Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles that were shared in partnership with BMe Community’s #BlackMenLove to remind readers of who, what and how deeply black men love during this final weekend of Black Family Month. BMe is a growing network of all races and genders committed to building better communities across the U.S. Share it and read more at BMe Community, or reach out by email. Read the first story here and the second one here.
This year I turned 30, and I was ready to stop fighting my truth, embrace who I am and love whom I want to love. I came to terms with three words that would change my life completely: “I am gay.”
For more than 15 years I’ve struggled to accept that. My journey has been grueling and painful. But it’s similar to those of many others who struggle to accept who they are because of society’s prejudices toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning community. Now is the time to put aside differences, be willing to preach love, and to make room for people of all colors and sexual orientations.
This is my story.
I learned to be ashamed of myself at a very young age. I kissed one of my guy friends in kindergarten. It was innocent, as most things are when you’re 5. I was playing house as I had seen husbands and wives kiss. But when all the kids burst out with “Eeeeeewwww,” “You’re nasty,” “I’m telling,” I knew I had done something unspeakable. I wondered if something was wrong with me. As I look back, I know that moment was my first step in learning how to live a lie.
The feelings of being the weird kid, the nasty kid, kept me from making any more public displays of affection toward boys. Growing up in Philadelphia, I spent most of my time playing with my best friend and cousin, Tianna. Over the years, adults would pressure me to “toughen up” and hang with the boys. Doing so typically ended in mockery: “You throw like a girl.” “He’s fruity.” “He’s gay.” Being myself was clearly wrong, and that hurt deeply.
So I tried my best to be the person my black community accepted. I became a scholarly student. That’s how I competed with other guys. I had beautiful girlfriends, whom I loved, and all the parents wanted me to marry their daughters. As my charade got more comfortable, I thought nobody would be able to call me gay again. Then I fell in love with a guy at age 15.
The church taught that homosexuality was wrong and that anyone who had succumbed to these feelings ought to be delivered by praying and should ask God to take the desires away. So I spent most of my teen years pleading with God.
One evening during a church service my freshman year at Florida A&M University, I witnessed a group of pastors praying for a young man who was struggling with homosexuality. I thought, “OK, God, this is my chance,” and I ran to the altar to be delivered, too. So a female pastor prayed with me and explained, “Son, if you believe God has delivered you, you are delivered.”
I was so excited, I began to cry. Finally, God had delivered me! Imagine how upset I was when, before I even got back to my seat, I was eyeing a beautiful brother in the third row and he was eyeing me back.
“What the what?” as one of my friends would say.
Even so, I couldn’t embarrass God. So I stood before many congregations professing my deliverance. I thought that if I spoke it enough, it would eventually be true.
As a young minister, I believed that it was my job to preach God’s message of deliverance even if I was still struggling. I had seen older ministers preaching on things they struggled with. I assumed that it was OK to tell homosexuals they were going to hell. After all, I was delivered, right? How ignorant.
Over time, I began to hate homosexuality and thus hate myself. I even occasionally joined in gay-bashing. I cut people off, changed my style of clothing, went on fasts, traveled to see specialists, stopped secretly dating men, attempted to marry a woman, doused myself in holy oil and read the Bible. You name it, I tried it.
Nothing seemed to work. You know why?
I was born this way, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with who I am. I’m black, I’m a minister and I’m gay.
Two years ago I took a job managing BMe Community, which works to build better communities inspired by black men. I traveled the nation encouraging guys to be their authentic selves, but I wasn’t being my true self. Last year I came out to my co-workers, friends and family.
Walking into the light was scary, but I was willing to walk. I chose to be me.
The reality is, I have many unanswered questions. One of my mentors, Pastor Darrick D. McGhee Sr., told me, “God didn’t call you to have a gay anointing. He gave you an anointing. Use it, and don’t let anybody’s opinion stop you.”
I believe that God loves and wants justice for all people.
Bayard Rustin, the openly gay civil rights activist and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, said, “If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society.”
I truly work toward an America that works for everyone, a place where respect and equality triumph over intolerance and oppression. Where we learn to love despite our differences. Where we accept that God is grand enough to know and love us all. Where someone like me, even at the age of 30, can step out of the shadows into the light and be welcomed.
Benjamin C. Evans III is managing director of BMe Community. He manages BMe’s operations in five cities and nationally. Before joining BMe, Evans worked in risk assurance and accounting with PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has more than 10 years of experience in social innovation, public relations and social media and as an executive director.