When Bigotry Begets Bigots

In an "open letter," a group of Los Angeles ministers demanded that California's black state legislators oppose four bills they brand a "homosexual agenda."

The bills were nothing of the sort. Three merely mandated that public schools develop and promote materials teaching tolerance and the fourth creates a state commission to promote tolerance among all groups.

But the fact that the bills included discrimination based on sexual orientation as unacceptable raised the ministers' hackles.

The twist is that these were not the hard-core Christian fundamentalists who routinely rant against any legislation promoting gay rights. They were prominent black ministers.

To their credit, the black legislators stuck to their guns and publicly vowed to support the bills. Three made it through the legislature.

The puzzle is why blacks -- who have suffered as much as any group from bigots and hatemongers -- could look and sound so much like those same bigots and hatemongers?

There's a warped, if not tragic, reason for their intense fear and loathing of gays. Many blacks mirror America's traditional fear and hatred of homosexuality. They swallowed whole the phony and perverse John Wayne definition of manhood, that real men talked and acted tough, shed no tears, and never showed emotions.

When men broke the prescribed male code of conduct and showed their feelings, they were sneered at as weaklings, and their manhood was questioned. While many Americans make blacks their bogeymen, many blacks make gays their bogeymen and wage open warfare against them.

Many blacks also have been deeply influenced by the preachments of countless black ministers, such as those who threaten black legislators for refusing to support discrimination. They condemn to fire and brimstone any man who engages in what they label the godless and unnatural act of having a sexual relationship with another man.

If they have any doubts about their bigotry, they fall back on the Bible and -- like generations of Bible-toting white preachers -- flip to the line in Leviticus that sternly calls men laying down with men, "the abomination."

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has frequently denounced homosexuality as an unnatural act and actively discourages the practice whenever and wherever he can. Some black rappers, writers, and Afrocentrists have joined in and routinely include lyrics and diatribes savaging gays in their songs and books.

The anti-gay feeling runs so deep among so many blacks that any discussion of the activities of black gays is virtually taboo. Black gays and lesbians have held a number of national conferences since 1987, with only the scantiest mention in the black press, and national gay and lesbian publications are virtually unknown in straight society.

Some blacks justify the exclusion of gays by arguing that the gay life-style is a major threat to the black family.

This hinges on the shaky assumption that there are thousands of gay men lying in wait to subvert traditional family values. But no one really knows how many black men are exclusively gay -- and even if it were known, much of what passes for traditional family values has long been turned into shambles.

We now have all sorts of family combinations that were barely imaginable a generation ago -- single working women and single working men, grandparents, single-sex couples, step parents, foster parents, designated guardians, foster homes, and even children that are raising children.

The mightiest forces destabilizing the black family are poverty, unemployment, educational neglect, chronic disease, violence, drugs, alcoholism, and an astronomical incarceration rate for black men. The so-called gay life-style is not one of them.

The fall-back line of the black ministers who denounced the bills promoting tolerance was that discrimination against gays can't be compared to discrimination against blacks. This is flimsy and self-serving. Discrimination, whether based on race or sexual orientation, is still discrimination.

One would expect black ministers, who played the pivotal role in the battle against racial injustice and exclusion in the 1960s, to be the first to oppose discrimination against other groups. That some respected black ministers align themselves with outspoken bigots is more an embarrassment than a twist.

Black legislators who refused to bow to their threats did the right thing. When bigotry arises -- no matter who promotes it -- blacks must always remember the suffering and misery bigotry wreaked on them and oppose it.

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