The New Black: Homophobia in the African American Community

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The New Black is a documentary that was filmed in Maryland and produced in 2013 by film director, screenwriter and producer, Yoruba Richen. Richen was born in 1972, graduated from Brown University, lived in San Francisco and currently resides in New York City. The New Black won the audience award for AFI Docs, Frameline Film Festival and Philly Q Fest, and was also nominated for the NAACP Image Award and GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary. Yoruba Richen has also produced and directed other films such as Promised Land, which received an award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Her documentary gives the perspective of the African American community struggling with, the then idea of gay rights—it gave insight on gay rights and how it intersects with religious politics and civil politics. The documentary highlights the legalization of same sex marriage and focuses on the different families and religious leaders on both sides of the campaign. The documentary critically analyzes homophobia within the African American community and attempts to determine whether same sex marriage is a religious issue or civil.

“The way I look at civil rights in that order is discrimination is based on something that I had no control over. I had no control over the fact that God made me Black, and I had no control over the fact that God made me a female. So if you discriminate against me on those basis, but being gay and lesbian, to my way of thinking, is something you chose to do.”~ Member of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland.

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Hope Christian Church is a church in Maryland that is led by Derek McCoy. The documentary follows him and a few other people, Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition; American minister and Senior Pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, Reverend Delman Coates; Karess Taylor-Hughes, field organizer for Equality Maryland and The Human Rights Campaign; Samantha Master,Youth and Campus Outreach Intern for the Human Rights Campaign; and gospel singer Tonéx.

Religion versus politics is an obvious theme throughout the documentary, but another theme was “Is this a religion issue or civil rights issue?” From the religious political perspective there was Pastor Derek McCoy who was campaigning to stop the redefinition of marriage. He believes that marriage is meant for man and woman and that’s it. During his campaigning he involved children, who appeared to be around 7 and 8 years old, because he thought they were educated enough on the subject. Children only know what they are taught so it is hard for children to form an opinion of their own. From young ages boys are taught they cannot play with dolls because it is feminine and the parents “fear” that their son will become gay. This is especially true within the Black community. Growing up in that setting, on top of growing up in a Black conservative church, homosexuality was something that you didn’t speak about. It is “wrong, damned and ultimately a choice”. Most Black churches believe that being a homosexual is a decision that you made because God did not make man gay and woman lesbian. Pastor Derek McCoy believed that this was a religious issue and nothing more.

“The Black church to this day remains fundamentally conservative.”~ Rev. Delman Coates

On the other hand you have Reverend Delman Coates who was also a religious leader at his church but he believed that same sex marriage was a civil rights issues. He recognized that giving homosexuals, Blacks specifically, this right was another form of freedom.

Oppression on Blacks has existed since slavery and still exists to this day. Homosexuality is not something “new” or “generational” as some religious leaders like to put it. Bayard Rustin was an openly gay Black man who marched beside Martin Luther King, Jr., and was one of the main driving forces of the Civil Rights Movement, but he couldn’t be the “face” of the marches because he was a gay man and that was frowned upon. Reverend Delman Coates critically examined homophobia within African American community because he believed that Blacks are oppressed enough. He didn’t think that African Americans should oppress their own people even more, when the rest of the world is already doing that.

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“They use the pulpit as a space of hate, to undermine people’s rights…”

There is a sense of power that exists when one is in a position to persuade people. There is especially a greater sense of power when religion is involved because when people feel as though they have nothing, they fall back on their faith. Pastors, priests, deacons, etc. use their position to preach what they believe to be true. They use religion and scream what is right and wrong, but forget that denying a human their right to make a decision is wrong. They also turn people away from the church and religion as a whole. One of the gay rights activists in the documentary, Samantha Master, turned away from her faith and fell into a deep depression because the church shunned her sexual orientation.

Saying no to same sex marriage is taking away that freedom—for Blacks it is another form of oppression and is something else that needs the fight.

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“I believe that there is a lot in the African American experience, that same-gendered families can draw from. How to have a family when you are marginalized.”

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