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Being a Black Man
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Monday, June 26, at 11:00 a.m. ET

Being a Gay Black Man

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Sholnn Z. Freeman, Ben de la Cruz and Pierre Kattar
Washington Post/washingtonpost.com
Monday, June 26, 2006; 11:00 AM

On Tuesday, June 13, a group of black gay men assembled for a dinner party at the home of Raymond Boney of Northeast Washington. The men were following the "Being a Black Man" series, and wanted to share their perspectives on being gay and black in America. On Monday, June 26 at 11 a.m., Washington Post reporter Sholnn Z. Freeman, and washingtonpost.com video journalists Ben de la Cruz and Pierre Kattar, took your questions about their video chronicling the event as well as the issues raised that evening.

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The transcript follows:

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Sholnn Freeman: Good morning everyone. Let's get started.

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Memphis, Tenn.: AIDS/HIV is one of the biggest killers of young black men, especially gay black men. Today, roughly half the people getting infected with the disease are black. Did the issue come up during the discussion? What kinds of things are going on in the gay black community in D.C. to help curb the disease's spread? What are the statistics about AIDS/HIV among gay black men in D.C.?

Also, what did the group think about non-black gays? Are they in interracial relationships? Do they feel they have experienced racism or acceptance from non-black gays?

Sholnn Freeman: AIDS/HIV looms large over the gay male community in general, and black gay men are no different. We came in wanting to talk discuss the issue. It was raised most directly in our one-on-one interview with Donald Burch, a 45 year old DC social worker who has been living with the disease for many years. Donald expressed a tremendous amount of optimism and directness with living with the disease, that I think is characteristic of a lot of infected gay men, black and white.

Otherwise, on Saturday the Post reported that the District is launching a campaign this week urging every resident between the ages of 14 to 84 to be tested for HIV.

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Washington, D.C.: This was a good start, but these men don't represent the WHOLE of the black gay community. They all see fairly affluent etc. What about the "other" gay black men?

Sholnn Freeman: You're right they don't represent the whole of the black gay community. They were relatively affluent. But I still think we managed to get a cross section of men to talk. We had a good DC group -- activists, poets, people in political fields, writers. That's a good representation of DC. But you're right, that's not the entirety of the gay black world. There was also a strong geographical diversity, with men from California, Oklahoma, Texas and other states in the south.

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Bethesda, Md.: When you were first putting this video together, was it difficult getting this kind of group of men together to talk about their issues in front of a camera?

Ben de la Cruz: Thanks for the question. This particular group of men were very interested in getting their voices heard and invited us to their dinner and discussion. So no, it was not difficult to get them to share their thoughts. What was suprising i think was their candidness to talk about everything from HIV/AIDS to discrimination in the workplace to coming out, some of which was included in the video. For the most part these men felt it was important for their unique viewpoints to be represented as part of this project.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you feel there is some change coming to light for gay black mens acceptance?

Sholnn Freeman: I think so. Personally, I think society is at an unprecendented stage of openess when you look at the issues and place them within historic perspective. A lot of people still have big problems, though. One of the main issues that came up again and again that night was homophobia -- homophobia in the church, inside families and in society. But on a personal level, the men seemed to be pretty comfortable with who they were.

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Anonymous: Raymond Boney here... and to our friend in Memphis... I am in an interracial relationship, which is quite commmon here in Washington, D.C... There are certain social stigmas even to a gay interracial relationship at there are to heterosexual interracial relationships. But in love, all the stigmas are overcome.

Sholnn Freeman: Raymond hosted the party.

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Greensboro, N.C.: The church came up in the video but I didn't feel like I got a good sense of how the group felt about the church and it's seemingly firm stance against homosexuality. Also I was a bit offended by the man who said he lied to his pastor so he could continue to play music.

Sholnn Freeman: Gay issues in the black church issues are huge. We could have devoted the entire documentary to that issue alone. The church is a central institution for a lot of black people, gay men too. But the opposition to homosexuality has caused a lot of pain. It comes up again and again.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Pierre and Ben, was this assignment harder than others you have worked on? Did you have any personal feelings about doing this one (homophobia etc.)?

Ben de la Cruz: As a journalist, I have a very particular objective mindset reporting any story and this one was no exception. My goal was to present the viewpoints fairly and accurately. As a group producing this video, we wanted to get at the unique aspects of being gay and black and male -- which wasn't covered as thoroughly in the first off the cuff video where we asked folks to discuss "what it means to be a black man." Hopefully, the video touched on the men's differing opinions. Personally, I enjoyed listening to the discussion and learning more about their lives. I think it always takes some courage to share your story for a wider audience and i/we appreciate their willingness to do so.

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Washington, D.C.: As a black woman, I appreciate the comments the brother made about how the DownLow lifestyle causes damage in our community. I am all for gay black men being out of the closet. I think it's best for them AND us. I don't want to wake up 20 years from now next to a man who finally decides to be who he really is...

Sholnn Freeman: We got a lot of feedback that the men saw as an unfortunate stereotype the downlow phenomenon as an unfortunate stereotype. The downlow or being "dl" is the idea that there is a large number of black gay men going back and forth between sexual relationships with men and women.

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Washington, D.C.: What about the separate Pride celebrations in large cities like Washington, D.C.? How do they serve to strengthen the Gay community, or are they just a response to the issue of racial prejudice?

Sholnn Freeman: We didn't ask this question. But it's a good one.

