Rev. Irene Monroe: Remembering the African American Holocaust survivors

This week, April 8- 12, marks the 27th annual observance of Holocaust Memorial Week. The week is about remembering not only the 6 million Jews murdered but also remembering the millions of allies, martyrs and victims who survived Nazi Germany’s reign of brutality.

The enormity of the mass slaughtering of Jews that took place— in ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps, brothels filled with sex slaves and killing factories— is still being discovered as documents are unearthed. New scholarship revealed that, from 1933 to 1945, there were at least 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe. This represents a staggering increase, far exceeding the original guesstimate.

Thank goodness the stories of the millions of allies, martyrs and victims who survived Nazi Germany continue to be told.

On April 11th, City of Cambridge Annual Commemoration of the Holocaust guest speaker is Holocaust survivor Edgar Krása. Krása will be telling his remarkable story of survival. Krása who ran the Veronique restaurant at Longwood in Brookline, MA. was born in Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia, and moved to Prague in 1933 with his family.

In 1941, Krása was on the first train to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Terezín, now known as the Czech Republic, to help set up the garrison city into a concentration camp. Under Nazi control Krása was ordered to set up the kitchen that fed prisoners-of-war, and he worked there until 1944 when he was deported to Auschwitz. At Auschwitz, Krása walked in the notorious Death March and survived it by feigning death after being shot.

Missing, however, from the annals of history are the documented stories and struggles of African Americans, straight and “queer.” Valaida Snow, captured in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen and interned in a concentration camp for nearly two years, is one such story forgotten.

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Valaida Snow came from a family of musicians and was famous for playing the trumpet. Named “Little Louis” after Louis Armstrong (who called her the world’s second best jazz trumpet player, besides himself, of course), Snow played concerts throughout the U.S., Europe and China. On a return trip to Denmark after headlining at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Snow, the conductor of an all-women’s band, was arrested for allegedly possessing drugs and sent to an Axis internment camp for alien nationals in Wester-Faengle.

In pre-Hitler Germany, all-female orchestras were de rigueur in many avant-garde entertainment clubs. These homo-social all-women’s bands created tremendous outrage during Hitler’s regime. Snow was sent to a concentration camp—not only because she was black and in the wrong place at the wrong time—but also because of her “friendships” with German women musicians. These friendships implied lesbianism.

Although laws against lesbianism had not been codified, and lesbians were not criminalized for their sexual orientations as gay men were, German women were nonetheless viewed as threat to the Nazi state and were fair game during SS raids on lesbian bars, sentenced by the Gestapo, sent to concentration camps, and branded with a black triangle. In fact, any German woman, lesbian, prostitute or heterosexual, not upholding her primary gender role — “to be a mother of as many Aryan babies as possible” — was deemed anti-social and hostile to the German state.

Because Nazis could not discern between the sexual affection and social friendship between straight and lesbian women, over time they dismissed lesbianism as a state and social problem, as long as both straight and lesbian women carried out the state’s mandate to procreate.

Nazi Germany’s extermination plan of gay men is a classic example of how politics informed their science. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code differentiated between the types of persecution non-German gay men received from German gay men because of a quasi-scientific and racist ideology of racial purity. “The polices of persecution carried out toward non-German homosexuals in the occupied territories differed significantly from those directed against Germans gays,” wrote Richard Plant in “The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals.” “The Aryan race was to be freed of contagion; the demise of degenerate subjects peoples was to be hastened.”

Hans J. Massaquoi, former Ebony Magazine editor, and the son of an African diplomat and white German mother, in his memoir “Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany,” depicts a life of privilege until his father returned to his native Liberia. Like all non-Aryans, Massaquoi faced constant dehumanization and the threat of death by Gestapo executioners. “Racist in Nazi Germany did their dirty work openly and brazenly with the full protection, cooperation, and encouragement of the government, which had declared the pollution of Aryan blood with ‘inferior’ non-Aryan blood the nation’s cardinal sin,” he wrote. Consequently, the Gestapo rounded up and forcibly sterilized and subjected many non-Aryans to medical experiments, while other just simply mysteriously disappeared.

There was no systematic program for elimination of people of African descent in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 because their number were few, but their abuses in German-occupied territories, like the one in which Snow was captured, were great and far-reaching.

After 18 months of imprisonment, Snow was one of the more fortunate blacks to make it out of Nazi Germany, released as an exchange prisoner. She was, however, both psychologically and physically scarred from the ordeal and never fully recovered. Snow attempted to return to performing but her spark, tragically, was gone.

Rev. Irene Monroe: Mexico sets the tone on hate speech

Homophobic epithets are so pervasive across the globe that most heterosexual people are sadly unaware of the psychological and physical toil they have on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. Too often and cavalierly these epithets go either unchecked or unchallenged as hate speech.

Mexico, however, has stepped forward to define and reduce homophobic hate speech. Two commonly used words—”punal” and “maricones” are the main targets. Both words closely translate as “faggot.”

