Black Gay Men, Advocacy, Memory, and the South

Published: August 14, 2014

When I was 18, and a freshman at Morehouse College, facing a level of despair I had never known before or since, I got it into my mind that I should become a writer and an activist. I abandoned my "Talented Tenth" aspirations for black respectability to pursue what I thought was closer to my heart and felt best for me at the time.

Being newly politicized — baptized if you will — in the pages of Essex Hemphill, bell hooks, Joseph Beam, Audre Lorde, Marlon Riggs, Barbara Smith, I began searching for somewhere, some place, some space, some magic, to bring all of the parts of myself. In that process, along that way, I chose and was chosen by the activist community of black gay men in Atlanta. I document this story pretty robustly here.

I share this story, because there was so much movement work and community building that populated the political landscape for black gay men in that period, roughly the 1990s. Groups, programs and initiatives like My Brothers Keeper, Second Sunday, Black Ink, The Adodi Muse: A Gay Negro Ensemble, Deeper Love, Black Coffee, Adodi Morehouse and others, along with masterful poets and organizers like Tony Daniels, offer considerable lessons for us today.

Unfortunately, much of that history has been lost in our collective grief: people died, people forgot, people fled for their lives, taking that history with them.

There is resilience in our remembrance. To honor our dead is to grieve our dead. These are critical times, and those histories offer critical lessons, because even at our worst then, we were at our best. Those successes and those failures, can help us understand our current efforts in the south today.

Collective memory and cultural restoration must be indispensable to our movement vocabulary. Collective memory and cultural restoration are also indispensable to our movement healing. We cannot accept a conversation around "resilience" that begins and ends as a kind of intellectual fetish or academic fad. To understand resilience, we must think historically, to trace the origins of our movement, black gay men’s social justice activism and the considerable distress our elders and ancestors faced, and learn from those efforts.

One can look historically, without resorting to nostalgia. As black people and certainly as black gay men we should know as well as anyone that history is more horror than romance. Anyway, nostalgia in American culture, more often than not, is a function of the privileged.

One more quick note about historical narratives of AIDS activism: There is, I believe, a political agenda behind the whitewashed official story that has received so much cultural currency and academic legitimacy as of recent. The same forces that kept us outside of the clubs and bars of the 1970s and 80s, especially in Atlanta, prevented us as black gay men from entrance, within the walls of those utopian "gayborhoods," are the same forces that keep us out of the "official" AIDS activist histories of today. To enter, they still demand seven forms of identification, so I will comply: Tony Daniels, Keiron Williams, Duncan Teague, Badili Jones, Craig Washington, Malik Williams, E. Maurice Cook. Snap!!!

I remain convinced to talk about black gay men’s activism in the south, the past and the present, and ultimately the future, is a political project. It was in that spirit thatThe Counter Narrative Project partnered with HIV Prevention Justice Alliance to host a webinar "We Are Here: Toward An Advocacy Agenda for Black Gay Men in the South." The webinar focused on three major issues: mental health and research advocacy, HIV criminalization and faith and our speakers presented their ideas masterfully. We then engaged in further discussion around many of these issues and plan to continue the conversation so stay tuned.

It is critical that as black gay men and allies in the south, we are forward looking in our planning. It is also critical that we build on our past work, past accomplishments, lessons learned, to build political power among black gay men in the south today. A movement cannot be built only on describing the same horrible conditions we live under again and again and again.

We have become masterful at describing the problems we face. We must dedicate equal time and energy to thinking about solutions. And with the 2014 elections just a breath away, the time is now to mobilize our communities around an agenda for our survival.

 

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