In recent years, the impact of mental health, depression and even suicide among black men and women has become the topic of much discussion within and outside the black community.
However, it seems the realities of black gay and even bisexual men have been avoided.
Why? There does not seem to be a simple answer as to why. One possible answer is rooted in homophobia, according to Rev. Gwen Thomas, a lay minister at the Victory UCC in Stone Mountain, GA.
Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion explains it this way.
Guilt and shame compounded in the church
“The black community instills a strong value of respect and love for elders; especially as it relates to the church,” she told theGrio. “I believe that because the black church has often taken such a fierce stance against same gender expression and same gender love, many brothers live closeted, or under guilt and shame because they do not want to disrespect the church.”
As a result, she said, they “implode” and experience depression.
Darnell L. Moore, a writer and activist in New York, provides a layered analysis. He points out issues of acceptance compounded with the issues of emotional avoidance that runs rampant within the black community.
“I remember being in a lot of churches where the emphasis was not placed on real time,” he told theGrio. “We talked about the stuff going on – our troubles and testimonies – but a lot of it felt like a sort of disengaging of ourselves and removal of ourselves from the real time emotional and effective experiences.”
He said people would respond to greetings like, ‘How are you feeling today?’ with, ‘I’m blessed’ when in reality they felt like taking their life the day before. And after shouting and dancing during service, would walk out the church doors thinking about suicide.
There’s no one to help
Mix the issues of avoidance with a skewed theology and black gay men really have no one to help. The professionally trained staff in care and counseling at one church he attended tailored their care around a certain framework designed to help individuals repair their sexual identity.
Last December Moore shared his experiences with depression and suicidal tendencies with Gawker.
In the post, he spoke to the realities of seeing death as the only solution of escaping a home rocked by domestic violence and the neighborhood bullying that scarred him.
He writes, “By the time I entered my early twenties, suicidal thoughts had become my primary response to pain.” However, over time he realized the desire to being his life to an end was the wrong conclusion. In the end, he points out sacrificing himself would not bring about any form of change. Change would come about by dismantling ideas and removing the “people who created the ‘hells’ in” his life.
One way he did that was by separating himself from the religious institutions he loved dearly. He considers it to be ironic; and to some extent it is.
“When you are in a dark place, people will send you to church,” he said. “I had to leave in order to save myself. Leaving saved my life. I was most depressed when I was in the church jumping around, shouting.”