BLACK HOMOPHOBIA AND THE MILLION MAN MARCH
Although prevailing antiracist political discourse tends to dismiss homophobia and heterosexism as external to racial subordination (and as irrelevant to antiracist politics), gays and lesbians of color are attempting to reshape this discourse through their own activism and by speaking about the complexity of racial identity, subordination, and culture. Black gay male commentary on the politics of the October 16, 1995, Million Man March serves as a recent example of this ongoing project to reconstruct racial theory and activism.
The March was organized by the Nation of Islam, other entities, and several prominent black men. According to the March’s Mission Statement, the organizers of the March wanted to help "build and sustain a free and empowered [black] community, a just society and a better world."34 These stated goals appealed to most members of the black community. The ideology of the organizers and the methodology they would employ to achieve their stated goals, however, sparked dissent among some blacks. The Mission Statement states that the "strength and resourcefulness of the family and the liberation of the people" depend upon black men "stand[ing] up and assum[ing] . . . [a] new and expanded sense of responsibility."35 Thus, the March carried a "patriarchal" tone, which reaffirmed "the traditional notion that the public sphere of political discourse is no place for Black women."36
The March’s exclusion of women and the patriarchal tone of its organizers generated protests from black feminists. Patricia Williams, for example, advised black male marchers to find a "different drum – mer."37 Williams criticized March organizers for, among other things,
urg[ing black men] to come as a way of taking "our place" at the
"head of families" and "maintainers" of women and children.
Women are urged not to attend, but to "stay at home" while remain-
ing "by our side" and are thanked for their patience in "waiting for us to take up our responsibility."38
Despite these criticisms, there was no visible black lesbian critique of the March within feminist circles. The romantic embrace of patriarchal familial structures and intimate relationships, however, necessarily marginalizes lesbian (and gay) families and relationships because the latter do not directly perpetuate male domination over women—although they might perpetuate gendered social constructs.
The homophobia of Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Far – rakhan presented particular problems for black gays and lesbians. Minister Farrakhan’s opposition to homosexuality is well known, and he has specifically targeted black women with his homophobic "doctrine." During a speech in 1993 at California State University-North – ridge, for example, Farrakhan "explained" that black lesbianism is a result of unemployment among black men: "It’s the black woman who’s working today. . . . You can’t respect a man you’re taking care of. This is why our women are turning toward women."39 Far – rakhan’s comments affirm negative social hierarchies of gender (men should "take care" of women) and sexuality (in ordinary circumstances, women would not "turn toward women"). Farrakhan attempted to "qualify" his comments by claiming,
I’m not knocking homosexuals; they are my family. . . but I know what God expects, and I know there’s no future down that road. Don’t tell me you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body. I’m telling you, if you ever get exposed to a real man, you would never go to a woman.40
In addition to Farrakhan’s own homophobia, other leaders within the Nation of Islam have publicly displayed their homophobia. In 1994, for example, an aide to Farrakhan, speaking to students at Kean College in New Jersey, stated that when blacks gain political power in South Africa, they should give whites twenty-four hours to leave and kill all those remaining, including the "faggot" and the "lesbian."41
The March organizers, however, did not openly condemn homosexuality in the Mission Statement—most likely to limit the amount of controversy surrounding the March. Nevertheless, the document emphasizes "male/female relations"42 and completely ignores gay and lesbian relationships and families. Furthermore, March organizers advised black men to "atone" for their "mistakes and wrongs" before "the Creator."43 Given the organizers’ emphasis on traditional heterosexual parenting, their support of patriarchal roles for men, and their utter silence on issues pertaining to black gay and lesbian families, together with their long and caustic history of homophobia—often justified by citing the "teachings" of "the Creator"—black gay men rightfully had qualms about participating in or supporting the March.44 Many of them publicly criticized Farrakhan’s homophobia and demanded assurances from March organizers that gays could safely participate in the March.45 Faced with these criticisms and demands, some organizers actually conceded their homophobia and admitted that black gay men were expected to "atone" for their "homosexuality" at the March.46