On March 6, in a vote of 3-2, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that these two homophobic hateful slurs are not legally protected in the country’s constitution as freedom of speech. The Supreme Court further ruled that any citizen offended by these words now could seek redress by suing for moral damages.

“Even though they are deeply rooted expressions in Mexican society, the fact is that the practices of the majority of society can’t validate the violations of basic right,” the Court wrote in support of its ruling.

The LGBTQ communities across Mexico are, no doubt, ecstatic by the ruling, hoping it will engender more respect and consciousness of their struggle. But as most LGBTQ Latinos know these two homophobic epithets are so frequently and easily espoused throughout Latin American culture that many are not cognizant of their deleterious effect.

Case in point: Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended last September for three games for wearing eye-black displaying a homophobic slur written in Spanish during a game against the Boston Red Sox.

With the phrase “TU ERE MARICON” (sic) written in his eye-black, the phrase can be loosely translated as “You are a faggot” or “You’re a weak girl.”

“It didn’t have significance to the way that’s being interpreted right now,” Escobar emphatically stated through a Spanish interpreter. “That’s not the significance that I put into it. That’s a word used often within teams. It’s a word without meaning, the way we use it.”

Escobar, a native of Cuba, contested that the phrase is taken out of contest because used in his culture it is not intended to be offensive; it’s merely used as banter in their friendly repartee.

“I have friends who are gay. The person who decorates my house is gay; the person who cuts my hair is gay. I have various friends who are gay. Honestly, they haven’t felt as offended about this. They have just a different understanding in the Latin community of this word,” Escobar stated, defending himself to the media.

While the word is no doubt homophobic it does seemingly carry different cultural connotations throughout Latin America.

“To tell a man not to be a maricón, also means ‘don’t be a coward.” Cuban homophobia differs from homophobia in the United States. We do not fear the homosexual; rather we hold him in contempt for being a man who chooses not to prove his manhood. Unlike North Americans, where two men engaged in a sexual act are both called homosexuals, for Cubans only the one that places himself in the “position” of a woman is the maricón. Only the one penetrated is labeled loca (crazy woman, a term for maricones). In fact, the man who is in the dominant position during the sex act, known as bugarrón, is able to retain, if not increase, his machismo…” Liberation theologian Miguel De La Torre wrote in his essay “Beyond Machismo: A Cuban Case Study.”

Language is a representation of culture and if a culture is unaware of or anesthetized to the destructive use of homophobic epithets it re-inscribes and perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender identity and sexual orientation. Consequently, these ideas and assumptions are transmitted from field houses to playing courts and into the dominant culture. And unfortunately, even accepted or explained away among some scholars.

“It is derogatory, but it’s not necessarily homophobic,” said Maria Cristina Cuervo, a professor of Spanish at the University of Toronto.

While Professor Cuervo agrees that the phrase is insulting, she doesn’t grasp, however, that if the phrase “TU ERE MARICON” goes unchecked or is not challenged it allows people within their culture to become unconscious and numb to the use and abuse of the power and currency of this homophobic epithet—and the power it still has to thwart the daily struggles of many of us to ameliorate LGBTQ relations.

Also, part of the problem contributing to the unconscious insensitivity to the phrase is the cultural construction of “machismo.” In many Latin American cultures, it is perceived a gross failure in masculinity. But this hyper-masculinity not only exploits women, but also unabashedly denigrates and targets LGBTQ people as scapegoats and pariahs.

Stephen O. Murray further points this out in his essay “Mexico” in the anthology “The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America: A Readers of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights,” edited by Javier Corrales and Mario Pecheny that “The perceived failures of masculinity of “maricones” made (and makes) them “fair game” to be robbed, beaten, and used as sexual receptacles by males upholding conventional “macho” notions of masculinity, particularly policemen.”

With landmark rulings made on behalf of LGBTQ citizens in many countries across the globe these days, violence, intolerance, and discrimination are still a constant.

Activists have for decades argued the relationship between hate speech and violence. Cleaning up language is just one more needed act furthering LGBTQ justice.

And Mexico is leading the way.

Rev. Irene Monroe: Was Marco McMillian killed in Mississippi because he was black or gay?

Marco McMillian was a trailblazer, and the pride of the Mississippi Delta.

Just in his twenties Ebony magazine in 2004 hailed him as on the nation’s 30 leaders under the age of 30. And in his thirties the Mississippi Business Journal hailed him as one of the “Top 40 Leaders under 40.”

But at age 34 McMillian’s life was mysteriously cut short.

As an openly gay African American candidate running for the mayoral seat in Clarkdale, Mississippi, McMillian was quietly signaling that neither his race nor his sexual orientation would abort his aspirations. On McMillian’s campaign Facebook page is a photo of him posing with President Obama. His campaign motto: “Moving Clarksdale forward.”

If there were anyplace to challenge the intolerant conventions of Mississippi, Clarksdale, the Delta’s gem—known as “a place where openness and hospitality transcend all barriers and visitors are embraced as family” and the birthplace of the blues—would be that place.

