September 10, 2009

"Black LGBT People Cannot Settle for 'Conditional Freedoms"

From Southern Voice, posted in its entirety:

Nearly 200 people gathered for the third annual State of Black Gay America Summit Sept. 5 at the Renaissance Hotel as part of Black Gay Pride.

Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, a lesbian and presiding bishop of Refuge Ministries/The Fellowship and founder of The City of Refuge Community Church UCC in San Francisco, served as the keynote speaker at the event and urged participants to not settle for "conditional freedoms."

"Some people have said why don't we settle for unions [rather than full marriage equality], but I call this conditional marriage," she said, with her partner of 25 years sitting in the audience. "And I'm not in favor of accepting conditional freedom. We have settled for too little for too long. Why do we settle? It is ingrained in us that we are second-class citizens."

Flunder also talked about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and how the government has no problem allowing gay people serve their country, even get wounded and live with a life-long disability as well as be killed in combat or other service to the country. But they cannot live their lives as who they truly are. This is an oxymoron, she said.

She compared DADT policy to a "shut up and show up" mentality by the people in power and is "conditional military service."

Being black and gay in the military is even worse, she added.

"There is something insidious about being African American and homosexual in the military because there is more emphasis [of oppression] on people of color," she said. "We get oppression from own sisters and brothers who turn them [gay African-American service members] in."

In the traditional African American church, LGBT people are also told to "show up and shut up," Flunder said.

"DADT sounds like something I've heard before. They tell us, 'Stay in the music department, don't disclose who you are, don't be seen with the same person too many times. Just shut up and show up,'" she said. "That's why we stay in churches that beat our behind every weekend. We think it doesn't feel like a real church, job, organization unless we are persecuted."

The election of Barack Obama as president was eye-opening, Flunder said, who acknowledged she was originally a Hillary Clinton supporter.

"Barack is a bit of a hybrid. He's as white as he is black. And I don't think he got the email we got on what we can't do," she said. As the election campaign continued, Flunder said she became more interested in Obama's words and message.

"He really doesn't understand we can't," she said she remembers thinking. "I thought, 'Bless his heart. He doesn't have a chance. Then I kept listening to him and he said, 'Yes we can.' And he really believes this. Then I said to myself, 'Can we?' Then I got up one morning and thought, 'Maybe we can.' And then I believed, 'Yes we can.' And then yes we did."

What black Americans, and black LGBT Americans need to do, Flunder said, is to stop seeing themselves through the eyes of their oppressors.

There is also a myth of time, Flunder said, noting that many say only time can settle racial injustice.

"They say, 'Why don't you slow down? Only time can heal. Just be patient and nice and continue to pray and in 100-200 years it will all work itself out," she said. But this is not an option, she stressed. The time is now to demand equality for everyone.

At the start of the summit, Gregory Allen of Xtreme Entertainment, who co-chaired the event with community organizer R. Darlene Hudson, explained the summit was founded in 2007 out of the "passion and commitment and out of the need to begin a universal conversation" on being black and gay.

"Today we establish who we are and how our needs are different than other LGBT communities of non-color," Allen said. "While it is true we are all gay, lesbian, same gender loving and we have a lot in common, we are also quite different. At this time, we acknowledge these differences. We can no longer wait until after midnight when the parties begin to make our presence known."

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