Clay Cane’s new documentary, Holler if You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church, is an emotional drive-by shooting. The gut-penetrating personal stories in the hour-long film will leave viewers ducking for cover to avoid being shot dead through the heart. They will not succeed.
The film features nightmarish tales that create a reality for many young African Americans who identify as members of the LGBT community. A gruesome, Bible-gripping grandmother intentionally inflicts a lifelong wound on the psyche of a child she “trains up” that will one day manifest as hundreds of pounds of excess flesh. An adopted daughter’s repeated rendezvous with suicide stop only after a speeding truck sends her careening toward the brink of death.
Elsewhere, a beautiful Black artist obsessively makes surface cuts in his skin to relieve deep mental and spiritual anguish that, unchecked, might prompt him to sever a major vein (again). A young woman dreams with her fiancé about a fast-approaching wedding day that will likely be boycotted by the beloved mother of one of the brides.
Each beleaguered human being in Cane’s unflinching film suffers simply because s/he is not heterosexual. Their sexuality, a potential source of joy, has become a painful factor in whether they are embraced or rejected by family, church and themselves.
Clay Cane’s lens catapults us into the pews of one of America’s LGBT-affirming churches. There, church leaders speak with authority on the healing salve of God’s love, a love that some deny is even capable of encompassing God’s LGBT children. Cane contends that the Black church has been a haven for the African-American community throughout history when threats such as slavery and racial violence threatened to decimate it. Today, some Black churchgoers and leaders have created a safe space with a checkered record when it comes to its LGBT members.
The director interviews fervent believer Sharolyn, the mother of lesbian bride-to-be Tonyka, who views homosexuality as the product of demonic influence. Sharolyn maintains that God’s anti-gay absolute truth (as revealed in the Bible) prevents the possibility of a single person being born gay. She believes God makes no mistakes. “Why would He put you in a girl’s body and give you male feelings?” she muses about her estranged daughter.
Though many LGBT African Americans wish to throw off the church’s oppressive influence, some remain chained to their fear of the Bible’s anti-homosexuality stance. These conflicted souls haven’t been granted much-sought peace. Del, the artist, comforts himself with the notion that childhood sexual abuse could have influenced his sexual preference—despite Cane’s assertion that the American Psychiatric Association debunked the theory that sexual assault determines sexual orientation. Del suspects he would be heterosexually married with children if a pedophile predator hadn’t stolen his innocence.
Holler if You Hear Me portrays a few certainties. For believers, God is love. Staunchly gay-affirming Reverend Kenneth Samuels describes God as unlimited agape love without conditions. He says that LGBT people have been barred from taking their rightful places in the family of God.
Del defines love as “the true acceptance of a person beyond the earthly realm… beyond color, beyond gender, beyond orientation, beyond faults, beyond perfections.” Tonyka challenges anyone to deny that the hand of God is molding her blissful life with her fiancé, Jonita. She says serving God as a lesbian is an innate calling.
The church’s soul-stirring minister of music, Charles, shares the conviction that his salvation is not compromised but strengthened by walking with Christ and in his personal truth. The film portrays that the dimensions of God’s love are open to the interpretation of individuals. Through being denied love, some have become its greatest champions.
Holler if You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church is now showing in full on BET.com.