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Washington, D.C.: In response to the make-up of the group, we are not all affluent, moreover, the overwhelming majority of the group are from the rural, poor South. The group consisted of post graduate and bachelors degrees and high school graduates. Interms of work we had IT professional, art dealers, resturant managers, grass roots non-profit workers, government and myself, part-time waiter.

Sheldon

Ben de la Cruz: Sheldon is one of the organizers/participants in the video.

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Arlington, Va.: Are you only taking the "soft" questions or is this really the tone of the conversation about black gay men? I'm surprised there aren't more hate-filled messages with a topic such as this one.

Sholnn Freeman: Let me check the que fo you.

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Montclair, Va.: I just wanted to say, that for the years I managed a bookstore in downtown D.C., I had several gay, black employees. To a T, each one of these fine men all gave back to the community. One was a teacher, who volunteered with the Smithsonian on the weekend. He has since died, and we miss him so. Another young man, even though he was surrounded by loss (death of his friends from AIDS, loss of his parents due to who his was) was the most giving and loving young man I have known, gracious to even the most ornery customers. I am appalled at the 'Christian' community for not facing the fact that morality is not about hating someone for who they are. I hope the community as a whole rethinks the value of those who live to serve and celebrates this.

Ben de la Cruz: An interesting comment.

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Washington, D.C.: Does what the word of God say about men sleeping with men have no meaning in your life? Is this the reason why good black women can't find decent black men, because men want to be with men? (never mind the jailbirds and street hangers) Do you go to church and worship? I suppose you are going to tell me you were born gay right? Just remember Sodom and Gomorah. May God bless and forgive you all.

Sholnn Freeman: Here's a comment about God. But I don't know how hate-filled it is.

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Mitchellville, Md.: While I don't agree with these brothers' lifestyles, I do applaud them for being in the open about it. Far too many brothers are on the down low, but at least these guys accept their lifestyle, which goes a long way toward preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Ben de la Cruz: another one

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Philadelphia, Penn.: I'm a white gay man currently at a very gay friendly grad school. What I've noticed in the gay community at my school, and in most other places that I have been (work, undergraduate, out at bars/clubs), is that the gay men of color, and in particular black gay men, feel alienated from the white gay male community and that it does not represent their interests.

At my school, I am involved with the LGBT organization, which is 95% white gay men, despite having a solid population of gay people of color. We have been trying to make our organization (and the gay community at school) more inclusive by reaching out to the gay people of color, but we have been largely unsuccessful.

My question is, did this issue come up during the video (unfortunately I haven't been able to watch it), and what are the participants feeling about this divide? Do you guys feel alienated or excluded from the Will & Grace/Chelsea/Dupont gay community? Do you want to be a part of it? How can gay people, regardless of race, be more effective at coming together and supporting our common interests of building community and activism? Or is that even a desirable goal?

Sholnn Freeman: This point did come up and I think people had different reactions. I think one of the men made the point that being a black gay man was living in a subculture within a subculture.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think the black community will ever really deal with being gay? Being gay is considered worse than murder for many black people. And we wonder why we contine to have so many DL brothas.

Sholnn Freeman: There are a lot questions in the que, like this one. I dont know how to answer except to state the obvious -- more discussion is needed.

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Southeast Washington, D.C.: Why won't Black people simply "allow" men who say they're gay to be just that? People want us to fake hetero life for society's sake. All that gets everyone is lots more men on the Down Low. Why can't we understand that?

Sholnn Freeman: More on the dl...

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Alexandria, Va.: I am a supporter of 100 Black Men of Greater Washington D.C. and have noticed a surge in gay membership. Is there a reason that many gay brothers gravitate to 100 Black Men?

Sholnn Freeman: I'm not sure. does anyone have an answer?

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Arlington, Va.: Were there any topics that didn't come up that you had expected to be discussed?

Sholnn Freeman: The guys didn't talk a lot about their personal relationships. I thought that would be a bigger part of the discussion.

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Columbia, S.C.: Do you think the church still has problems being accepting of gay men?

Ben de la Cruz: Many of the people we talked with the night of the dinner spoke painfully of their experience in being accepted by their church, which for some remains a big part of their spiritual and personal lives. However, I also think some see the church -- because it plays such an influential role in the black community -- as a possible way to build bridges between the gay and straight black community as Raymond Boney, the host of the party, says in the video.

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Washington, D.C.: I grew up in what one might consider the conservative Midwest. Because of the strong conservative nature of the community, even the Black community, made it difficult to accept ones sexual preference when it was seen as a perversion. This most difficult part of grewing up there was the the views expressed in the church my family attended. Church was always a important part of growing up. However, homosexuality was always described as a sin that led to damnation. The most difficult part of that was that as a closeted and spiritual person I hated who I was. The conflict I felt was that of trying to have faith in a loving God whom you are taught may hate you. So their was always the fear of revealing yourself to others within the community, Black or otherwise, as well as to God. Will the series focus on the view of Black man in the church and these types of issues?

Pierre Kattar: Thank you for your question and sharing your story with us. Many of the men we spoke with that night have struggled with this conflict. I certainly hope to see more about how gay black men deal with the church in articles and videos to come.

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Pierre Kattar: Thanks for all your questions!

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Ben de la Cruz: Thanks everyone! and keep watching/reading for more stories and videos in the "Being a Black Man" series.

Ben

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Sholnn Freeman: Thanks everyone, especially Pierre and Ben, and Ray and Sheldon. Nice work.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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