees face. Through her experience, Dunbar has found that many Black church volunteers and LGBTQI activists fail to offer a progressive attitude or help answer LGBTQI youths' questions. Also, some don't want to hear her air out the community's dirty laundry about the correctional system or homophobia.

Dunbar suggested that the Black LGBTQI community avoid partnerships with white organizations. Instead, partner within the community, and when forming partnerships, insist on cultural competency. The Black LGBTQI community must also use a multifaceted approach, strive to create policy, be assertive, utilize the media and 'live to fight another day,' she said.

Respondent Maurice Charles, a history of Christianity doctoral student, said that all panelists brought up the importance of focusing on Black 'everyday oppression.'

'Reclaiming Stonewall is not to pick out the right pride shirt,' Charles said, 'but resisting bricks through a car window or violence at high school.' It may not be considered by some as academic discourse, he continued, but Black LGBT voices must be heard.


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