Journalist Karen Ocamb has penned a thought provoking piece on Tavis Smiley's annual State Of The Black Union. During the tenth anniversary of Smiley's much lauded and well attended think-tank the presence of openly gay black leaders and issues affecting the black LGBT community were once again the elephant in the room.
"It's hard to believe, given the explosion of HIV/AIDS in the black community, that the 10th annual State of the Black Union (SOTBU) symposium, held last Saturday and broadcast on C-SPAN from Los Angeles, had not a single guest on to discuss that topic -- or the controversy over Proposition 8 and homophobia the black vote, both real and perceived", notes blogger Pam Spaulding.
As expected much of the conversation centered around economics, but their is no logical explanation for the omission of the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in the black community during the dialogue. Our silence over the past 25 years has not been the solution to curbing the epidemic and has only fueled new infections.
Ocamb also observes that their has been no representation at SOTBU by openly gay leaders since Phil Wilson,(The Black AIDS Institute) and Keith Boykin(The Daily Voice) were invited in 2005.
Black Americans represented 45 percent of people newly infected with HIV in 2006, despite being just 13 percent of the population. Men who have sex with men accounted for 53 percent of all new infections in 2006, and young Black men were particularly hard hit. And AIDS is still the leading cause of death for Black women aged 24-34; 65% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses among women in the U.S. are Black; and Black women are 23 times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than white women.
So why was this not on Tavis Smiley's agenda? And why does it seem that the black community is determined not to address the issues of sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and equal rights for LGBT individuals despite the intense political climate we're in and the deadly consequences resulting from our silence?
Ponder on this comment from Bilerico Project reader AJ Loop:
While his career virtually requires that he interact with LGBT people in the entertainment world of Los Angeles, Tavis comes from a very conservative Pentecostal childhood, and although he is not homophobic himself (well, more about that in a bit), he probably has influencial family members who are.
Most notably, his Mom, who he is still very close to. (Tavis was her first-born at a young age, and fits a pattern I've seen with other black men in that situation, that their mother is so close to him age-wise that she becomes both a mother and an older sister.) Karen, you mention the inclusion of Phill Wilson and Keith Boykin in SOTBU-2005, but you don't mention a part of the fall-out: In Tavis's autobiography What I Know For Sure, he writes about his mom (pages 252-3):
When she believes something, you cannot sway her or change her mind. And she will not compromise, whatever the setting. ... This particular year [at SOTBU], we focused on health in the black community. A number of prominent figures, gay and straight, spoke on the topic of sexuality and health. At the end of the conference, as usual I asked Mama, in her role as an evengelist, to give the closing prayer.
"Father God," she prayed before the church and the world-wide television audience, "we thank you for this opportunity to gather together and give you glory. We thank you, Father, for bringing in these leaders who have enlightened our minds with their thinking and their learning, But we also remember, Father, that you created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and so we pray that the practice of homosexuality be understood as the sin that it is. We pray that all your people turn away from sin and live a life pleasing to you. In Jesus' name, amen."
You could hear a pin drop. Without thinking twice, Mama took all the political correctness and tolerance that had been espoused and turned it on its ear.