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Exactly a decade ago this month I received an email flagged as urgent from Monrovia, Liberia. It was from Lee Johnson, then coordinator of Liberian Youths Against HIV/AIDS:
“Presently, the HIV/AIDS scourge is deeply eating into the fabric of our society and there is little being done to bring this to a halt. Therefore, some of us youths have come together to be able to bring awareness to our fellow youths on the danger of HIV/AIDS and other STDs. But, at present, we are not receiving much from the locals and that is why we have decided to get in contact with you,” Johnson wrote.
”Beloved and beaten” is a phrase that best depicts how many African American children — past and present — are disciplined. It is an authoritative type of African American parenting discipline style that is painfully revered. Yet, in too many incidents, it continues to be uncritically passed along generationally.
Imani (not her real name) was 32 when she contracted HIV. Surrounded by sister-friends who died from the virus, Imani did not expect to reach middle age. Now in her fifth decade of life, Imani has new and multiple challenges.
Many Presbyterians jubilantly proclaimed the Holy Spirit had unquestionably descended upon their 221st General Assembly, when Presbyterians voted to amend its constitution’s (The Book of Order) definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people. It’s the only way their vote affirming and blessing the loving coupling for its same-sex worshippers could have happened. With an overwhelming 61 percent in favor for the amendment and 39 percent in opposition to it (of 565 commissioners), the Holy Spirit — if indeed she’s to blame for the church’s recalcitrant attitude toward its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) brethren — took a long time coming.
When news circulated that the notorious Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, was planning to protest the “home-going” service of our nation’s most beloved citizen, poet, author, civil rights activist, and sister-sage to us all, Dr. Maya Angelou, there was a collective gasp of disbelief. Rev. Fred Phelps’ legacy, to no one’s surprise, is hate. And his signature stamp is turning funerals into circuses by exploiting the First Amendment.
African American female service members comprise the highest percentage of women in the military. And with these sister servicewomen enlisting in the military at higher rates than their White, Asian and Latina sisters to serve and die for our country, the last thing the military should be squawking about is our hair. In March the Army released an updated policy on appearance and grooming, titled ”AR 670-1,” limiting or banning hairstyles — braids, twists, cornrows, and dreadlocks — inimitable to African American women.
As the country becomes more accepting of the civil rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans, it is also beginning to reexamine its language used to demeans us. In last month’s New York Times’ article “The Decline of the ‘H’ Word,” Jeremy Peters wrote that while the word “homosexual” for the most part is “inoffensive,” “outdated,” and perhaps “innocuous,” the word nonetheless is viewed by many in our LGBTQ community as a pejorative term. According to George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the UC, Berkeley, because many still associate the word “homosexual” with sexual deviance, the preferred terms are “gay” and “lesbian.”
“Gay doesn’t use the word sex,” Lakoff said.
When NBA center Jason Collins came out last year, it was the moment the professional sports world had been waiting for: a gay athlete currently playing in a major league who comes out publicly. And what many may not have known is that the professional sports world had also hoped it would be an African American male. What the African American community and the professional sports world of football and basketball (which is comprised of a brotherhood of predominantly men of African descent) desperately needed was an openly gay male professional athlete, one who would bravely dispel the myth that there are no queer athletes in those sports, while assisting the NFL and NBA leagues in their attempts to denounce homophobic epithets, bullying and discrimination.
While I will continue to argue that the African American community doesn’t have a patent on homophobia, it does, however, have a problem with it. Black homophobia still has a deadly hold on African American life. And while I would like to say its oppressive grip only impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people of African descent, in truth, Black homophobia maims the entire community.