“…Being gay or lesbian is no crime. They should always tell anybody heckling them over their sexuality to shut up or go to hell”
Eh, you intern, come here! Tomorrow you are going to the City Hall to talk to Ms Darlene Garner, the new director of the Commission for Sexual Minorities, CSM. I hope you know what that means.
What's that, Mr. Wood? I am at a loss.
You don't have to be. Ms Garner is a lesbian and you must talk to her about the activities of her commission and, if you like, for your own personal consumption, you can ask her questions about her sexual preference.
And she would not take offence?
Why should she? This is an open society. Moreover, you are covered under the First Amendment...
You don't mean it! In Niagara, you dare not ask any lady that kind of question. She would slap okro seeds out of your mouth!
Homosexuality is a taboo!
Well, there are no taboos or Talibans here. This is America. Just go ahead and ask her any question under the sun and we expect a good story from you. Good luck.
*** *** ***
Good morning, Ms Garner.
Hi, are you the guy from the City Metro?
Cut that crap. You can call me Darlene.
Darling? Sure! That’s great!!
No, D-A-R-L-E-N-E, like in Helen.
Oh, I see. It's a pleasure meeting you, all the same.
I said I'm happy to be here.
Can we start this interview by having you tell our readers what the Commission on Sexual Minorities, CSM, stands for.
Thank you. Let me start by giving a brief background of the commission. The CSM came into being by executive order from the mayor shortly after winning the mayoral election in 1984. Actually, the idea of the commission came from other members of the gay/lesbian community who expressed, during the mayor's campaign, that there are a number of issues and needs that were of particular interest to the gay and lesbian community that had been ignored by previous administrations or, at least, that had not been dealt with effectively. So, one of the campaign promises that the mayor made was to, indeed, create a vehicle for the gay/lesbian community to have a voice within the city administration. Going back to your question, our concerns are on behalf of those people who, indeed, are or are perceived as gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Precisely, how many gays and lesbians are there in this city?
It is impossible to determine the precise number of gays and lesbians but a number of studies have been conducted in various parts of the country that have projected that at least 10 per cent of any population group is gay or lesbian.
If I may ask, are you a lesbian yourself?
Yes, of course. I am a lesbian.
Does it run in the family?
As far as I know, I am the only one of my siblings who is a gay or lesbian.
So, when did you become conscious of your being a lesbian?
Within our community, we call it "coming out". I was... hmmm... I first became conscious of my lesbianism in the early 1970s... Actually, I have pinpointed the year 1972 as the time I acknowledged to myself, my family and the public, whoever the public might be defined as being, that I am a lesbian. I told my family "I want you to meet the rest of me" and they have been very supportive. I was 24 then and single. Since then, I have had two marriages and subsequently two divorces, though not as a result of being a lesbian. I now live with a partner, a fellow lesbian.
This, indeed, must be God's own country. You have a supportive family and a caring government that sets up a commission to take care of the interest of sexual minorities. In Niagara, the issue of homosexuality is a closet affair. Woe betides people suspected of being gay or lesbian. They dare not come into the open and this explains why those labelled gays or lesbians can go to any lengths to deny their sexuality. An ex-beauty queen has denied being a lesbian many times. A popular actress has done the same. A successful lawyer, believed to be a homosexual, has used all the legal jargons in the statute book to deny his sexual orientation. A famous male artist also denied sleeping with fellow men. Not only the ordinary folks have been so labelled. Military officers, ex-military governors and, even, a former military head of state had been fingered as homosexuals but they all denied because of societal repercussion. My question is this: Is there anything you can do to help these people who, afterall, did not create themselves homosexuals?
My greatest ambition in life is to be able to do ministry fulltime because people of faith who are gay or lesbian suffer certain social and political realities by virtue of their sexual orientation... By taking to the pulpit, I can have another avenue to influence their lives.
But don't you foresee the kind of crisis that arose over the consecration of a gay clergyman in the Anglican Church?
No, I do not. This is because I'm in a church that is not opposed to having a gay or lesbian as a clergy. Almost all of our clergy are gays and lesbians. It is called the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. It has over 200 churches in the US as well as in Mexico, Canada, Niagara, Indonesia, Britain... with its headquarters in Los Angeles.
You mean there is a gay church in Niagara?
Oh, sure! In fact, the church there is growing, if it hasn’t had more branches already.
What message, then, do you have for fellow gays and lesbians?
They should believe in themselves and be proud of the way God has made them. Being gay or lesbian is no crime. They should always tell anybody heckling them over their sexuality to shut up or go to hell. Yes! They should say: "God made me me and made you you. I am not you; you are not me. I can never be you and you can never be me. So, why not let me be me because you are not God?".
I'M A LESBIAN! AND SO WHAT? is a surreal presentation of an interview the writer had some years ago with Ms Darlene Garner, co-founder, National Coalition of Black Lesbians and former executive director of the Mayor's Commission on Sexual Minorities in Philadelphia, PA, USA.
*This Opilogue was first published in TELL on February 5, 2007.