This week, BET premiered a documentary that shows the experiences of being queer and black in the church and explores LGBTQ individuals of faith navigating religious communities that provide support and belonging for one identity, but may reject the other.
The film, titled "Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church," looks at the intersection of black and queer identities that has grown more visible in the last year as black LGBTQ individuals and their narratives have entered the mainstream, from reality TV to scripted dramas and magazine covers.
Clay Cane, the creator and producer of the film, told The Huffington Post about his inspiration for the documentary. "With 'Holler: Being Black and Gay in the Church' my intent was to put the narrative in the hands of black LGBT folk in the church, and to hear their stories," he said.
According to Cane, the documentary gives a voice to marginalized queer communities and exposes the effect of what he calls "spiritual violence," or using a religion as a method to control or oppress someone.
"My other purpose in doing this [documentary] is that I wanted to point out that theological violence and spiritual violence are just as damaging as emotional abuse and as physical abuse."
Cane said that the sensitive nature of the film made it challenging to find participants to share their experiences. Most of the subjects he met in a youth homeless shelter, many of whom were kicked out of their homes because of their families' religious beliefs.
"I think when you watch this doc you realize there’s more to be done, but they’re not these LGBT tragedies," he said. "You’ll see that these are survivors, and they’re resilient and most of them have not lost their faith."
For Cane, the history of the black church and its significance in communities of color complicates the relationship to the institution or black queer communities, particularly in terms of cultural belonging.
"I think for a lot of black gay men or those who identify as gay that for most of us you have some connection to the church in some way," Cane said. "The black church, for a lot of African-Americans, it’s our roots."
According to Cane cultural definitions of black masculinity are influenced by racism, which creates a culturally specific form of homophobia."The intersection of the church and of black masculinity and of racism creates a pot of complicated reasons why there’s this misperception of black folks being more homophobic," he said.
Cane is adamant that homophobia isn't exclusive to the black community either. "Homophobia is not black thing or a black church thing," Cane said. "It’s a worldwide epidemic, but I wanted to get the experience of black LGBT folks in the church."
For Cane the documentary is less about pointing out the divide between the LGBTQ community and the black church, instead it focuses on the connection. And though the film does not offer a magic wand solution, Cane believes it will further the conversation by challenging people to question their beliefs.
"I’m not asking for perfection; I’m asking for progress," Cane said. "The more we keep going forward I think we’ll see that."
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