We Are Family, Too

It ought to go without saying, but in light of the pervious post there are some things in Rev. Irene Moore’s Advocate column on African Americans and same-sex marriage that bear repeating. First Moore cites some data on how marriage equality would benefit black same sex couples, from Jumping The Broom: A Black Perspective on Same Sex Marriage.

* Forty-five percent of Black same-sex couples reported stable relationships of five years or longer on the U.S. Census.

* Twenty percent of Black men and twenty-four percent of Black women in same-sex households in the Maryland area work in the public sector but are denied healthcare benefits for their partners by the government.

* Same-sex couples do not receive the protections of joint rental leases with automatic renewal rights. Only approximately 55-57% of Black same sex couples own their own home.

But the real bottom line is that varied family structures are not new to African Americans. Or they shouldn’t be, anyway.

Statistics may be helpful, but what does same-sex marriage look like in real time and in black face? Historically, it is about saving black families, with its focus on spiritual content and not physical composition. Contextually, it’s about raising and protecting our families. It is LGBTQ couples raising their siblings’ or other family members’ children because those family members have died of AIDS or are incarcerated or are too sick.

Multiple family structures presented by same-sex marriages should not be what the African-American community opposes, because multiple family structures are what have saved and are still saving African-American families. Grandmothers or aunts and uncles—straight or gay—raising us in their loving homes have anchored our families through the centuries. And these multiple family structures, which we have had to devise as a model of resistance and liberation, have always, by example, shown the rest of society what really constitutes family.

Essex Hemphill said it poetically in “Commitments” — written in the voice of a black gay man in the context of the closet and extended family, with variations on a haunting refrain “I am always there.”

I will always be there.
When the silence is exhumed
When the photographs are examined
I will be pictures smiling
among siblings, parents,
nieces and nephews.

… I am always there
for critical emergencies,
graduations,
the middle of the night.

I am the invisible son.
In the family photos
nothing appears out of character.
I smile as I serve my duty.

And of course we are always there, ever time an elderly parent or grandparent needs care and moves in with the “never married” son or grandaughter. Or perhaps, in the spirit of Blilie Holiday’s “Ain’t Nobodys’ Business”, moves in with the same son or grandaughter and his/her “friend,” so long as their relationship remains ambiguous enough to avoid offending certain sensibilities. Or maybe it’s an aunt or uncle, or possibly even a neighbor who’s the closest thing to family, who steps in when violence, death, or anything else that rips apart African American families today takes a parent or parents away from a family.

It’s so not strange because it’s what African Americans have done since the moment they came to North America. Only then it was slavery that ripped apart families, when a mother or father was “sold off” and separated from family for any number of reasons. And, then as now, other family members or unrelated members of the community (the “village,” if you will) stepped in to care for those — old or young — who were left behind. Maybe later in history it was the violence of lynching, or economic necessity during the Great Migration that separated famlies, but the basic pattern of other stepping up and creating famliy bonds has stayed the same.

Like I said above, it ought to go without saying, because if we stop and think about it for a minute black folks already know that families come in many configurations. And whatever those configurations are, we know the important ways members of those those families benefit from the care and support the receive, and how our communities We know the importance of protecting those families, and how our communities benefit by extension. When it comes to same-sex marriage we just need to act like we know, because we — your gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sons, daughtes, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, etc. — are family too. We always have been.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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