Thursday, August 18, 2005

Kanye West Comes Out... and why he should talk to Al Sharpton

Kanye West Posted by Picasa
Kanye West has come out... against gay bashing.

The AP has reported that in an MTV interview set to air tonight at 10:30pm (EST) the popular rapper admits having been a homophobe until one of his cousins came out, forcing him to change his attitude towards gays. Energizing the stagnant rap music word with his Grammy winning 2004 debut, "The College Dropout", Kanye is set to release a follow-up, "Late Registration", on August 30th. About gay-bashing, he says: "Not just hip-hop, but America just discriminates. And I wanna just, to come on TV and just tell my rappers, just tell my friends, `Yo, stop it.'"

Recently the constellation seems to be realigning itself in favor of a powerful major effort to combat homophobia in African-American communities. On Sunday, July 31st, 2005, some people went to church and were moved to tears - even those that felt long abandoned by the black churches in their communities; and - even though the event took place in New York's Riverside Church - word has traveled like wildfire through blogs and regular word-of-mouth.

Just a few days earlier, on July 27th to be more exact, I had been invited to a private meeting for the launch of an anti-homophobia project targeting African-American communities. Now, this is nothing new and there have been other African-American led efforts to do so. What made this note-worthy was that the person launching the initiative was the Reverend Al Sharpton.

At the gathering, he gave a stirring speech about his mentor, Bayard Rustin, and how it dawned on him that Bayard was gay. He spoke of how much pressure and pain African-American leaders had caused Mr. Rustin in not accepting him and about their outright despise at the fact he was gay.

He said that it was time for an effort to counter homophobia in African-American communities and, in particular, to tell black that 'being macho does not mean beating up or attacking people just because of a different sexual orientation.' Finally, he closed by saying that years had passed since he had first met Mr. Rustin and said that the initiative was perhaps '30 years too late' but that he was now ready to do this now.

Then he turned the mike over to Marjorie Harris of the Fields Harris Group, which he introduced as the communications and marketing agency which would lead the effort - and the message changed somewhat. Ms. Harris mostly spoke of the HIV transmission risk posed to black women by men on the 'down low' - men who slept with men but did not identify as gay - an increasingly disreputed "phenomenon". Ms. Harris said that what was unique about the project was that it would bring both the concern of African American women with efforts to combat homophobia in black communities under the same roof.

Now, though this was the first year that the Reverend marched in a gay pride march (see PHOTOS), it is certainly not the first time that the Reverend has sided with LGBT communities - most memorably during the his 2004 presidential campaign run. Even back in 1994 he was joining ACT UP in New York to demand that former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani make HIV/AIDS a top priority. So, despite some troubling press about the Fields Harris Group and the Reverend, he does have the right heart on the issue and - like him or not - his voice does carry in African American communities.

Now, if the Fields Harris Group could reach out to Kanye and figure out to engage him as a national spokesperson, making it easier for others to join, we would certainly be heading in the right direction.

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