On June 17th 2015, nine beautiful Black individuals who were having Bible study at a church in Charleston, NC lost their lives to a White, racist gunman who revealed in his manifesto that he thought Blacks were “stupid and violent.” The killing demonstrated how prevalent racism is in the U.S. today, especially in the way it echoed the 16th street Baptist Church killing of four innocent black girls at the hands of White Supremacist in 1963. It was particularly painful because the church for many Black people represents liberation and comfort, and has been and is still the location for community organizing against racial oppression. It was in the Black church that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave many of his most powerful sermons on love and justice and if you know the Black church like I do, it is where the pastor always yells “Our God is an on-time God. Now let the church say ‘Amen’ ” and the congregation would repeat the Amen.
But the church has not always been a space for love and hope for everyone, especially for sexual minorities and gender queer people. Almost a year after the Charleston shooting, forty-nine queer Latino and Afro-Latino individuals lost their lives to another deranged gunmen, but unlike the White supremacist’s suggestions of us being “stupid and violent,” many church goers have said instead that we “reaped what we sowed” and in essence deserved our deaths for rejoicing in our sinful lifestyles. In fact, many of us might recall the painful video from 2009 of the dangerous ministries of Patricia and Kelvin Mckinney as they tried to exorcise a “gay Demon” from a young Black 16 year old boy. Not long after the Orlando slaughter of the 49, a Latino Christian pastor wished more of the “sodomites would have died.” These stories remind me of the pain I had to endure, Sunday after Sunday, as my pastor said “Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner” and posited that it wasn’t homophobia he was pedaling but the “truth of God, and the church says Amen.” The positions of the church made it difficult for my Latino mother and Black father to accept me as I am for years. Hell, it made it difficult for me to accept myself for years.
The social sciences were not any better for me as a queer person of color. Sociologist Mark Regnerous, a tenured University of Texas (Austin) faculty member and deeply religious Christian man, used the auspices of “science” to conduct a well-funded yet inherently homophobic study about the dangers of same sex parenting. Despite the study being widely debunked by the scientific community, it has been cited and used in countries in Africa and in Russia as justifications for legislation that jails and murders sexual minorities. The Black sociologist George Yancey, no doubt a hero to many Black Christian academics, defended Regnerous’s work and continues to describe homosexuality as a sinful “choice,” despite the overwhelming amount of research that suggests sexual minorities have no more control over their orientations than heterosexuals. In fact he states that being Black or a woman is not a sin, but homosexuality is, therefore suggesting that sexism and racism are somehow more oppressive than homophobia. This thinking is common in the church and among numerous Black and Latino scholars. And this same religious thinking–that we somehow are choosing to engage in our “deviant lifestyles”–is what leads religious extremists like the Orlando killer to do exactly what he did.
A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that the LGBT identity is highest among younger, non-white, and low income individuals. Similarly, a great number of hate crimes and attacks are on LGBT peoples including many transgender women of color. We are fighting racism in our gay communities, and homophobia and transphobia in the straight community. We are fighting for our sexual worth among sexual minorities and for the right to use the restroom among heterosexuals. No matter how much time passes, we are constantly fighting.
And so today I am again getting ready to fight, and the source of my anger and pain is the many people who use the church to hide their thinly veiled homophobia and hate. And I will take this fight to the couple that tells me I have a “gay demon” while they have demons of hate and misunderstanding, to the so called Black intellectual who claims to love the sinner and hate the sin, as if the two can be separate to me, to the Latino pastor who falsely associated my love for another gay man with pedophilia, to the many race scholars who stay silent because they think they can fight racism without fighting sexism and homophobia but do not understand that they cannot. I am here to tell all of them that the blood of the victims is on their hands too, that they contribute to this hate in varying ways and that they have done more to kill us slowly than the shooter did when he snuffed out lives in mere seconds. I am mad as hell and I am ready to fight to live, because too many of my brothers and sisters have died. And while I’m on the topic of choice, now is the time for you to make a choice, to abandon your homophobic ways and join me in this fight or continue to be the bullets that filled the killer’s gun. NOW let the church say “Amen.”
Jesus G. Smith is an advanced Ph.D. student in sociology at Texas A&M University