Respect Difference: Sam’s Kiss is a Defiant Message Against Bigotry

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social firestorm.

After being picked in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 2013 Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam shares a kiss with his lover, Vito Commisano on camera. The video caused a social media firestorm.

PHILADELPHIA—In a television special on NBC in 1968, Harry Belafonte and white British pop singer Petula Clark performed an anti-war duet—“Path to Glory”.
During the course of the performance, Clark touched Belafonte’s arm.

A white account executive from Chrysler, the sponsor of the show, demanded that the segment be deleted from the special before it aired not only because it would offend viewers from the South, but because it offended the account executive’s racial sensibilities as well. He wanted it replaced with video that showed Belafonte and Clark performing the song, but standing apart.

But Clark and her husband, the executive producer of the show, refused to allow the sentiments of the Chrysler executive or Southern viewers to make them change the segment.

It was the first time a Black man and a white woman touched one another on national television.

Fast forward to the 2014 NFL Draft.

University of Missouri star defensive end Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round and celebrated the moment, the moment of becoming the first openly gay player to be picked in the NFL Draft, by kissing his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, on camera.

Social media, as it is wont to do, blew up shortly afterward. While many found it historic, there was a contingent of folks, most of them male, who couldn’t get past the fact Sam, the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, was kissing a man on camera.

For some of us card-carrying heterosexuals, it was a bit over the top. The reactions I saw on Facebook, Twitter, and among the people at my favorite watering hole kept bringing a line from the Gil Scott-Heron classic hit “B” Movie to mind:

“Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights: it’s all wrong! Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild! God damn it, first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom! …Nostalgia…that’s we want….”

Witnessing people whine about their discomfort and display their prejudices with the pride they’d rather not see gays and lesbians express in regard to this situation made me truly understand why my gay brothers and sisters have been so fervently fighting for their right to express themselves.

American society has always had this “discomfort” with people who aren’t White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant heterosexuals. There’s this perception that you are only a true American if you’re willing to sacrifice your culture, your beliefs, and even your sexual orientation to appease the racism, sexism, and homophobia of the White men who run this society. Difference is seen as inferior in America and because it’s inferior, it must be stamped out.

Over the years, I have watched and covered the NFL Draft. When a young athlete hears his name being called, he kisses his mom and his wife or his girlfriend. It’s a happy day for that young man.

But while we tend not to look twice when a young man engages in a public display of affection with his Mom or female Significant Other, the Double Standard reared its ugly head when Sam and Cammisano kissed.

The most common reaction I saw was “Why do we have to see that?!”, which was closely followed by “Why are gay people are trying to impose their lifestyle on us?!” and my personal favorite, “What do I say to my kids?!”

Let’s keep it real, here. You were watching the NFL Draft and this happened. That’s why you saw it. Secondly, unless something has changed over the last few days and I don’t know about it, there is no law on the books that makes you have to become a homosexual. Thus, no one is forcing you to do anything.

And lastly, you tell your kids the exact same thing that you tell them when they see a man and a woman kissing: That’s what two people do when they love each other. Unless you’re like most parents, then you cover both of your ears and go “la-la-la-la-la” to avoid the question.

What disappointed me the most is that African Americans, a group of people who are among the experts in how America handles those with whom it is uncomfortable, were the ones asking the questions above.

I was even more disappointed in the straight-up lack of empathy with our gay and lesbian neighbors.

If you need any evidence of just how uncomfortable this country still is with the presence of Black people even after the Civil Rights Movement, go to Google, punch in “Barack Obama”, and catch the wave.

From being stopped by the cops stopping you for no reason, to not being able to get a cab even when dressed in a suit and tie, America shows African Americans just how uncomfortable it is with us on a daily basis.

Even when we do things to make the majority culture comfortable with us like making our kids cut their locs or straighten their hair, it doesn’t help.

That’s unacceptable to me. The idea that gay people, African-Americans or anyone has to go out of their way to appease someone’s comfort and prejudice is just wrong.

For gays and lesbians, fear of violent retribution, losing your job, and being shunned by your family kept such simple things as holding your lover’s hand in public out of reach for decades. Heck, the whole reason for the Stonewall riots, the event that began the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Liberation Movement, was that gay and lesbian patrons were getting tired of being dragged out of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village by New York City police for the simple act of dancing together.

But while the pre-Stonewall days are behind us in a way, the reaction to Sam’s Draft Day kiss shows that while we can tolerate two men dancing together in a dark nightclub, we still can’t handle them holding hands, kissing or any of the myriad public displays of affection that are going on between heterosexual couples right now as we speak.

From the moment he came out and forced NFL general managers to put “openly gay man” and “football player” in the same sentence, Michael Sam has been consistent in putting his happiness before society’s comfort.

And even though you may not like it, you have to respect it.

