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12 comments | Monday, March 09, 2009

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.


<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I hate to sound inflammatory here (really!) but I have always perceived Tavis as one ours. I hope his mom isn't reading (this).
Manhattan Jim

March 09, 2009 2:22 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I'm not sure that I want to be included in Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union. What problems have this tired event actually solved in the ten years it's been in existence? None that I'm aware of. Straight black people cannot solve their own issues (70% of black babies are born out-of-wedlock, for starters), so what can they do about ours (black gays)?

There are no black gay leaders because if they were actually leaders, they would come up with a plan to reverse the HIV/AIDS crisis among black gay men. Almost 30 years into the epidemic and nothing like this has happened.

Haven't black gay people (especially black gay men) figured out by now that we are on our own. Straight black people, for the most part, do not care if black gay/bisexual men live or die. They reject us because most of them blame us for the HIV/AIDS infections in black women and black children.

March 09, 2009 7:05 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I understand he loves his Mom, as I do mine. But for me the answer to the problem is, Don't let Mom pray at the convention. Let the people who can speak to relevant, life threatening issues within our community come forth and address those things. Which would fulfill the purpose of having these events in the first place. If you aren't brave enough to stand against people who disagree with you, regardless of their relation to you. Then how can I really trust that you'll do the same for anyone else within the community at large? It makes your gathering lack relevance and seem self indulgent.

March 09, 2009 7:13 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

State of the Black Union seperates the essense of the Black man from the American hope instead of the true intent of the summit altogether. Whenever you try to find a way to promote one group over another, you will forever be in a maze with no sense of direction because it destroys the sense of a bipartisan effort to life everyone at the same time.

Just look at this past decade of these meetings? What was accomplished from their recommendations as the years pass?

March 10, 2009 1:39 AM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Lord forgive me, but I would not have let Tavis' momma gotten away with that.

Still with the nonsense "adam and eve not adam and steve"???

I guess God is against grandparents-relationship too, or black relationships, . Keep in my mind, RACE isn't mention in Genesis. Add to that, the Genesis story is flawed anyway with many contradictions, and incorrect science-related topics.

I'm so tired of people using their holy books to justify their attiude toward LGBT people. Enough already!

She would not have left the building without me telling her about her little self-righteous/wannabe high moral prayer!

March 10, 2009 3:58 AM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Ummmm. I have to agree 100% with the second Anonymous comment! What is really going on? NOTHING. I was just thinking before I read your article on the State of the Black Union..isn't just a panel of black intellectuals coming to discuss things they know will not fix? Or should I say will not make a plan of action outside of the heternormative concepts. Of course the sad thing is while Tavis is not homophobic, he probably won't be one to rise above his mother's spiritual guile and look at the black community as a whole. There was no separation of gays and straights in the sixties and we rose out of tragic circumstances. However, the society we live in accepts the viewpoint of black straight individuals being the saviors of our community but yet the conversations they have become null and void at the end of the day.

March 10, 2009 1:17 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I used to tune into this conference, but my interest has been waning for some time and I would not have known about this year's edition had I not read Karen Ocamb's article.

Can the SOTBU point to any concrete results in its existence? I think it's just a way for Tavis to promote his book. Both he and the SOTBU come off as too churchy for me anyway. Maybe he's one of the church sissies that was discussed last week.

As black gays, we should not expend a lot of energy trying to be included in this non-event. If it's clear they don't consider us important, I think it would be better to focus on our organizations and initiatives.

Anthony in Nashville

March 10, 2009 1:55 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I think this scenario shows that we have much to learn from the White gay community. With the advent of the HIV/AIDS issue the LGBT community was marginalized. But the LGBT White community organized with organizations like ACT-UP and the FORCED the nation/lawmakers/institutions to recognize them. The organization in the white LGBT has steadily developed adn grown. However in the Black LGBT community we are bareley a nascent community, still inchoate and unorganized. People are right-we must do for ourselves but we also have to force our own community to reconcile with us as we are apart of them.

The same lesson was garnered from the Civil Rights Era-no one gave us rights we had to fight and demand them by forcing the nation to recognize that we were a force to be reckoned with. The same applies here. We in the Black LGBT community are going to have to organize and bring our resources together and demand to be recognized. There are too many solo acts (a Keith Boykin here, a Phil Wilson there, A Malcolm Jamal over there, etc.), we need a choir singing together in harmony. One person here, one person there, can be ignored easily. Is it not written that "a house divided against itself cannot stand?" We are divided within the Black community and within the Black LGBT community. Is it any wonder we have achieved so little?

March 10, 2009 3:41 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I must agree with the first comment. We are truly divided within the African American and LGBT Community. The question that still exist is, what are we going to do about it? In all honesty most movements in history began with the church. The sad part of that is that the church is divided many times over. Bishop Flunder said something that struck a chord within my being, she said, "even some of us who have been liberated by the radically inclusive movement have goten to comfortable in our little communities. We've made an idol out of the movement". With that being said, we must learn to come together even in out disagreements and understand that we are all correct in many ways than one. We are all in our own truths. I'm telling you now that now is not the time for church as usual. Now is not the time for politics as usual. now is the time to stand shoulder to shoulder with one another and defeat this dark force that is between us and our fellow brothers and sisters. We are the back-bone of this country yet we have become cancerous to our own kind. Ask yourself tyhis question: What will the generations after us think and say about this generation years from now? With they say "we've made a way for them to be their unique selves, we changed the course of history for the better", or will look upon us as fools? For you brothers and sisters who are in a house of worship and are not celebrated for being you, get out of that place which abuses and rapes your giftings and join forces with a house of faith that will let you be the creation God intended you to be. All this going back and forth why someone wont lets us in needs to stop. Let become a force to be reckoned with, not a movement constantly put out like a brushfire. Peace!

March 10, 2009 5:01 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Tavis irks me on a lot of levels...and while he tries to be very "in your face" about a lot of things, he's a punk when it comes to the real issues. This is a prime example. All talk, not much substance!

March 10, 2009 5:28 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I read Karen Ocamb's article. She seems to be a nice, liberal, white lady (I'm not being condescending, really I'm not). I think she sincerely believes she's doing black LGBTs a favor but she isn't doing us any favors by lamenting our exclusion from this event. She would be doing us a favor if she told us the truth (assuming she knows what it is).

The truth is that most straight black people want to pretend that black LGBT people do not exist. At best they laugh at us, at worst they hate us. Straight black people will respect us when we show them that our destiny is not attached to theirs and that we are the masters of our own fate. We can do this by focusing on our organizations and our initiatives, as Anthony in Nashville has already said.

The answer to your question is 'no', we are not part of the "community" - unless we remain in the closet and/or on the down-low.

March 11, 2009 9:48 AM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

'm not sure that I want to be included in Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union. What problems have this tired event actually solved in the ten years it's been in existence? None that I'm aware of. Straight black people cannot solve their own issues (70% of black babies are born out-of-wedlock, for starters), so what can they do about ours (black gays)?


I love it!

Finally somebody is saying something different!

March 15, 2009 7:32 AM


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