His ideas boggle the mind and turn the stomach: Homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia and rape are all manifestations of sexual deviance rooted in European culture and forced on black people through slavery. Black people are gay because they were sexually abused as children. Black people in same-sex relationships are inherently unable to form and lead healthy families.
Ayo Kimathi, who leads the organization War on the Horizon, is a spokesperson for the Straight Black Pride Movement, a coalition of groups that plans to host what it calls its first annual international convention next month in New York City. Kimathi said that his organization is one of 20 engaged in this movement, though he won’t name the others. What he will say is that homosexuality is “European sexual insanity,” and that the rest of us have been defining “homophobia” wrong all along. To Kimathi, a man who identifies as one of the world’s foremost scholars on what he calls “white sex,” to be “homophobic” means to be afraid to speak out against homosexuality. Using his own through-the-looking-glass definition, Kimathi is on a crusade against homophobia.
His theories may be on the fringes of public discourse, but they form the intellectual underpinnings of a push that threatens to take hold among those who are genuinely concerned about the state of the black family and who want to see it strengthened and celebrated. More than 3,000 people have “liked” the Straight Black Pride Movement’s event page on Facebook, and in the past week comments on the page have included naïve but perhaps honestly confused questions about why gay pride is okay but straight pride isn’t, and why black LGBTQ people and their allies who caught wind of the event and flocked to comment on the page framed it as hateful and divisive. If it’s not for you, then move on, some of the event’s defenders argued. The page is filled with beautiful photos and videos of smiling heterosexual black couples, parents with their children, Black people joyfully dancing at a wedding. What could possibly be the problem with that?
The problem is that the event’s exclusivity, its insistence around who’s in and who’s out, is homophobic in the true sense of the word. Beyond that, it runs counter to the larger movement for black lives developing nationwide. While Black Lives Matter organizing explicitly calls for the valuing and protection of all Black lives – including queer and trans lives – the event planned for next month relies on pseudoscience that dehumanizes and pathologizes entire swaths of black communities. Kimathi emphasizes the role of marriage (between straight folks, of course) in a way that critics find troubling as well. Another Facebook community page that directs visitors to Kimathi’s War on the Horizon website is called Black Wives Matter and describes itself as “place for Black men to share how absolutely necessary it is for Black men to have Black wives.” At one point, the Straight Black Pride event page referred to Black Wives Matter as one of the movement’s campaigns.
“They want to narrow the definition of the Black family at a time that we need to expand the definition of the Black family,” Malkia Cyril, a member of Black Lives Matter Bay Area and a longtime organizer told me. “We need to have as broad an understanding as possible in order to win.” Cyril pushed back on the notion that there’s anything fundamentally African about the type of family this effort prioritizes, that of a nuclear family with a man as its rightful head. In fact, she said, that’s “a very particular Christian and European and patriarchal model of family.”
Both Kimathi and those who, like Cyril, have spoken out against the event talk about the importance of recognizing and resisting white supremacy. But it’s the stylized African aesthetic that the Straight Black Pride Movement uses in its online materials – the use of red, black and green, the outline of the continent, the images of smiling Black people in boubous – that highlight its claims to African culture and history. This is part of what makes the effort so dangerous, said Lumumba Bandele, an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a self-identified New Afrikan nationalist. “I’m a child of the Black liberation movement,” said Bandele, who grew up as part of a Black Nationalist institution in Brooklyn called The East.
“People are walking away from their interactions with this group thinking this is nationalism. It’s a huge disservice.”
Bandele has challenged the intent and message of the event on its Facebook page. He said he’s encountered people defending the event online who he’s familiar with offline, and they largely fall into two groups: Young people who are being introduced to an African-centered perspective through the distortions of this new effort, and people who have for years been on the margins of nationalism precisely because of their narrow and limited perspectives on sexuality, gender identity and the oppression of women. “It was unwelcome in the ‘60s and yet you’re still holding onto it now,” he said of the latter camp.
Bandele has been married for 17 years and said he has no patience for Straight Black Pride organizers’ efforts to claim moral authority on the institution or suggest who’s threatening it. “There are so many reasons why it fails, and it has nothing to do with same-gender loving people. Nothing at all.”
The event planned for next month isn’t likely to get very far. Kimathi said that while he had been expecting 250 people from around the world, he’s not sure whether he’ll be able to find a new facility after its original location recently canceled in the midst of surrounding controversy. And as the face of the movement, Kimathi is a liability. He was widely discredited and left his post at the Department of Homeland Security after the Southern Poverty Law Center and, eventually mainstream news media, ran a series of reports exposing his War on the Horizon activities. Kimathi brushed this off when we spoke, saying that he’d simply been targeted and undermined just as freedom fighters such as Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman and Denmark Vesey were in the past.
But what’s dangerous is the real anxiety over the Black family that Kimathi and his allies have tapped into, and the possibility that a similar effort will resurface with a new spokesman at its helm. The terms of debate have shifted, and that's especially obvious in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry and two years after the birth of a #BlackLivesMatter movement conceptualized by two queer Black women and a straight one. That movement leaders are clear that it has no place for homophobia, transphobia or narrow understandings of black women as simply wives is challenging to some, according to Monica Dennis, regional coordinator for Black Lives Matter NYC. So it’s no accident that a Straight Black Pride effort would pop up now.
“We’re watching a major paradigm shift in the way that black communities organize,” Dennis said. “What we’re talking about is so expansive that it actually shakes these folks at their core.”