Police discovered McMillian’s body near a levee just a 15-minute drive outside of Clarksdale. Mississippi’s unforgettable sordid history of lynching immediately rose up when his family reported that Marco’s body was beaten, dragged and “set afire.” And the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till came roaring back, reminding me of Mississippi’s native son William Faulkner who wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Till was a 14-year of African American child from Chicago who was visiting relatives down in the Mississippi Delta. He was brutally murdered and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman. When his body was discovered it was reported that Till was severely beaten, nude, shot in the right ear, had an eye gouged out from its socket, and a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with a barbed wire before his body was dumped into Tallahatchie River.

While thoughts of racial hatred first erupted as the probable motive for McMillian’s murder, they were quickly erased when McMillian’s assailant, Lawrence Reed, 22, an African American male was found and apprehended in McMillian’s wrecked SUV.

Did Reed murder McMillian or did he just steal his car? Or might there be another tale here, one of a “down low” tryst gone awry?

Being openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) is no easy feat for African Americans, even in 2013 with a LGBTQ-friendly president like Obama having your back. Being from the South just complicates the matter. For McMillian, his family might also be one of the complications in ascertaining the truth behind his death.

Case in point—it is unfathomable to McMillian’s family to think that the motive for his murder was his sexual orientation. His mother, Patricia McMillian, told CNN that only family and friends knew of her son’s sexual orientation. “He did not announce in public that he was gay,” she said, adding, “I don’t think he was attacked because he was gay.” McMillian’s sexual orientation, however, was an open secret.

According to state investigators, little is known about Reed or how, if at all, he knew McMillian. To the McMillian family Reed is an enigma. McMillian’s mother stated she never knew him, and McMillian’s stepfather, Amos Unger, speaking for the family, told CNN that “We never heard of him.”

Although the family states that the cause of McMillian’s death was because he was “beaten, dragged and burned” the Coahoma County Medical Examiner Scotty Meredith stated otherwise.

But just as McMillian’s family might be one of the complications in ascertaining the truth behind his death so too might be the state that’s investigating the case.

In Mississippi LGBTQ couples cannot marry and they cannot jointly adopt. There is no hate crime bill protecting a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The state does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In other words, an assault on a LGBTQ Mississippian might very well be ignored as a personal matter.

Meredith told CNN the following about his findings:

“There were signs of an altercation but that didn’t kill him…Beating is not the cause of death. He was beaten, but not badly. This was not a targeted attack. This was more of a personal dispute.”

According to the Associated Press, The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, which supports gay and lesbian candidates for political office, tweeted, “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marco McMillian, one of the 1st viable openly #LGBT candidates in Mississippi.”

And according to Denis Dison, VP of Communications of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, in a HuffPo Live interview there are “approximately 600 openly LGBTQ elected officials at every level of U.S. government, with about 80 openly elected officials in the entire South.”

Had McMillian won his mayoral challenge he would have been Mississippi’s first—the pride not only of the Mississippi Delta, but also of the entire state.

Rev. Irene Monroe: It’s time for a queer-friendly pope

Just hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his unexpected resignation, a bolt of lightning struck St. Peter’s Basilica.

Many say it’s unequivocally a sign from God.

If so, I’m hoping it’s an Amen moment signaling the end of an oppressive era of LGBTQ bashing as the church now moves forward

“With the pope’s impending resignation, the church has an opportunity to turn away from his oppressive policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, and their families and friends, and develop a new understanding of the ways in which God is at work in the lives of faithful and loving people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said the LGBT Catholic group Equally Blessed in a statement.

This pope has used his papal authority to hold back the tides against modernity. And the early signs were there long before Benedict became pope. The reaction by many religious progressives to the election of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in April 2005 as Pope Benedict XVI had been tempered by either their faith to keep hope alive or by an apologetic acceptance in deference to Pope John Paul II.

If the Catholic Church was looking for a religious leader who embraces the world — as it is today — Pope Benedict XVI a.k.a. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not the man.

Benedict used his authoritarian and “Rottweiler” persona of church doctrine to maintain an ecclesiastical lockdown on the churches progressives.

For example, just last year he publicly bashed, not surprisingly, a group of U.S. “dissident” nuns for “focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage.” This rogue group of Catholic sisters were not only undermining the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality, but they were also brashly promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Benedict pushed back against the tide of progressive theologies by upholding a rigid orthodoxy of millennium-old church doctrines and creeds.

Case in point, Benedict suppressed the growth of Liberation Theologies in Third World countries, the emerging face of the Catholic Church, for their supposedly Marxist leanings that exposed classism. However, Liberation Theologies combines Christian theology with political activism on issues dealing with human rights and social justice. Liberation Theologies emphasize the biblical themes that God’s actions on behalf of the enslaved, the poor, the outcasts like women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, just to name a few, are a central paradigm for a faith that embraces the world — as it is today — from an engaged and committed stance that does justice.

It is Liberation Theologies that have given women, people of color, LGBTQs, developing countries a voice. And it’s Liberation Theologies that allow us all — churched and unchurched, believer as well as atheist — to stand in the truth of who we are.

Benedict’s venomous attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people has been unrelenting.

