Monday, September 27, 2010

Lessons From Gay Pride

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.


  1. Carl,
    This piece moved me like no other, and that I know is because the force of your heart opening shone through in this writing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I love this column.

  2. Your writing took my breath. There are tears in my eyes and in my heart. In these cruel and heart-breaking times, when it is clear to me and other that there is worse than dry rot in our homeland, what you have written is filled with Big Love. And, while I have no hope for our dear planet (except that She will survive our depradations) I feel a little hope that Big Love can bring healing tears to a heart-sick woman.

  3. thank you very much for being honest and open. Wish the web did this more for folks. I've never commented on a blog before, but I wanted to support you for your comments.
    I was there on Saturday and didn't see you, but I did see all the churches that make a point to be there.

  4. My brother in Christ. I celebrate with you in your courage. I am joyous that fact that you did not resign yourself to the attitude that it was too little too late. One thing that we all forget about life is that it is NEVER too late, and the only thing in life that we can't get back is time. Thank you for continuing to strive to be not only a Christian in words, but where it truly counts, in action.

  5. Carl,
    I love that you are so passionate in your belief. I think you and I go far back enough that I can speak openly and honestly - though I understand that I will probably be in the minority on your blog.

    I know God does love all of us, regardless of our orientation. I also firmly believe He calls us each to live a life that is holy - one that is set apart and which mirrors the example that Jesus set for us. That does not include embracing sin - any sin. We should, however, embrace the sinner.

    There may be a fine line between standing in judgment of the act and the person, but I believe it is a line that must be set. Homosexuality is in diametric opposition to what God intended when He created - therefore, the act is sin.

    I could not, in good faith and allegiance to my Lord, delight in condoning those actions anymore than I would any other action which opposes God's will for mankind. I make that perfectly clear in my ministry. I will, however, continue to love, so that hopefully, through those actions, people will come to know and understand God as a loving God.

    I am not perfect, so I do not judge the person. But I cannot condone the actions.

  6. thank you Carl for your story. i was at Pride briefly saturday am. my 13 yr old daughter had told me a week or so ago that shew as crushing on a girlfriend. i have discreetly inquired with a LGBT friend or two for support. and I thought at Pride I would find some answers. I got there..right after shopping at Whole foods ..and downing a good dose of rescue remedy. i walked through the aisles of mostly vendors, saw the love at the churches that did have booths there, and PFLAG, then, instead of engaging with anyone there, I sat on a bench and had a conversation with myself. And found Love to be the answer to every question. thank you for stepping out of fear, and if my sweetie chooses to we'll see you at PRIDE next year, loving everything and everyone.

  7. A beautiful, brave essay, Carl. When my children were small, the Gay Pride March in Durham was sort of a family holiday for us. (Both my sisters are gay, and they were very close to us and to our children.) One year my sister Boo and I made some picket signs. Mine read: "MY GAY SISTER IS A GOOD SISTER--(and Jesse Helms can kiss my ass!)"

    Several reporters came up to me and insisted--really insisted--that I carried the sign because I was afraid people would think I was gay. I didn't really have a bucket to carry that in. But your eloquence has helped me understand.

    This is one of the best things I've read lately, Carl. Thank you.

  8. Wonderful, Carl. An affirmation of hope. A confirmation that Pastors are People, first.

  9. You know I am a fan of your writings, but there was something in this one that well beyond your usual level of honesty and openness. My eyes filled with tears as the picture you painted came in to focus. Most importantly, I think you have made me think of what fears I may have that are truly holding me back from standing up. Thanks. And as always, God bless. -Shelita

  10. Carl,

    Thanks for showing a living example of how the truth will truly set you free. Your words hit home in many ways.

    I was called “nigger-lover” in elementary school because I befriended the only black kid who attended my school in a midsized Georgia city in 1970. It was easy for me because the bullies had to turn from me to attack him. But I also stood in silence while others suffered anti-gay taunts while I was still imprisoned in the closet myself, so I have a clear understanding of both the strength of the persecuted and of the weakness of those who for whatever reason have not yet embraced their truth.

    For any who still cling to the ruse of “Love the sinner but Hate the sin”, I'll give your words credence when you return to me from the hands of the blind surgeon. I've never met a sinner who has the capacity to separate the “sin from the sinner” in order to enable the love of former and the hate of the latter. You cannot cling to God's grace for your own salvation while denying it to others.

    Peace be unto you.

  11. Your title says it all~*
    I agree!

  12. Carl,
    You have done what Peter Storey of South Africa taught all advocates for justice to do:

    1.Hear the call. 2.Count the cost. 3.Commit yourself. 4.Publicly announce your stance. 5.Willingly accept the consequences as you stand bravely, faithfully with the oppressed.

    I admire your courage and conviction, brother. Welcome!

    Laurie <><
    Offering a cool drink of water in Jesus' name with Calvary UMC.

  13. "If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
    ---Zora Neale Hurston

    I am proud of you, Carl. Where is your church, I would love to attend?

  14. this is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.