Sunday, August 02, 2009

Washington Post: article on a small, African-American LGBT church

A recent article in the Washington Post offers a peek into the lives of Black LGBT folks who are also religious. The church has been a bedrock of African-American culture, but African-American Christians tend to have more negative views of homosexuality. Homophobia from the church, coupled with the very human need to find acceptance, can lead to LGBT people leaving the church and/or being careless in their sexual behaviors.

Then, to his surprise, about a dozen HIV-positive men and women answered Cheeks's call. Finally, Walker stood, too.

"I felt like I was in heaven," said Walker, who always heard homosexuality condemned from the pulpit of other churches he had attended. "The only place I feel safe is in my church."

He credits Cheeks with changing his life. The bishop told him to let God in and stop living in the shadows.

Walker was able to confess a deep secret for which he had long sought forgiveness. On the night of his honeymoon in 1973, he had slipped away from his wife to have sex with his best man. During his seven years of marriage, he betrayed her again and again.

The acceptance Walker found at Inner Light gave him the strength to stop abusing drugs and alcohol, he said. But it hasn't entirely erased the stigma of having HIV. Every morning, Walker opens a chest drawer filled with about 20 brown and white bottles of medicine for HIV, staph infection and failing kidneys. He doesn't keep the pills in the medicine cabinet of his Northwest Washington apartment for a reason, said his partner, Keith Short, who is also HIV-positive.

"You don't want visitors to come into the bathroom and say, 'Oh my God,' " Short said.

The desire to hide being HIV-positive -- not just from visitors but from prospective sexual partners -- is powerful and difficult to change. Some men are reluctant to reveal their health status to possible partners for fear of being rejected. Short said he might avoid the subject if he and Walker broke up and he were dating again.

"It would depend on how I feel," Short said, adding that he would probably use a condom but that in the heat of the moment, he couldn't guarantee it. "Sex is a very powerful thing."

That attitude, Cheeks said, is part of why gay black men in the District are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. And why he has to keep preaching the message of safe sex.

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