Just this past December, the Pontiff’s Christmas sermon denounced same-sex marriage, advocating it would destroy the “essence of the human creature.” In previous sermonic anti-LGBTQ diatribes during his tenure as pope Benedict has stated that marriage equality is a “manipulation of nature, ” and a threat to world peace.

The Pontiff doesn’t equivocate his stance on us with the theological qualifier to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” Instead, Benedict takes his stance to a level that invites LGBTQ-bashing justified in the name of God.

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is more or less a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” Cardinal Ratzinger stated in a 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.

On the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith website, directed by then Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote: “Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”

Benedict believes that evil is born into a person and that it is part of their ontological makeup; therefore, when you remove the bad seed, you ostensibly remove the evil. And many religious conservatives feel that since you cannot remove LGBTQ people from society, then society must either restrain or deny them their civil rights.

And one clear way to do that is to call that group of people “evil” or state that they contribute to, if not create, evil in the world.

St. Augustine argued that evil arose from the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. And St. Thomas Aquinas said that evil derives from man’s abuse of God giving us the choice of free will. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated that evil was not an intrinsic nature found in man, but instead it was caused by the corruption and constraints of a society. And I side with Rousseau.

Evil exists in its various machinations because of systems, regimes, presidencies, and, yes, the Vatican, which allow it to give birth unchecked. As a system whose wheels churn on the absence of goodness, evil reduces people to objects of sin and targets of hatred, thus denying them their basic human needs. And its strength to maintain human suffering is proportionate not only to its political and capital clout, but also to the strength of its religious ideological underpinning.

The problem with evil is not only how it diminishes human life, but also how it denies the suffering it causes.

It’s time for a queer-friendly pope. And the bolt of lightning striking St. Peter’s Basilica is no clearer sign.




Rev. Irene Monroe: Obama linking Selma to Stonewall divides black community

President Barack Obama’s inaugural address was the most inclusive speech a president has ever given. It was delivered on the 27th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the President honored King’s legacy when he eloquently spoke of how the many U.S. liberation movements, both current and historic, are interconnected.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

As an African American lesbian, whose identity is linked to all three movements, I felt affirmed. I applaud the president’s courageous pronouncement.

Some African Americans, however, felt “dissed” by the President’s speech. The linkage of their civil rights struggle to that of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans did nothing to quell their dislike of the comparison. The fact that it was spoken by this president made it sting more.

New York Times reporter Richard Stevenson picks up the tension where he wrote in his recent article “Speech Reveals an Evolved and Unapologetic President” that Obama “After spending much of his first term ‘evolving’ on the question of same-sex and doing too little in the eyes of many African-Americans to address poverty and civil rights, he invoked “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

For many African Americans, especially those male ministers who “professed” to have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., the reason they scoff at comparing the black civil right struggle to today’s LGBTQ civil rights struggle is because of the persistent nature of racism in the lives of black people and the little gains accomplished supposedly on behalf of racial and economic equality. They expected more gains under the first African American president.

Also, many African Americans contest that civil rights gains have come faster for LGBTQ Americans, from the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010.

The gains in the LGBGT movement, many African Americans both straight and LGBTQ will contend, is largely because of the structural and cultural exclusion of people of color.

The LGBTQ movement has no doubt made some tremendous gains into mainstream society, a reality that has not been afforded to African Americans as a disenfranchised group, leaving many of them asking, especially after hearing President Obama’s now second inaugural address the question, “What’s really in this American Dream for us?”

Many African Americans ministers try to answer that question by either coming out for or against Obama’s stance on marriage equality.

Civil rights struggles in this country have primarily been understood, reported on and advocated within the context of African American struggles—past and present—against both individual and systematic racism. Consequently, civil rights struggles of women, LGBTQ Americans, Native Americans, and other minorities in this country have been eclipsed, ignored and even trivialized while educating the American public of other forms of existing oppressions.

While it is also true that employing a narrow understanding that all oppressions are interconnected ignores the salient points about differences within oppressed groups, it is also true that ignoring how oppressed groups can work together truncated the possibility for full and equal rights for all Americans.

LGBTQ activists of African descent, like myself, have long pondered what would be the catalyst to rally those African American Christian ministers to support same-sex marriage and engage the black community in a nationwide discussion. Such a discussion would certainly assist them in seeing the link between Selma and Stonewall. The very link that President Obama so eloquently pointed out.

There were hopes that Obama’s expression in May 2012 of his support of marriage equality would begin talks—allowing those black ministers, who quietly professed to be an ally to LGBTQ community, to come out in favor of LGBT rights to their congregations. And, no doubt, for these African-American ministers, they saw the liability of Obama losing his 2012 re-election bid was far greater than being publicly outed for not being in lockstep with their homophobic brethren.

With the second and final term before him, Obama can be both unapologetically and unabashedly for marriage equality. I thank God with an enormous sigh of relief that Obama no longer has to do a delicate dance with a deeply divided black populace on the issue. He has momentum on his side whether black ministers and community activists side with him or not.

