Kim Burrell and the complex relationship between black women and gay men


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By: George Johnson/The Giro

Kim Burrell has added her name to a long list of religious leaders in the black church who have condemned the so-called perversions of homosexuality, all in the name of doing the “Lord’s work.”

“Anybody in the room who is living with a homosexual spirit, beg God to free you. If you play with it in 2017 you’ll die from it. If you play with it in 2017 in God’s house you’ll die from it. Y’all came to hear about carnal, I came to tell you about sin,” the gospel singer said during a sermon in a video posted online.

“That perverted homosexual spirit is a spirit of delusion and confusion and it has deceived many men and women. And it has caused a stain on the body of Christ. And those homosexual spirits have been angry and they come up against you [saying] ‘you gotta love everybody.’ Sit down you serpent.”

Burrell’s statements, however, speak to a much larger issue within the black community, particularly the relationship between black gay men and black women.

The social dynamic between the two groups is a heavily intersected one with many overlaps in views and exploration of femininity, sexuality and social perceptions.space“> Scholar and TV host Melissa Harris-Perry wrote about this completed relationship after the Pulse nightclub shooting tragedy in a piece entitled “To All the Straight Women Who Love Gay Men: Your Safe Space Is No Longer Their Safe Space.”

In it, she speaks on how, for many black women, gay culture, specifically the gay club, has become a “safe space” for them. How they can “maintain intimate friendships with beautiful gay men, basking in their appreciation of our femininity, jointly appraising male sexiness, seeking expert opinions on relationships, and invading party spaces. Here we dance, let loose, sing out loud, and enjoy ourselves without fear of predatory male sexual attention.” 

I, too, share in this notion of black women I come to call my friends, my sisters, my aunts and my mother. There are countless times I know my friends, who are straight black women, have enjoyed the many pleasures and benefits that come with having a friendship with a black gay man. 

There an unspoken synergy between black women and black gay men; an understanding of how their plights at many times intersect and create naturally formed bonds based on their lived experiences within the context of patriarchy and hyper-masculinity. 

I was fortunate that my family fully supported my queer identity without reservation, and continue to not only support but be willing to learn more about the issues I face without the superficial lens from which the greater community sees sexuality. For many others, this is not so much the case, and black women (like Burrell) who have spoken against LGBTQ-identifying people only expose the hard truth: there’s much work to do to reconcile these often broken relationships between black women and their same-gender loving counterparts.

Despite these fractured relationships in our communities, on television we often see something very different play out. On TV shows, black women assimilate into gay culture; using gay lingo and expressions, and even enjoying fashion styled and/or created by gay men. Though it’s trendy to have a gay BFF on social media, black women don’t always show up in droves when it comes time to stand up against the violence and oppression of black gay men. 

As we saw with Burrell, the same women who knowingly or unknowingly  accept parts of the gay community are also quick to dismiss and condemn us. When Burrell delivered her sermon, surely she knew she was preaching to hell some of the most valuable members of the Black Church, including members of the choir and music ministry.

Straight black men who may express forms of femininity or express their sexuality in a way that would be deemed gay, too, are often shamed by black women who police their manhood or masculinity. Time and time again, we hear the term ‘gay’ used to condemn or insult a man. This type of condemnation is why straight black men, straight men in general, have embraced terms like ‘bromance’ and ‘metrosexual’ in an attempt to not carry the stigma and oppression that comes with any association with being black and gay.

Still, we’ve seen black female public figures backtrack their opposing or disparaging views of homosexuality after realizing much of their fan base and reach are off the backs of gay men of color.

Then you have the Black Church.

The institution of the Black Church plays an important part in this narrative, as the impact of the larger church community’s stance on homosexuality has profound consequences for black gay men and LGBTQ people. For me, having a relationship with God has always been difficult to reconcile when I was told constantly that, although we are all made in His image, some of us simply ain’t. 

The “ain’ts” like me are an abomination, they say, and although we are welcomed in the House of the Lord, it is at the cost of so-called church leaders trying to convert us from our homosexuality. In the church, condemning comes as a part of the package, which is something I don’t subscribe to. 

Unfortunately, many seek a relationship with God outside of the church because they find that there is no seat at the table available for us inside of it. What’s more troubling is that the stance of the Black Church bleeds into black homes. Divisions are made and relationships deteriorate, particularly between black mothers and their gay sons. 

The hate speech that Kim Burrell displayed is not uncommon from what I and many others have encountered in our experiences with the black church. Church culture can lead many black mothers, and family astray in the relationships they have with children who question their gender and sex identity. 

The Bible at many times is taken without context for the times it was written. When false interpretations of the Bible are used to preach against homosexuality at the pulpit–conflating religious hetero norms with one’s personal relationship with God–it can turn the faithful black mother and family against those the church says is an abomination. Black mothers do this even at the expense of losing their relationship with their gay black sons. The church, which should be a place of unity and coming together in the name of love, has far too long served as the benchmark for divisive speech, and dangerous rhetoric that promotes the dehumanization and devaluing of black LGBTQ people.

As black queer men, we often fight for those who would never fight for us. March for those who would never come to our defense or vigil if our fight against our oppression as black gay men ended in death.

Kim Burrell’s speech served as another reminder that there are far too many people who are viewed as leaders in our community that fail to understand that if ‘All Black Lives’ don’t matter, then NO Black Lives Matter. 

It’s 2017. The time is now for healing and acceptance, not hating and rejection. 

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