“No Homo”: Black Boys, Black Churches and The Stigma of Being Gay

by Dax-Devlon Ross

The New York Times has an article about the continued resistance to gays and lesbians by the Black Church that got me thinking of some of the teenage boys I work with.

“No homo.”

If you’ve spent any time around young black boys of late you’ve probably heard the term more times than you care to count. Basically, it’s a blanket, catch-all ‘get out of jail’ free phrase that automatically purges anything the speaker says of its homosexual over or undertones. So, for instance, you say something like, “I threw the ball at his head.” Immediately after (or before) you add “no homo” in order to make it clear to the listeners that you had absolutely no homosexual intentions. I’ve listened to conversations where both speakers literally preface every sentence they utter with the phrase. Making sure anything that might be construed as gay is purged from the record is a tedious undertaking. It requires the speaker to be aware of everything they say and how it could be interpreted by the group no matter how seemingly obtuse. What never even crosses their minds is that one of them may in fact be gay. The irony, of course, is that a good deal of their behavior could be categorized in the same family of “gay behavior” that they so vigilantly guard against in their speech. If anyone was to ever document how much time these boys spend primping their hair to make sure every wave is in place, how much body spray they splash on themselves after showering, how cognizant they are of the latest fashion, and how cliquish they tend to be whenever they’re amongst each other, they’d probably be surprised to discover they aren’t much different than their stereotyped idea of a “homo.”

 Even being suspected of being gay is considered the mother of all marks against a young black male. He would rather appear ignorant, insensitive– whatever is necessary to preserve his untainted heterosexual self-image. But I don’t blame these boys, my boys. They’re acting in accordance with the cultural mores that have been handed down to them through the religious institution known as the Black Church. Their disregard for homosexuals is rooted in the backbone of black American culture so much so that even those who do not go to church, who shun it, are impacted by the Church because of its aggregated authority throughout the community.

Given its enduring influence, the Black Church’s failure to fully embrace gays and lesbians as members of the community compounds the confused mind-sets I see in these young men, and calls into serious question the Church’s  status as moral messenger to all of America. Remember, the Black Church led the struggle for civil rights by championing the Social Gospel– the belief that only by applying Christian principles to social problems could society be redeemed. Also remember that one of Dr. King’s closest allies in this struggle, Bayard Rustin, was both gay and communist. In relying on arguments like the protection of the institution of marriage, today’s Black Church parrots its white evangelical counterpart’s denunciation of homosexuality. In relying on a strict reading of the Bible’s admonishments of homosexuality, these same churches engage in a bad faith rendering of a text that was once used to oppress their ancestors. Instead of forging relationships with gays on common-ground issues that all marginalized people are faced with in America (healthcare, poverty, education) they distrust and disdain the growing prominence of gays and lesbians in the black community. Also, they slip into a politics of most-favored minority, implicitly accepting the role of protector of their turf against all challenges to the throne. Meanwhile, the churches that have embraced gay and lesbian congregants have done so at the expense of a diminished membership. Congregants would rather travel elsewhere than practice their faith in a “sissy church.” It’s a sad, telling story of hypocrisy and fear, the more so because the ones who suffer most – boys still testing the boundaries of their sexuality and nurturing paralyzing stigmas about what it means to be gay – haven’t even scratched the surface of their anguish.