It could be said that I have been a hypocrite. I have vocally supported my gay brothers and sisters. I spoke at a protest when Proposition 8 passed in California. I have written and encouraged readers to fight against homophobia. I have preached about the need to become open and affirming communities of faith. With all of that being said, I have been a hypocrite. Until Saturday, I had not been to the Gay Pride Parade in Durham, NC
I wish I could say it has been due to some conflict in schedule. Not the case. I would be dishonest if I said it has been due to the location of the event. Nope. It takes place within walking distance of my downtown loft. I have stayed away due to fear. I dreaded having to contend with the assumptions people would make when they saw me in the crowd. I was afraid that people would assume I’m gay.
The fear is rooted in my journey as an advocate for gay rights. Sadly, I have carried the label for some time now. The whispers began after my second divorce. People wanted to uncover the truth behind why it all ended. That’s when the rumors started-that he must be gay.
It took years for me to discover how deep the lie had become embedded into the lore of black folks in Durham. It became lucid to me when I was asked to write an article for the Independent Weekly. The editor wanted me to share how I transformed while serving as Pastor of the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church. I became perplexed when she continued to send it back asking me to share more about my personal change. Later, I discovered she assumed I’m gay and wanted me to discuss how my coming out of the closet impacted my life and work.
I soon discovered the impact of the rumor. The gossip mutilated my spirit. Being an advocate comes with a price. It was then that my admiration for the non blacks of the Civil Rights movement escalated. The real heroes and sheroes of change are those who stand when doing so creates discord in their lives.
I imagined being called ‘Nigger lover” by members of the family. I considered those willing to literally take bullets for people they love for reasons deeper than family ties. It was then that I became disgusted with my own grapple with not attending the Gay Pride Parade. I had allowed bitterness to distort my message of unity. I was more concerned with what people thought of me than I was of my need to stand in solidarity with those who endured much more than the scandal of a rumor.
I sucked it up on Saturday. I made the walk to the Duke wall. People were gathered in preparation for the unveiling of their pride. With each step, my courage rose above the venom of the rumors. I passed people I know along the way. “Hey Mr. Kenney,” a young photographer called my name with a smile as he prepared to take a picture. I kept walking.
I found a place on the wall and embraced the pride. I celebrated the bravery of those bold enough to resist years of discrimination. Tears began to pour as I witnessed the procession of churches there to support a prideful community. I cried because the church I pastor was not in the parade. We were not there because of my fear. My words weren’t strong enough to transform my own fear into action. I needed to march. Instead, I stood on the wall and watched as others made their bold statement of faith
I walked in the direction of Whole Foods to purchase items to cook. Then, I heard a scream. “Pastor, Pastor,” one of the congregant screamed as I approached. We embraced. “This is my Pastor everyone.” I felt the release of fear. His embrace said more than enough to eradicate the disappointment of my hypocrisy. Yes, I’m your Pastor.
From there I approached that dreaded intersection-the corner of Main and Broad St. Hate stood there with signs of damnation. The van that transported them had the name of love-JESUS-on the side in bold print. They were there, the church folks, to remind people of their fate. One sign spoke of the rapture. The urge to preach love came to me. I carried the rage that led me to my hiding place. I rekindled the memories related to how people like these spread hearsay on me. I reflected on how they used the sacred truth to damage the souls of the people I love so much.
“I don’t care what you think of me,” I screamed to myself as I considered the hate that robbed me of my former life. Hate sucked my work and robbed me of my security. Lies damaged my integrity and ruined the promise of a blooming work. Gossip stagnated the proclamation of truth and prophetic message of a world where love eradicates hate.
I stood and glared at the hatred on the other side of the street. A float passed by. On the float was a man with a microphone. He said more than I could. “God loves you too,” he spoke as he passed the holy folks on the side of the street. “God loves us all. God doesn’t discriminate, people do that.”
Amen my brother. Amen. That’s the good news. It doesn’t matter what people think of us, God loves us. Each of us must stand for truth. When we fail to do so we give power to the hatred that reduces others to the mind of their imagination. Love has to stand, even when labels come with taking that position.
So, forgive me for my hypocrisy. Forgive me for allowing fear to rule. Next time my truth will participate in the parade. I’m calling other people of faith from the African American tradition to walk with me. It’s the least we can do.