The momentum in support of same-sex marriage in the African American community is seen nowadays along generational lines. It is ironically divided between— the black civil rights era of MLK and post-black civil rights era of Obama.

Rev. Irene Monroe: Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

This January 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The original purpose for the document core to President Abraham Lincoln’s presidency may have been to free slaves; or it may have been solely a strategic move to decimate the Confederate troops stronghold in the South and win the Civil War. Its purpose was probably a little bit of both. Regardless of Lincoln’s intent, my ancestors named the day of Lincoln’s signing of this historic document Jubilee Day. Many African Americans continue to celebrate Jubilee Day with a New Year’s Eve church service called “Watch Night Service.”

I grew up in the tradition. Every December 31st there was a mad rush to clean the house, cook a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck, and call folks to tell them that, if God wills, you’ll see them in the New Year. Then we’d prepare for the most important event of New Year’s Eve, the “Watch Night Service,” which always started at ten o’clock that evening, and ended at midnight with us stepping into a new year.

This New Year’s Eve many folks joined in on the celebration: Boston’s Museum of African American History celebrated the sesquicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation with a concert by the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus and the story of Boston’s role in this historic event. The Huffington Post marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with publishing “Letters to Our Ancestors, “ by African Americans.

In celebration this historical moment I was asked what gifts my enslaved ancestors passed on to future generations to assist us in our continued fight for freedom. While clearly there are many, inarguably, one of the greatest gifts my ancestors passed on to African Americans is their use of the Bible as a liberation tool. And for many African Americans, even today, will contest their Emancipation Proclamation is the Bible.

The Bible, with all its inconsistencies, continues to have moral authority in the African-American religious community. Functioning as a moral text, the Bible is used as a subversive tool to form and to frame a democratic moral order.

For example, they knew that their liberation is not only rooted in their acts of social protests, but it is also rooted in their use of language, which is why they used the Exodus narrative in the Old Testament as their talking-book. Functioning as a talking-book for my ancestors, the Exodus narrative dramatically shifts the discourse on slavery from the authority of white voices to the control of black voices. In so doing, Exodus was used to rebuke themes of silence, exclusion and oppression in the text, which in return allowed my ancestors to represent themselves as speaking subjects outside of the text.

The Rev. Dr. King masterfully contextualized the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the story of the Exodus narrative, and the church, media and American public saw him as a present-day Moses.

Justice in America for African Americans continues to come slowly, just as it did for my ancestors awaiting the good news that President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had finally become law. But only slaves in the 10 Confederate States were declared legally free even as the Civil War was still going on.

And to actually pinpoint a single day that all African Americans were free is still difficult given how the states were so strongly divided on the issue of black emancipation.

Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, eighty years before Lincoln’s edict, and our nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C. abolished slavery on April 16, 1862, just eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation. Many other states did not manumit their enslaved until the end of the Civil War on April18, 1865. And news of the wars end traveled unevenly throughout the country with Texas being the last receiving the news on June 19, 1865, a day celebrated among African Americans as “Juneteenth.” The absolute end of the slavery came with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865.

A century after the Emancipation Proclamation, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

King is gone from us now and we’re in a new century with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as our country’s first African-American president and his reelection in 2012. My ancestors who built the White House could have never imagined that one of their progenies would one day occupy it.

My ancestors were happy about the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, but they also were prescient about our continued long and arduous journey toward freedom, which is why they passed on to us their talking-book and it’s still talking for us today.

Rev. Irene Monroe: Young white men in crisis

The most recent massacre, the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, took the lives of 6 and 7 year-olds. It has shaken our nation to its core.

The enormity of this devastation is incalculable. There are the small coffins of the victims killed during a holiday season at a tender age. It is also the death of the safety of a Norman Rockwellian. We now know that none are safe.

This shooting, like so many others before, has sparked a debate on gun control and the need for adequate healthcare for our nation’s mentally ill. But glaringly omitted from the national discourse is the motive of these mass shootings that are purported predominately within a specific demographic group— young white privileged men.

“I think we need to examine critically, the fact that most mass shooting are done by young, white, relatively economically privileged males. What is it about their socialization that results in the manifestation of their mental illness in a rage-fueled carnage of this magnitude? If we don’t ask these questions, along with all the others, I fear we are missing an important factor in this and other mass shooting tragedies,” wrote an academic administrator from UMASS Boston in an email to me.

The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 involved two young white males, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Both were from an affluent suburb of Colorado. Their massacre of schoolmates called attention to the killers next door. At least for a while. Loners wearing trench coats dominated the news then faded into the background.

This oversight in examination might be one of the reasons mass shootings by white young men from middle class families seems to be happening more frequently.

