New powerful BET documentary examines LGBTQ life inside the Black Church

New powerful BET documentary examines LGBTQ life inside the Black Church
“I believe that the enemy has invaded them. I just don’t think they were born that way.” This commentary is the opening line of Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church, a new movie which frames the stories and problems young African American LGTBQ lives of the Black Church. In the realm of humanity and LGTBQ rights, slow strides are being made in regards of awareness of the amount of physical and mental abuse faced by black youth. Many continuously endure the tribulations of devout faith, religion, and their own sexual identities. “The church is a root of African American culture…” said Clay Cane, the documentary’s developer and producer. “What happens to a person when they are taught they are an abomination? How can someone value their life when they are told that their existence is a sin?” While set in one of the more progressive black cities in the South, Atlanta, GA, Cane still struggled to find people willing to be documented discussing their own understanding of the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, and religion. “People who were afraid to do the interviews; afraid to lose their jobs. People were born and raised in the church, their jobs might be in the Church, their livelihood, their families, everything they know of,” Cane said. But their connection to the church was just as key as their ability to be filmed. Developing trust with those featured in the movie was key to its success. Clay says the unique ties black people have to their churches is something else that stood out. The history of holy places as refuge from slavery — and a way to escape from Jim Crow — and, finally, where the Civil Rights Movement formed long before marches in the streets. “The Black Church is rooted in the African American community in a very unique way,” he said.
While The title of the documentary could be alluding to TuPac’s notable, similarly titled track which poaches on the hardships of acceptance and reliability within our society, Cane said he was influenced by his personal exploration and experiences as a black and gay man as well. “Growing up, when I began dating, I met people who were going through extreme suffering (within the black church) with theological and spiritual violence. It was heartbreaking to see, someone who I dated for a long time, who is in his 30′s now, has yet to work through the years and years of his suffering of theological and spiritual violence,” he said. “I can’t say that I am a church kid, but it is part of my world, and my community as a black, gay man.” A couple of young LGTBQ African-American adults in the documentary who were interviewed include Tonyka and Kesawn. Tonyka discussed her coming out to her family, and her relationship with her wife Jonita: “When I came out, my family, for the lack of better word–they shunned me…I don’t understand how that God that I love and the God that I serve would condone them (Tonyka’s family) treating me the way that they do.” The two actually met through the church they attend together and they eventually fell in love and decided on marriage. “You cannot deny the hand of God and the blessing of God on our lives,” Tonyka said. On the other side of the embracement of sexuality, is Kesawn’s acceptance, but journey to “cleanse” his homosexuality. “Truth be told, I will never find a comfort zone in the gay lifestyle,” Kesawn said who was interviewed in the documentary. He is the manager of Lost-N-Found, an LGTBQ center for troubled youth. Though he identifies as a gay man, he still strongly holds the beliefs of the Black Church, and Christianity. When Cane asked Kesawn about Black Churches ran by LGTBQ-supportive, or even gay, pastors, Kesawn controversially stated: “I do not believe in them [Gay stronghold churches], and I understand that the Lord can come from anywhere. I was raised where you look to your pastor to be your spiritual guidance. You look for them for the strength when you are weak. For me personally, I cannot look to you (gay pastors) knowing you do the same sin I do. And you cannot help me overcome it (homosexuality) even if I wanted you to, because you’re comfortable with this lifestyle.” Kesawn’s views, he claims, come from his childhood home and the faith-based values that has always been ingrained in him by his family. His story inadvertently proves Cane’s theory about the struggles LGBTQ black people have after being raised in strict faith. It’s impossible for some to be a distinct LGTBQ black person separate from their church – for better or worse. As for solutions to the problem, Cane said “there is no magic-wand.”

“The takeaway for this documentary is that I want people to acknowledge that spiritual and theological violence is just as damaging as physical and emotional abuse,” he said. “I hope when people watch this with their families, friends, and Church members that maybe after hearing these stories, that these people aren’t experiencing the love of God, but experiencing abuse that can ruin someone for a long time.”

Be sure to watch the documentary Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church in works with and hear the inspiring and insightful stories about faith and sexuality from black LGTBQs.

Watch the trailer below:

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