Umoja Project Unites Black Faith Leaders Around LGBT Equality

What a week last week was for advocates of equality. Advances in California with the upholding of the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8 and the legislative passage of marriage in Washington state for same-sex couples show that we are moving toward a more just society for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens and their families.

But before advocates got too excited in their celebration, we also read in the news that prominent CNN commentator Roland Martin was suspended from being on air for sending comments via Twitter that were considered to be anti-gay following a Super Bowl commercial featuring soccer pro David Beckham modeling underwear. Then, as the week came to a close, many of us were horrified to see the images of a young, African-American man in Atlanta, Ga. who was targeted and beaten in the streets because his assailants perceived him to be gay. It is clear that we still have much work to do in becoming a just society for our LGBT citizens.

These four occurrences stand in juxtaposition with one another as joy mixed with anger exists simultaneously in the minds of many. No doubt many will continue to discuss the tweet from Martin and the incident in the streets of Atlanta, while making assumptions about the motives behind both events. Thoughts and remarks circulate that reinforce the stereotype that the black community is more anti-gay than any other racial or ethnic group, but a local group of black faith and community leaders recently challenged that assumption.

Last week in Los Angeles, a forum for African-American audiences was held at the Liberty Hill Foundation to discuss the topic of LGBT inclusion in the family and faith community. Many of the participants expressed that they are tired and offended by the assumption that the black community is less tolerant than any other. These men, mostly straight-identified, who gathered for the forum, also expressed their honest questions and concerns about welcoming African-American LGBT individuals and their families into their churches, mosques, and community. This is hard work, and much dialogue in safe spaces needs to take place, but it is happening. These men took the chance to attend this forum and were exposed to scripturally sound materials that address many of the roadblocks to recognizing LGBT people as needing to be included fully as members of our families and congregations -- just as they are.

The materials that were used during the forum are from the Umoja Project ("umoja" is Swahili for "unity"), sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and Horizons Foundation recognize the importance of these dialogues in communities of faith and have funded this effort. They include Bible study and film resources to begin the conversation on LGBT inclusion and marriage equality in the black church and community.

The acceptance of marriage equality in the black community does not have to be a foreign concept once LGBT couples and families become more visible and have more opportunities to share their stories and perspectives. The Los Angeles forum of the Umoja Project helped those wanting to work toward understanding, healing, and advocacy by creating space where the participants felt safe to ask their questions and were provided with solid materials to continue the discussion with their congregations and constituents. This project will continue to have forums such as this that will provide the space for us to stop hurtful comments and put an end to the violence of bias-motivated crimes.

It is only a matter of time before more states begin to recognize marriage equality. But we have to lay the groundwork so that when they do, we will be able to be all that God has created us to be, to live authentically and to love freely.