For example, a list of mass shootings compiled by the online blog “Think Progress” of this specific demographic group reveals, not including Newton, that this year alone there have been seven:

  • December 11, 2012. On Tuesday, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts killed 2 people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon.
  • September 27, 2012. Five were shot to death by 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, MN. Three others were wounded. Engeldinger went on a rampage after losing his job, ultimately killing himself.
  • August 5, 2012. Six Sikh temple members were killed when 40-year-old US Army veteran Wade Michael Page opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Four others were injured, and Page killed himself.
  • July 20, 2012. During the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO, 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58.
  • May 29, 2012. Ian Stawicki opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, WA, killing 5 and himself after a citywide manhunt.
  • April 6, 2012. Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, shot 5 black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.
  • February 27, 2012. Three students were killed by Thomas “TJ” Lane, another student, in a rampage at Chardon High School in Chardon, OH. Three others were injured.
The problem of young white males and mass shootings has been screaming out at us for some time, culminating unfortunately with the recent massacre at Sandy Hook.Getting to the why for these specific type of shootings predominately from this demographic group is not as mysterious or elusive as it is purported to be.Hugo Schwyzer, a Pasadena City College professor of history and gender studies, is a white male who offers a compelling premise. He wrote in his article Why Most Mass Murderers Are Privileged White Men that,

“White men from prosperous families grow up with the expectation that our voices will be heard. We expect politicians and professors to listen to us and respond to our concerns. We expect public solutions to our problems. And when we’re hurting, the discrepancy between what we’ve been led to believe is our birthright and what we feel we’re receiving in terms of attention can be bewildering and infuriating. Every killer makes his pain another’s problem. But only those who’ve marinated in privilege can conclude that their private pain is the entire world’s problem with which to deal. This is why, while men of all races and classes murder their intimate partners, it is privileged young white dudes who are by far the likeliest to shoot up schools and movie theaters.”

While I contest that the overarching problem is that the construction of most male masculinities perpetuate a violent patriarchal society, Schwyzer’s analysis should invite dialogue.

If the men were males of color, poor white males or Muslim these recurring mass shootings would be stereotypically explained as inherent to their make-up, affirming and fueling continued fear of them.

Male violence in this country is too easily associated with poor white males and males of color, ignoring that male violence is, unfortunately, a universal problem regardless of social and economic class. And will continue to be so as long as patriarchy rules the day.
How male violence expresses itself depends on the demographic group. Every country needs to stem the havoc it wreaks.

There is even more tragedy from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School—young men need mental health help. Young males of color, poor white males, and other marginalized male subgroups in this country, and even young privileged white males. Is anybody listening?

(more…)

Rev. Irene Monroe: The Associated Press’s Discouraging the Word “Homophobia” is Discouraging

The editors at the Associated Press Stylebook have announced that they are “discouraging” use of the word “homophobia.” The AP Stylebook is the widely used guide that media use to standardize terms and general usage.

Why should the LGBTQ community be in a kerfuffle about it? Because the editors made their decision without consultation with the nation’s leading LGBTQ organizations, leaders, activists, and newspapers. That is a problem.

With an estimated 3,400 AP employees in bureaus around the globe, its suggestion could have a tsunami-like effect on how the world comes to understand, be informed about or dismiss discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.AP’s online Stylebook defines “phobia” as “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness” and therefore should be expunged from political and social contexts, including words such as “Islamophobia” and “homophobia.”

Preciseness in language is important, yet language is a representation of culture. How we use it perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender and sexual orientation. We consciously and unconsciously articulate this in our everyday conversations, about ourselves and the rest of the world, and it travels generationally.

What’s in the word “homophobia”? A lot. The history and culture of not only discrimination, violence, and hatred toward LGBTQ people but also an irrational fear of us. It’s this irrational fear that may not need psychiatric or clinical intervention but should nonetheless be aptly labeled as none other than a “phobia.”

For example, the infamous bogus legal argument called the “gay panic defense.”  It’s simply an excuse for murder in which a heterosexual defendant pleas temporary insanity as self-defense against a purported LGBTQ sexual advance.

Another example, the “ick factor.” It’s the revulsion some heterosexuals feel toward the way we LGBTQ people engage in sexual intimacy.

Altering the hearts and minds of these folks will take a while, if not a lifetime.

According Dave Minthorn, AP Deputy standards editor, who shared with POLITICO the word “homophobia… (is) just off the mark…it’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.

It is of my opinion that by keeping the word “homophobia” narrowly used and confined within a medical context is controlling. I feel that only a homophobic word police would utter such absurd advice. Moreover, it’s also absurd for AP to think that their discouragement of the use of the word with absolutely no consultation with the LGBTQ community demonstrates hubris and insensitivity. It also raises queries about AP’s political and social motives for doing so.

Just ask George Weinberg, the psychologist who coined the word “homophobia” in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual.

“It made all the difference to city councils and other people I spoke to,” Weinberg told journalist Andy Humm, who shared the quote with The Advocate and other media. “It encapsulates a whole point of view and of feeling. It was a hard-won word, as you can imagine. It even brought me some death threats. Is homophobia always based on fear? I thought so and still think so…We have no other word for what we’re talking about, and this one is well established. We use ‘freelance’ for writers who don’t throw lances anymore and who want to get paid for their work. … It seems curious that this word is getting such scrutiny while words like triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13) hang around.”

The word “homophobia” derives from a particular history and struggle for civil rights of LGBTQ people across the world. And it has become part and parcel of a universal LGBTQ lexicon that speaks truth to our reality.

