I have always loved God and loved the Black church. As a boy, the church’s condemnation of gay people shattered my spirit. As an adolescent, this ridicule broke my heart. As a young adult, this disdain drove me to the brink.
I am proud to be a son of the village of Harlem. This community gave me life as I was encouraged to affirm my call to ministry at the age of ten and intensely supported to get ahead as I attended New York’s most elite schools. On the day of my graduation from Columbia Prep there was a limo waiting to take me to my prom, paid for by one of the brothers who was working on the block. I had what it took to get ahead but there was one very real roadblock. I was gay.
In 1989, one of my best friends in college, Peter Weiss, wrote me a letter encouraging me to love myself and my God from a place of authenticity and peace. On its surface, it seemed he did not understand my struggle—but on a deeper level I was compelled by the grains of truth my subconscious could identify.
In 1994, as a man, I stood up boldly in my Pentecostal Church and declared that my design was divine and my sexuality was a blessing not a burden. I was not naive about why homophobia is so deeply entrenched in the black church. I understand that there are real issues that cause homophobia to run rampant, for instance, how we are held captive to rigid notions of manhood.
Today, I am committed to the full inclusion and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world. Not only have I come out, but I have stepped up.
And so many other faith leaders are stepping up, too. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Reverend Cecil “Chip” Murray, and Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts all preach love and respect for LGBT neighbors. Openly gay clergy are serving as shining examples of what it means to live faithfully at the intersection of racial justice and LGBT equality—people like Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of San Francisco’s City of Refuge United Church of Christ.
This movement of inclusion is growing among people of African descent and within communities of faith. This progress is all because people are standing in their truth.
Pastor Joseph W. Tolton is the National Minister of Global Justice at the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and the managing director of Blur Advertising. His agency provides consulting services to Sexual Minorities Uganda and St. Paul's Reconciliation & Equality Center in Uganda.