In an unprecedented move, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam met privately with a group of black gay and lesbian leaders from New York and Washington, D.C. to discuss their involvement in the Millions More Movement, the 10th anniversary commemoration of the historic Million Man March.
The meeting was a 50-minute conference call between gay black leaders such as Phillip Pannell, founder of DC Coalition of Black Lesbians, Gay Men & Bisexuals, Inc. and Farrakhan in Chicago on Sept. 7.
D. C. Mayor Anthony Williams set up the meeting after gay leaders expressed that they wanted to participate and help organize the event to be held on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15.
During the meeting the gay leadership said they wanted to have gay and lesbian speakers at the march and serve on the event’s national and local organizing committees to address HIV and other issues. The minister said that he would take their request to the Movement’s 21-member executive committee.
Farrakhan declined the gay leaders’ request to make their case to the committee in person, but he did agree to meet the leaders on Sept. 27, 18 days before the march.
“As I am not pushing my own personal agenda, I would appreciate it if on that day we would address the overall concern in the agenda of the suffering of my people,” Farrakhan said, according to participants from the meeting.
“Since I am the one who is claimed to be homophobic, I promise my brothers and sisters that I will address homophobia-but I cannot address the issues that are purely gay and lesbian issues,” he continued.
Pannell believes that the minister could not speak for the gay community.
Farrakhan replied: “As a black person, what you suffer as a gay or lesbian person, we as a people have suffered-.I don’t know what it’s like to be gay. But I certainly know what it’s like to be black in white America.”
Gays and lesbians, a minority group that sought to be more than spectators at the Million Man March 10 years ago, settled on a gay pride pre-rally for the Million Man March.
When Farrakhan announced the Million More Movement in January, he said that all members of the black community-gay or heterosexual-were welcomed.
Yet gay leaders say the Rev. Willie Wilson, the event’s national executive director, veered from Farrakhan’s public message of inclusion in a July 3 sermon he made at his Washington, D.C. church.
"Lesbianism is about to take over our community,” Wilson said at one point. “I’m talking about young girls. My son in high school last year tried to go to the prom. He said: ‘Dad, I ain’t got nobody to take to the prom because all the girls in my class are gay. Ain’t but two of ’em straight, and both of them ugly. It’s destroying us.”
Wilson later reversed himself, saying the comments were taken out of context.
Keith Boykin, president of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization of black lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, and author of ”Beyond The Downlow: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America” said that the two men are inconsistent.
“On the one hand you’ve got Farrakhan reaching out and on the other Willie Wilson pulling back,” said Boykin in an interview.
After the meeting, gay leaders expressed displeasure at what Farrakhan had offered them, saying they remained pessimistic about what the future held. They said they believed the minister was stalling, "passing the buck" to the committee even though he alone could have approved their requests.
"Minister Farrakhan is very clever at obfuscating issues and being non committal and making you feel good about being excluded. But last week in the meeting, he basically told us we could kiss his bean pie," said Pannell.
“I hope [the meeting] is the beginning of a lot conversation," said Sterling Washington, co-founder of the Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Organization of Students at Howard University (BLAGOSAH). "But it’s really discouraging. He didn’t have to take it back to the committee. He’s Minister Farrakhan.”