The word has power and unfortunately deleterious effect. And part of our liberation is in our strength to call acts of homophobia out.

To suggest the press eliminate the word can not only diminish the scope of people understanding homophobia’s wide range, but it can also diminish our scope of LGBTQ activists in our continued efforts to effect change.

AP now has control of the word “homophobia” yet it’s not theirs.  Several mainstream newspapers are pushing back. (Newspapers, and media, are under no order to follow AP guidelines.) John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun wrote in his column “Sorry, AP, can’t go along on ‘homophobia” that the AP “ruling on this point in reasoned, principled, and wrong-headed.” McIntyre points to the 40 year usage of the word “homophobic” and makes a practical point—“If the editors of the AP Stylebook wish to discourage the use of certain words simply because they can be misused or misunderstood, there ought to be a great many in line ahead of homophobia.”

Rev. Irene Monroe’s perspective on movement to keep some blacks home on election day over marriage equality

I thought Rev. Monroe’s take was a good addition to the dialog on this topic. Click here for my earlier thoughts on it. –Pam


African Americans have worked hard to get the vote and to get a man of African descent in the White House.

In 2008 we came out in unprecedented numbers with Obama taking 95 percent of the black vote, thanks to the help of his biggest support base- American American ministers and their parishioners.

In this 2012 presidential election Obama’s biggest support base will dropped precipitously. And it will be because of both the Democratic Party’s and Obama’s pronouncement on marriage equality.

Before the opening of the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic National Party released its 2012 platform. Its theme —”Moving America Forward.” One of the major party planks in the platform is its full-throated support of marriage equality.

“We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples.”

Many Obama supporters embrace the platform’s theme of “Moving America Forward” but feel that the party’s support of same-sex marriage is risky if not outright political suicide in such a tight and contentions race for the White House.

“We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference,” the platform states.

With one of Obama’s largest and most loyal voting blocks being African Americans who are also largely Democratic and conservative Christians, the big worry is not that African Americans would overwhelmingly cast a ballot for Mitt Romney; it’s that they might not come out in large numbers to the polls in November.

“This is the first time in black church history that I’m aware of that black pastors have encouraged their parishioners not to vote, ” Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Baltimore told the Associated Press. Bryant has formed the Empowerment Network, a national coalition of about 30 denominations working to register African American parishioners. Bryant, too, opposes same-sex marriage, and has stated that Obama endorsement of marriage equality is “at the heart” of the problem for black Christians.

In 2008, according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 95 percent of the African American populace cast their ballot for Obama, and only 26 percent were in favor of same-sex marriage.

Before Obama publicly announced his support for marriage equality in May, according to Pew results in April, 49 percent of African Americans were not in favor of same-sex marriage while only 39 percent were. And since Obama’s announcement the numbers of those in opposition to same-sex marriage have not declined among the black churched populace. As a matter of fact, some African American ministers have come out more forcefully against Obama.

For example, the Rev. William Owens, president and founder of the Memphis-based Coalition of African Americans Pastors, is one of them. Given his influence and clout among black clerics in the area Owens feels that the president has gone too far in his extended hand toward civil rights to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) Americans. Owens told the Associated Press in late July that he “would lead a national effort to rally black Americans to rethink their overwhelming support of the president over the same-sex issue and “‘save the family.'”

Owens is outraged and feels the president is taking the African American vote for granted. While I would like to dismiss Owens rant as just another homophobic minister and an outlier in what I perceive will be a huge turn out of black voters for Obama, sadly, to date Owens has parlayed his outraged into a small but growing movement. He has over 3,742 African Americans ministers and their churches on board with his anti- Obama vote campaign.

“The time has come for a broad-based assault against the powers that be that want to change our culture to one of men marrying men and women marrying women,” Owens told CNN after he launched his anti- Obama vote campaign event at the National Press Club. “I am ashamed that the first black president chose this road, a disgraceful road.”

Why are African Americans, especially conservative Christians, still stuck on this issue?

One reason is that church doctrine throughout all the African American denominations haven’t changed on the topic of homosexuality, keeping the church tethered to an outdated notion of human sexuality, and a wrong-headed notion on what constitutes civil rights.

Another reason is that many African American ministers still believe the institution of marriage, at least within the black family, is under assault, and LGBTQ people further exacerbate the problem.

For these ministers, some of whom support LGBTQ civil rights but draw the line on same-sex marriage, espousing their opposition to same-sex marriage is a prophylactic measure to combat the epidemic of fatherlessness in black families. In scapegoating the LGBTQ community, these clerics are ignoring the social ills behind black fatherlessness, such as the systematic disenfranchisement of both African American men and women, high unemployment, high incarceration, and poor education, to name a few.

African American ministers have come out in support of Obama’s stance on marriage equality.

For these African American ministers, the liability of Obama losing his 2012 reelection bid seems far greater than being publicly outed for not being in lockstep with their homophobic brethren. But their efforts to get their conservative parishioners to the ballot box must far exceed those in opposition.

