Friday, May 13, 2005

Black gays were conspicuously absent from a group of African-American leaders invited to attend a May 2 news conference announcing a massive rally for black civil rights organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Black gay leaders said the failure of the organizers of the Millions More Movement march to invite black gays to join the announcement gathering at the National Press Club raised questions about the sincerity of Farrakhan’s decision earlier this year to invite black gay participation in the event.

A broad coalition of African-American civil rights leaders has accepted Farrakhan’s invitation to put aside past differences and join forces to organize a giant rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in October to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March. Unlike the 1995 event, Farrakhan has broadened the event this year to include women.

The 1995 event, held in the nation’s capital, called on black men to take responsibility for their own lives by becoming better fathers, husbands and civic leaders. Although leaders of the mainstream black civil rights movement said they disagreed with Farrakhan’s often hostile and sometimes anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric, they said his call in 1995 for black men to take responsibility for their families and careers resonated with many African Americans.

Backing away from gays?

At a planning meeting held earlier this year at D.C.’s Union Temple Baptist Church, Farrakhan responded to a question from gay activist Phil Pannell about possible gay participation in this year’s march by saying black gays were welcome to take part in all aspects of the event, according to Pannell.

Pannell said Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church and executive director of the Millions More Movement march, told him at the planning meeting that a gay speaker at the October march might also be possible.

But this week, Pannell and Alexander Robinson, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a gay rights organization, said they were concerned that Farrakhan and Wilson were backing away from their earlier commitments to include gays in all aspects of the Million More events.

“We are not welcome at this march,” Pannell said after the May 2 news conference.

Robinson said the failure by organizers to invite at least one black gay leader to the announcement gathering at the National Press Club came several weeks after he informed Wilson of the National Black Justice Coalition’s strong interest in becoming involved in the planning of the event. Robinson said Millions More march officials did not return his phone calls shortly before the news conference, he said.

Among those joining Farrakhan at the press event were a number of black leaders with pro-gay records, including former Democratic presidential candidates Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry, D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and NAACP Chair Julian Bond.

Robinson said Wilson contacted him after the news conference and told him that the march remains open to everyone and that he would ask the march’s national organizing committee to consider some role for Robinson’s group.

“He was pretty adamant that our inclusion would not go beyond simply attending the events,” Robinson said.

‘No one excluded’
Wilson told the Blade this week that the march is still in its early planning stages. He said the news conference was not intended to be an “all-inclusive” event, and that other groups and individuals would be participating in the planning of the march.

“No one is being excluded from these events,” he said.

Wilson said Pannell appears to have misunderstood his comments when the two spoke during the planning meeting at Union Baptist Temple earlier this year.

“No mention was made about a speaker,” Wilson said. “I told Phil that we have not reached a decision on speakers or on a platform” for the march.

Wilson said he told Robinson that Robinson’s group could be considered as one of 100 “national conveners” for the march. According to Wilson, the organizing committee plans to pick groups to become national conveners based on their name recognition and “respect” in the community, their ability to raise money for the march, and their ability to boost the attendance of the march.

“I told Mr. Robinson that he should present his issues to our issues committee,” Wilson said.

Robinson said Wilson indicated it would be unlikely that a black gay representative would be allowed to join the full organizing committee and would not make a commitment to push for a gay speaker at the march. Robinson said he was troubled that a Web site for the Millions More March already includes issues and “demands” that touch on a wide range of concerns for African Americans but makes no mention of problems and concerns of black gays.

“We would like the agenda to be truly inclusive,” Robinson said. “We are hopeful that they will leave the door open so we can be a part of this.”

Robinson noted that 40 years ago, most leaders of the black civil rights movement distanced themselves from Bayard Rustin, one of the lead organizers of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, after they learned Rustin was gay. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the 1963 march.

“Dr. King had confidence in Rustin,” Robinson said. “But history shows that after the ’63 march, he was fired from his job as a civil rights organizer.”

In a statement on the march’s Web site, Farrakhan said that while the 1995 Million Man March brought about some important and positive changes for the black community, “the masses have not been empowered or improved.”

“The masses of our people are on a death march into the oven of social deterioration, broken homes, broken marriages, broken minds, broken spirit, evolving from a string of broken promises by government and leadership that has failed to help our people turn around the misery and wretchedness of our condition,” he said