Minister Wants the Black Church to Help Fight for LGBT Rights
July 30, 2009
by Bradley Osborn
Minister Gerald Palmer wants to be an obtrusive advocate for LGBT people – in his words, a “poster boy” for conciliation between LGBT people and the black church. We would call him an ally. Palmer wants to look beyond those cherry-picked, dubiously interpreted Scriptures that are used to vilify gay folks.
The black church has been in the forefront of civil rights issues in the past. Palmer, 36, wants that leadership to continue with LGBT rights causes.
Exit polls after California’s Proposition 8 passed seemed to indicate that a majority of black voters polled had voted for the prohibition of same-sex marriage. Later analyses indicated that the African American church had an influence.
There are a number of prominent African American ministers who curse LGBT people, including Donnie McClurkin, Bishop Harry Jackson and Ken Hutcherson. They influence the dialogue on gay rights with their sermons.
Although not a formally united body, the black church is a powerful force. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, for one, has had sweeping influence. The SCLC is dealing with a same-sex marriage platform issue in California right now.
Palmer’s primary outreach is to the local African American community, which of course has within it an LGBT component. But as all ministers, he is a servant. He saw a disease and a culture where sexual orientation itself is sometimes seen as a chosen behavior, worthy of punishment. He looked at that human-on-human disparagement and knew this was not proper. Jesus was not being emulated there. Palmer was, he said, “fed up with how we treat our gay brothers.”
Palmer’s supporters include his wife, Barbara Mason-Palmer. They live in Kansas City, Mo., and have three children.
What brought Palmer to the cause of reconciliation was his work as an HIV/AIDS counselor. He started as a case manager in 2000. During his first day on the job, he saw a client on life support who had no human comfort: no family, no friends, no church visitors. The circumstances made Palmer angry. He told God, “Somebody needs to do something.” According to Palmer, God then said, “You do it.”
“The Church has AIDS”
From 2005 to 2008, Palmer had a show on local gospel radio KGGN-AM (890) called A Closer Walk. Using the show as a medium, he wanted to get the black church more involved with the fight against HIV. He erected a billboard on Troost Avenue and 42nd Street that read: “The Church has AIDS.” That ruffled some feathers.
In 2006, he titled one of his shows Is it Christ-like to be Homophobic? That’s the day everything changed, Palmer says.
People were angry about being called out on this subject. How dare he inject Christ into the debate about gays? He received death threats. Times were tense. Even opening a parcel at the radio station was dicey. For Palmer, the situation had gone from “things should change” to “things must change.”
During Palmer’s tenure at KGGN, GLAAD and national PFLAG representatives discussed LGBT teens and how to keep them safe. He also interviewed Evan Wolfson with Freedom to Marry. Listener reactions were mixed, and the show ultimately lost funding. The station continued to support the HIV-prevention message, but it put the kibosh on the gay-welcoming aspect of the show. Palmer would not acquiesce to censorship, and A Closer Walk ambled into history.
Palmer knew he could not effectively talk about HIV/AIDS and its impact on the black community without discussing how terribly his LGBT brothers and sisters were being treated. He saw that homophobia fueled the spread of HIV. He says that in the black community, people relate with God and their local church, and they relate with their families – families that often have a moral footing in church teachings even if their feet are rarely planted between pews.
Palmer saw gay folks being clobbered by the church. Indeed, the small list of out-of-context Scriptures used to demonize gay people is sometimes called “The Beat Down Scriptures” or “Clobber Scriptures.” Palmer studies these and tries to show how they are misinterpreted. Nearby Scriptures with similar condemnations are ignored by most Christians because the labeling of sinners is arbitrary.
Minster Gerald Palmer is a key link between LGBT people and the black church because he is a straight, African American man of God who has put out the “gays are welcome” sign. He knows we are all God’s children.
Malediction and Social Justice
If you go to the YouTube link youtube.com/watch?V=JA_cz34sY3U, you can see Prophet Todd Hall in action. His words are too disgraceful to print here. Palmer was familiar with Hall’s venomous tongue. So when he saw Hall’s name on a ticket to the July Life Changers Conference, he flipped.
He knew Hall’s divisive, hateful messages about gay folks were antithetical to the conference’s mission. Palmer said he could not live with himself if he didn’t say something.
Part of the message of homophobia can be to equate HIV with being gay. The HIV contraction rate among African American males who have sex with males is appalling. Palmer sees heterosexism as gas for the anti-gay fire. He wants to stop the spiritual abuse of the LGBT family, knowing we all need to work together to check these epidemics – the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and the epidemic of homophobia by people of faith.
Palmer made a mini-film for his master of social work degree. The topic was heterosexism in the African American church, and the goal was to help those who administer social justice — training for professional social workers, pastors and laypersons.
Palmer works as a counselor for Kansas City Metropolitan Community College and is an associate pastor at Calvary Temple Baptist in Kansas City, Mo. His LGBT-inclusive outreach is not explicitly endorsed by Calvary Temple Baptist.
Palmer wants to bring the black church back to social issues –back to ministering to people as was done two millennia ago. You can find Palmer’s words in his MySpace blog, on Facebook as Minister Gerald Palmer, on Internet radio and other local forums.
Blogtalkradio Show Topics
Minister Gerald Palmer continues his weekly broadcasts on blogtalkradio.com/word4thesoul at 10 p.m. CDT each Saturday.
• The Aug. 1 Blog Talk Radio topic will be Religious Based Heterosexism/Homophobia and HIV/AIDS in the Black Community.
• The July 18 Word 4 the Soul broadcast on Blog Talk Radio took A Look at the Beat Down Scriptures.
• The July 25 Blog Talk Radio topic was Religious Based Heterosexism/Homophobia and the Black Church.
• Palmer’s first Blog Talk Radio broadcast was titled The Dangerous Lies of the Ex-Gay Movement.
Minister Gerald Palmer
Blog Talk Radio Word 4 the Soul blogtalkradio.com/word4thesoul
MySpace Word 4 the Soul myspace.com/word4thesoul
Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries kccoalition.org