If the first African-American president loses his reelection bid because of certain black pastors’ homophobic views on marriage equality, that would be tragic, and history would not look kindly on their actions.

Obama is the president of the United States, not the pastor of the United States. He’s the president of all the people, not some of the people.

As African Americans who have battled for centuries against racial discrimination, we have always relied on our president and his administration to fight for and uphold our civil rights, because too many pastors across the country and throughout centuries wouldn’t “move America forward.”

Rev. Irene Monroe: Men can’t compete in synchronized swimming? Really?

Gender bias and homophobia are the culprit


One of my favorite Olympic sports is synchronized swimming.

I discovered the sport when, as a child, I stumbled upon the black and white, 1952 film Million Dollar Mermaid with Hollywood star Esther Williams.

Synchronized swimming (often abbreviated to synchro) was not Williams Olympic goal or sport of interest. She had hoped to compete as a swimmer in the 1940 Olympics, but they were cancelled because of World War II. Her aquatic talents were put to immediate use in Hollywood where her blockbuster films popularized the sport.

At the 1952 Olympic Games, the same year Million Dollar Mermaid hit theaters, synchronized swimming debuted. In 1984 it became an official Olympic sport.

From its showcase in 1952 to the present, Olympic synchronized swimming has been a female- dominated sport. Male synchronized swimmers, unfortunately, are barred from competing in the Olympics.

“There’s still this same sort of old mindset. Oh well it’s pretty, it’s for girls,” said team member of Out to Swim Ronan Daly. “But no, we want to challenge that and say boys can do this as well.”

But last month before the Games began, Out To Swim, Britain’s male synchro team, wrote a letter to the International Olympic Committee and FINA, the international federation governing body of swimming, contesting that males deserve to compete in synchronized swimming, and their discriminatory rules need to be changed in time for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

“I think it’s incredibly ironic that the Olympics are all about equality, yet we don’t have a chance to compete, and other mens’ teams don’t have a chance to participate,” said team captain Stephen Adshead of Out to Swim.

First known as “water ballet,” synchronized swimming was thought of as a delicate, feminine and frivolous sport seen primarily as part of Hollywood musicals and Las Vegas acts that no real strong men would deign to engage in.

Case in point: Saturday Night Live’s well-known documentary-styled spoof on male synchro in October, 1984 featuring comedians Harry Shearer and Martin Short. “Shearer decided to parody the sport out of personal outrage that synchronized swimmers got the same Olympic medals as athletes in what he considered real sports, ” Tribune Olympic Sports writer Philip Hersh wrote.

Mocking the notion that a male would spend time pursuing the sport, Shearer, in the skit, portrays a man giving up his job in pursuit of being the first male synchronized swimmer in the Olympics. Shearer and Short in swim caps, lifejackets, and nose plugs do a silly interpretive dance in the shallow end of the pool helped foster a damaging image of the sport as purely entertainment rather than athleticism.

“Men have never done synchronized swimming in a sanctioned competition in this country. Officially, it’s got like a zero acceptance rate… Men’s synchro isn’t even in the ’88 Olympics yet,” acknowledges one character.

“That’s okay, because we could use the time,” he then spoofs. “‘Cause I’m not… I’m not that strong a swimmer”

But for those males and females who do synchro they know of the rigor, precision and pain of the sport.

Synchronized swimming is a combo of swimming, dance and gymnastics. It’s performed in deep water and accompanied by music requiring core strength, stamina, flexibility, breath control, and coordination, to name a few. The sport consists of several competitive formats: solo, duo, trio and team routines. Training can be easily six days a week from six to seven hours a day in the pool and then two to three hours out of it.

“The toe point. Try it—it’s not easy. Point your foot and then try to bend all your toes like a fist. To get that we train out of the water, too. When watching TV or just sitting around the house, we have these things called “toe bands’…its like Chinese foot binding, Patrick Cain wrote in Secrets of Synchronized Swimming.

In its very early days, synchro was exclusively a male-dominated sport. However, because of its perceived feminine physical movements, synchronized swimming was deemed a more suitable and expectable activity for females only.

While the gender bias in the sport is resoundingly blatant, the homophobic aspect may not be. But male synchronized swimming is primarily associated with homosexuality.

Case in point: the 2001 wildly popular Japanese comedy Waterboys. Written and directed by Shinobu Yaguchi, Waterboys depicts five male high schoolers who become Japan’s first male synchronized swimming team. The youngest member of the team is gay. The team is jeered by fellow classmates, and its only support comes from the local drag queens.

With the sport having both a gender bias and being homophobic gay coaches like Don Squire and his partner Del Neel of Cyprus Club in Carmel Valley struggle to be taken competitively.

“Two gay men coaching in a women’s sport is just not that politically popular with U.S. Synchro'”

Whenever discrimination is the culprit for barring great athletes from competing in the Olympics, it is not only the athletes who miss out, but so, too, the world.

Californian Kenyon Smith is one of best synchronized swimmers in the world, but many of us will never know. He was barred from entering the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And he’s not in this year’s game.

And, in case you’re wondering, Smith is heterosexual.