Don’t Ask… Don’t Tell
Shhh… We won’t ask, if you don’t tell.
When most of us think about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) we think of the now repealed (thanks, President Obama) discriminatory law that prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the US Armed Forces. However, that isn’t what I want to discuss in this blog post. I want to address the discriminatory, often unspoken Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell culture that exists in the Black Church.
What do you think would happen if every Black (L)esbian, (G)ay, (B)isexual, (T)ransgender and (Q)ueer (LGBTQ) person left the Church and took their time, talents and treasures with them? I’m pretty sure one of two things would happen – homophobia in the Black Church would end or the entire institution would die.
LGBTQ people serve in the Black Church from the door to the choir stand, pulpit included. However, most of us serve in silence and fear. Many LGBTQ men, women and youth live in a perpetual state of DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL. We hide our true selves because of family, church and other societal pressures. We are forced to leave the better part of ourselves at the threshold of the church while those who benefit from heterosexual privilege aren’t required to do the same. Essentially, if a same gender loving person wants to flourish and be used in ministry we are required to lie. How could that possibly please God?
Clergy often allow gay men and women to serve as the Worship Leaders and Ministers of Music in their churches as long as they agree to keep their sexuality a secret. They allow them to shoulder the responsibility for the tone and flow of the service, as well as prepare the congregation through song to hear God’s word through the preacher. Imagine being charged with this rewarding yet daunting task and at times having to endure the preacher’s homophobic rhetoric and sermons. Such rhetoric and sermons that tells us how unworthy we are, while signing our one-way tickets to hell. This is done, all while using their charisma and influence to beat us down to the point where we feel weak, vulnerable, desperate, voiceless, and powerless. Their ultimate goal is to ensure that we are unable to recognize and challenge their covert oppressive behavior and overt contradictions.
I recall one Sunday, after yet another failed attempt to pray the gay away, I stood at the altar and cried. As I was about to head back to my seat one of the Elders gave me a hug and then proceeded to whisper in my ear, “I know your struggle. You’re not alone. Your secret is safe with me.” I started to cry harder because I wish he’d told me God loves me just as I am. I’m pretty sure he thought he was comforting me but he achieved the complete opposite outcome. I was confused because just a few Sundays prior he said gay people were perverted and needed to be saved. The fact that he was condemning himself blew my mind. Was he perverted? Did he need to be saved? How could the answers to my questions be yes when he has influence, a title and vestments? Those 13 words he whispered in my ear that Sunday haunted me for years to come.
I left church that Sunday feeling worse than when I walked in. All I could think about was how he and so many others in the Church were/are allowing people to die spiritually. I was perplexed by his unwillingness to, if nothing else save himself. In that moment, the internal war between my faith and sexuality was slowly murdering my spirit. At the time, I felt I had no other choice but to go into survival mode. Based on the what I had to look up to, survival mode meant surrendering to the DADT culture, even though I desperately wanted to scream my truth from the mountain top.
Whether we want to accept it or not, the deafening silence and religious bigotry of this DADT church culture is killing us in more ways than we realize. It’s killing people who are dying from AIDS and don’t know it, or deny treatment because the church refuses to have open and candid conversations about sexuality and sexual health. This continual cycle of sexual repression also fuels the misconception that only gay men are affected by HIV/AIDS; thus, Black women continue to be disproportionately affected by the epidemic. It is also leading some of our most gifted and brightest sisters and brothers to consider or commit suicide when the pressure to keep the lie alive becomes too great.
In the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I beseech you my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, let us no longer continue to plant our virtuous seeds in “homo-tolerant” soil. The good news is we no longer have to live shadowed lives. We don’t have to fear the possibility of experiencing negative repercussions because we choose to live in our truth. We are smart, talented, called, worthy, powerful, and most importantly FREE. If we would just open our eyes long enough to recognize our value and worth we would be unstoppable. What would happen if we left the plantation and collectively took our time, talents and treasures with us? We could create our own opportunities and set the path for generation to come. We have the power and are well within our rights to repeal the unspoken Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell laws of the church. Let’s reclaim our time.