In the spirit of responsible leadership and global citizenship, 20 Rollins faculty, staff, Holt and A&S students ventured into the central Florida community on Tuesday, Feb. 9. The Center, the oldest LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community center in Florida, partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, and Equality Florida to bring a new event in their Town Hall Series: Black and Latino LGBT – The Hidden Community. The moderator of the event was Rollins’ very own Dr. Eric Smaw, professor of philosophy. The other panelists were from very diverse backgrounds: Carlos Carbonell of the Human Rights Campaign; Pastor Brei Taylor from Oasis Fellowship Ministries; Norma Crespo, founding member or Latina Lesbians of Central Florida; and Bishop Richard Davis from the Church of Healing and Prosperity.
Dr. Smaw posed intriguing, relevant and even controversial questions to the panelists, encouraging them to be honest about the prevalent issues facing the Black and Latino LGBT communities. His first question, “African Americans are less than half as likely to support LGBT rights. Why?” was met with a resounding answer from Bishop Davis and Pastor Taylor. Both religious leaders cited the large role that the church plays in Black and Latino communities as a major underlying reason for those communities’ homophobia.
Pastor Taylor stated, “For the most part, there is an understanding among Black ministers that homosexuality goes against the Bible, and the Black community is deeply steeped in traditions and the tradition of the church.” Bishop Davis echoed her sentiments, exclaiming that “it is time for the church to come out of the closet.” The other two reasons cited for the reluctance of Black and Latino communities to support LGBT rights is that they believe homosexuality is a choice—which ties back to the church—and that “Masculinity is highly valued in Black and Latino communities, and the concept gets on shaky ground when it comes to homosexuality,” Pastor Taylor explained.
Rigid gender roles only add to homophobia. Carlos Carbonell had this reply to the question in regard to the Latino community: “Family comes first [in the Latino community]. This perception affects views on homosexuality. But, studies show that 57 percent of Latino Catholics are pro-marriage. We can actually have allies in the religious community.”
Dr. Smaw jumped off Pastor Taylor’s mention of gender roles and reinforced that “ideologically, there is an idea of what men are supposed to be and what women are supposed to be. The conception is that nature has created humans in such a way that men are on one side and women are on the other.” Then he disproved this ideology by citing a long history of transgender and intersexed individuals. He also went on to discuss the “down-low phenomenon.” Being down-low is much like being in the closet, but to an even greater extent. People lead heterosexual lifestyles, have families, go to church, but are secretly homosexual; this phenomenon is especially prevalent in the Black male community. Dr. Smaw stated that the hypermasculine Black male is more likely to primarily identify himself as “Black,” which would actually equate to them as “masculine.”
Pastor Taylor agreed, saying that we need to “empower men to know that homosexuality is only part of who you are, not the whole. It does not diminish masculinity.” The panelists agreed that the down-low concept is causing a double standard and reinforcing negative stereotypes through use of negative language, like “faggot,” and the act of being in the closet.
Carbonell left the audience with a statement that is extremely important to the Rollins community, something that every single Rollins student can take to heart. He stated, “We need to get straight allies and people of faith to understand that our values are the same. There’s only one very little difference, and that is who we love.”