It’s Time to End Homophobia and Anti-Gay Bigotry in the African-American Community

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

“Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, it’s all wrong. Call in the Cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. Goddammit, first one wants freedom, then the whole damned world wants freedom. Nostalgia that’s we want. The good old days when we gave them hell.”-Gil Scott-Heron’s “B” Movie

Jason Collins admission that he is gay has sent shock waves throughout the world of sports.

Jason Collins admission that he is gay has sent shock waves throughout the world of sports.

PHILADELPHIA—Unless you have been living under a rock or didn’t pay your cable or Internet bill this week, you know that NBA player and former Stanford University star Jason Collins used an article in Sports Illustrated magazine to tell the world that he is gay.

The reaction was mixed. On one hand, Collins was applauded for having the courage to come out while he is still an active player.  Considering the macho, often-times homophobic world of male sports, what Collins did took on a lot of significance.

But on the other hand, some believed that Collins would have been better off staying in the closet.

The most visceral of these reactions came from ESPN basketball writer Chris Broussard, who said that people who engage in homosexual behavior are in rebellion against God. To his credit, he mentioned fornicators and adulterers as among who are allegedly against the Almighty.

Then there was comedian Kevin Hart’s comment on Twitter:

“Tim Tebow: ‘I’m a Christian.’  Media: ‘Keep it to yourself.’ Jason Collins:  ‘I’m Gay.’ Media: “This man’s a hero.”  #justsayin.

Hey Kevin and Chris—intolerance and hatred of your fellow human being on the basis of religion is an even worse abomination against God.  Just sayin’.

But the rather judgmental views of Collins’ admission from folks like Broussard and Hart is reflective of a deep homophobia and a curious insensitivity that seems to exist in the African-American community when it comes to the issue of gay rights.

I noticed on various social media sites that most of the negative reaction to Collins has come from African-Americans. I find the hostility to gay rights or someone revealing him or herself as a gay a strange brand of bigotry from a people who should know better due to its history of experiencing hate and intolerance due to difference.

The Black community’s estranged relationship with the idea of homosexuality has its roots in the Christian church as well as the mosque. Folks are quick to tell you that it is an abomination against God and then you receive the requisite scriptural chapters and verses as to why we should frown on those “people.”

Pssst, I’ve got a news flash for ya…:  Folks have used scriptural passages to justify the enslavement of African-Americans, putting Jews in concentration camps for being “Christ killers” and to say interracial marriage among heterosexuals is against God.

Conveniently left out, of course, are those passages that refer to loving thy neighbor as thy self and judge not, lest ye be judged. In my view, the worse type of sin we have in the world today is the sin of the reasons and justifications we find to hate each other—whether it be race, religion, gender or income level.

What’s funny is that we as Black people have often been referred to as “those people.”  For all the things we have been fighting for in terms of our struggle for equality, we now have the nerve to put a “scarlet letter” on another group fighting for their rights. Really?!

In social media parlance, I am SMDH

(That means “shaking my damn head” for those of you who don’t know….)

And when you dehumanize folks as “those people,” you have to come up with your own bizarre stereotypes.

Recently, one of my friends told me that a childhood friend, also an African-American, pulled her daughter out of basketball for fear that her child would become gay, as if it was some kind of disease. They are examples of the kind of homophobia that you sometimes hear in our community.

And today you have the curious habit of guys saying stuff like, “No homo” whenever some guy expresses some sort of agape type affection for another guy to let everybody know that he’s not gay. It’s like, who are trying to convince? Are you really that unsure of your own sexuality?

In what I refer to affectionately as “Black World,” folks are quick to tell you not to compare the Civil Rights and gay rights movements, although the Civil Rights Movement is the inspiration for all the human rights movements of the 1960s.

Some African-Americans will point out the visibility of our skin color as to why this struggle is different. We can’t help that our difference is evident. After all, gay people don’t have tell anyone that they’re gay. They can cover it up. No one has to know.

And there lies the problem. For fear of violence, discrimination, being shunned by friends and family, gays and lesbians have had to cover up who they are. The Gay Rights movement is about  fighting for the right to be accepted for they are, not what society says is normal.

If they are seen in the streets holding their hands of their partners, they’ve often faced violence or the same types of hostile looks that interracial heterosexual couples would get back in the day, especially in the South.

Often times, openly gay people have beaten up and killed. The torture and death of Matthew Shepard in 1998 was eerily similar to that of Emmitt Till in 1955.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that all Americans born here in the U.S. deserve equal protection under the law. That’s all gays have ever asked for and that’s what we as African-Americans have been fighting for as well, the freedom from injustice.

The African-American community and the Gay Community should be allies, not enemies in this struggle.

But even if you can’t see or don’t want to see the parallels between the civil rights experience and gay rights experience, shouldn’t we as African-Americans, for all the things we have gone through, have some empathy and compassion for our gay brothers and sisters, many of whom are our family, friends, and co-workers?

During the Civil Rights movement, folks felt they were marching not just for Black rights, but for the rights of all Americans. Dr. Martin Luther King, in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” reminds us that everyone’s rights are important: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

We might want to remember that when the next Jason Collins decides to share his truth.