After attending Kingston’s annual LGBT Reelout film festival I have been left with a different perspective on the fight for LGBT rights. One of the movies I was able to see, called The New Black, follows the fight for those rights in the state of Maryland. Directed by Yoruba Richen, director of award winning films such as Promised Land and Take it from me, The New Black embodies the division and discrimination of the black community in the state of Maryland. It gives viewers an insight into the debate on the legalization of gay marriage and the LGBT communities struggle to gain their right. The opposing party, which is composed predominantly of the African American Church, is openly opposing the idea. The movie interviews dozens of people from both ends of the spectrum and gives the viewer the chance to form their own opinion without bias. The film makers leave much up to the viewer’s own interpretation. The debate throughout the movie is on a “Question 6” which in the 2012 election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will decide on whether to legalize gay marriage in the state of Maryland. In the previous election there was a proposition 8 which made it legal for domestic partnerships but did not give them the right to marriage. If voted for Question 6 will give the LGBT community the right to legally marry under God in the state of Maryland.
The New Black interviews and follows the lives of many different people from both sides of the debate. One of the main characters that seem to be leading the charge for Question 6 is Sharon Lettman-Hicks; she is the leader of a group called the National Black Justice Coalition which moves to empower individuals within the African American LGBT community. She herself regularly attends church and bears witness to the discrimination and oppression of the LGBT community. Coming from a family that shares the views of the Black church and who are aggressively against the legalization of gay marriage it fuels her desire to fight for her beliefs that all should be treated equal.
A second main character who is also a supporter and activist for Question 6 is Karess Taylor-Hughes. Born in Long Island, New York, she has worked in many campaigns and has years of experience with lobbying for LGBT rights. As an openly gay black woman who has had to deal with gender, racial and sexually oriented discrimination she is able to convert all of the negative experiences she has endured into a fight for her right to be accepted by the community.
The film makers in an attempt to eliminate bias, also interviewed people who are blatantly against the legalization of gay marriage. Pastor Derek McCoy preaches out of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville Maryland. He has served there for 18 years. He is also the president of the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Family Council which serve the community by overseeing the education of children, the strengthening of families and the implementation of a stable government in their community.
Yet not all members of the black church are opposed to the idea of gay marriage. Reverend Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church emphasizes the point that if he is able to preach his views about equality in the black community then he would be endorsing hypocrisy by condemning gay marriage. Gospel singer/songwriter Anthony Charles Williams II who uses the stage name “Tonéx” was also on the side of legalization. Considered celebrity in the religious community and holding considerable influence, it was a shock to say the least when he revealed himself as queer. These revelations delivered much support towards the LGBT community and many complications and confusion with the religious, homophobic community.
The characters of the movie could not have been chosen better. Addressing the concept of intersectionality, the intersecting of all discriminatory aspects in any given minority, an example of this would be Ms. Taylor-Hughes, being an African American, Gay woman she is subject to monumental amounts of discrimination by oppressive groups. Whereas the reverend who is lobbying against Question 6 has generally a good intersectionality being a powerful man, upper class and respected by the community only with the sole grounds of potential discrimination being race.
From opening scenes to the final credits the film-makers make comparisons between the fight for gay rights and the fight for civil rights that the blacks went through 50 years ago. This is what has infuriated the black community, the fact that people are asking themselves, “Is gay the new black”. It is blatantly put by Mr. McCoy that the church does not think so. He addresses points of the segregation between black and white, the separate water fountains, wash rooms, the “black” section of buses, movie theatres and restaurants. He is infuriated that their struggle, which they were born with, is being compared to the struggle of the LGBT which he believes is internal and can be hidden. The only right that is withheld from them is holy matrimony which, described by him, is a sacred right, not a civil right. That gay marriage is not right in the eyes of god.
My personal opinion is conflicted, not in the sense that I don’t believe in gay marriage, it is in the sense that I empathize with both sides. The LGBT community should have the right to marry whoever they want without any opposition. They should be accepted into the community as equals and not as outcasts or subordinates as they are so often perceived. Society should stop referring to the LGBT community as “they” and more as “we”, acceptance is the only option and this belief should be taught from the day a child is born. This is the reason I believe that the religious community is so opposed to gay marriage. They have been taught since they were children that the definition of marriage is the formal union between a man and woman under god and law. The changing of that definition frightens them. People are generally afraid of change and things they don’t understand. During the movie many sympathizers of the churches endeavour voiced that they believed being gay is a choice that is made. These people do not fully understand that it may be a choice for some but many are born this way and it is no different than being born Black, White, Asian or any other skin colour. It is understandable that they may be frustrated when people consider it the same as the Black fight for civil rights. Yes it is true that the LGBT community is not subject to the amount of discrimination and oppression that African Americans had to endure, but they do undergo their own struggles of growing up and living in a society that seems to accept only the binary girl/boy relationships. The two groups should be able to understand each other given the fact that they have both undergone the struggles of oppression by the majority population.
The New Black is quite inspirational and informative of some of the conflicts that are going on in our society every day. It is a movie that will invoke deep thought in its viewers and hopefully change or strengthen their views on cultural as well as gender and sex based equality. Director Yoruba Richen has made a movie that has the power to make a difference in modern society and bolster the impending idea that no matter what your race, sexual orientation or gender identity, society is making progress towards complete equality.
Richen, Yoruba, dir. The New Black. Film. 2014.