Full Truth Declared: Black LGBTQ History Making
When I was a child, I remember my grandmother often using the phrase “I declare”. Sometimes she would say it to stress a point. I remember comments like “I declare if you do that one more time, I’m gonna whip your butt!” Sometimes she would say it to express wonder and amazement. “I declare God is blessing me this day!”, she would exclaim when something really good happened. To “declare” has become a powerful cultural statement of surety for Black people.
The focus of our Blog is declaring the truths of our lives, the FULL truths. Each post will strive to declare something about our lives as LGBTQ persons that dispels the false reports we have heard about ourselves because of our race and/or our sexualities and sexual identities. The central thread throughout each post will be “Full Truth Declared”. One of the greatest truths we have NOT heard is that there are numerous Black LGBTQ persons serving as spiritual leaders in various faith traditions. Many activist and social justice leaders are unashamedly guided and driven by their faith in God’s unconditional love, presence and action in our lives. During February, Black History Month, I will highlight African American LGBTQ history makers, past and present, who have helped influence our lives through their courageous and unselfish contributions grounded in spirituality and faith. There have been many. Some individuals who were and are pivotal social justice leaders working for human rights for all persons were also instrumental in the life of Full Truth Fellowship Church and other faith related bodies. It will be especially important to identify those individuals so that we can lift them up and celebrate their commitment to affirming God’s unconditional love for ALL people.
Today, I am deeply inspired by a man who was not LGBTQ but is, nevertheless, one of my favorite ancestors in faith, Howard Thurman. He was an African American theologian and activist who died in 1981 and was known for his unwavering belief that all people must have access to God power, grace and love. Thurman was not a member of the LGBTQ community but I am convinced that if he were alive today, he would be one of our most robust allies, working tirelessly by our sides for peace and social justice. One of my favorite Howard Thurman quotes is “There are two questions that we have to ask ourselves. The 1st is “Where am I going?” and the 2nd is “Who will go with me?” If you ever get these two questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.”
As we move into a new decade at Full Truth, the answer to Thurman’s first question will continue to be that we are moving deeper into our power as a community of people loves and empowered by God’s grace. The answer to the second continues to emerge through the work and the lives of those who dare to be LGBTQ with courage and transparency. Let us celebrate those individuals in our community who have been active and open supporters of LGBTQ persons. It is because of them that many of us have the luxury of living with dignity today; because of those who dared to be “out and about”, fear and shame and guilt has decreased over time and our lives and our futures have been made better and safer.
As we begin our recognition of Black History Month 2020, I lift up two African American LGBTQ persons who were essential contributors to the life of Full Truth Fellowship Church: Amorie Robinson, PhD, (aka "Kofi Adoma”) and Juan Battle, PhD. (Note: Some biographical information was gathered from multiple internet sources.)
Celebrating Dr. Kofi: Founding Member of Full Truth Fellowship Church
Full Truth Fellowship Church began with a conversation between a group of Black LGBTQ persons in a group called the Detroit Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (DCBLG). DCBLG was a chapter of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (NCBLG), the first national organization to address the needs and concerns of LGBTQ persons of color. In 1988, I was the executive director of NCBLG and had moved back to Detroit to be close to my family as I addressed some health issues. To accomodate my health challenges, the national office had been moved there as well. At the time, Kofi was an active member of DCBLG and she and others in the community approached me about starting a Black LGBTQ church in Detroit because they knew I was an ordained minister and had pastored a church in New York City, Harlem Metropolitan Community Church. The rest is history. Because of the efforts of Kofi and others, Detroit became the home of one of the first churches ever to openly address LGBTQ issues from a spiritual point of departure. It is only fitting to begin this blog by honoring her and her tireless commitment to our community.
Dr. Amorie Robinson is a native Detroiter and one of the founding members of Full Truth Fellowship Church and a long-time leader in the LGBTQ community throughout the Detroit metropolitan area. She served on the board of directors for Full Truth and frequently made worship a spectacular experience as she demonstrated her incredible musical gifts by playing her violin at worship services. She received the name Kofi Adoma during a Kwanzaa renaming ritual decades ago and is commonly known as “Dr. Kofi” throughout the Detroit community. She is a fully licensed clinical psychologist practicing in and around Detroit where she is a native and resident. She received her BA degree in Psychology at Oberlin College and earned a Master of Arts degree in Educational Psychology. She holds doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Robinson works at the Clinic for Child Study conducting therapy with adjudicated youth and their families. As a psychotherapist at various outpatient psychiatric clinics, she has spent over 21 years working with adults, adolescents, and children. She has been a lecturer at the University of Michigan Women’s Studies department teaching LGBT Studies and a Multicultural Context group process course and has taught family therapy courses at the Michigan School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Robinson is a co-founder and former board member of the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, an agency serving at-risk homeless LGBTQ/GNC youth. She is also president of the Metro Detroit chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists and a member of the Association for Women in Psychology. She was the founder of the ALORDE Collective and one of the founding members of Unity Church Detroit. For more than a decade, Dr. Kofi has coordinated Kwanzaa celebrations for the African American LGBTQ community throughout Detroit.
Celebrating Professor Juan Battle: Early Supporting Member of Full Truth
As Full Truth developed, a group of graduate students from the University of Michigan began attending services. They were a strong and brilliant group of men who were coming into their own power. They were part of an intellectual elite, but never forgot their roots or diminished their commitment and pride in their lives and culture. Every week, they would show up and quietly offer their support and encouragement and time and talents. Juan Battle was one of these men and soon became a source of personal support for me. He was an ordained minister in another denomination and stepped up to help provide pastoral support for persons living with HIV/AIDS during a time when other Black pastors and faith leaders were condemning them as sinners and declaring HIV/AIDS to be punishment from God. Just was there then and has never left. He is my friend and my brother and a friend and brother to all of us. I am personally grateful to him and declare that without people like him we would not be where we are today!
Dr. Juan Battle holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Michigan. He is currently Presidential Professor of sociology, public health, and urban education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He also serves as the Coordinator of the Africana Studies Certificate Program. Dr. Battle joined Full Truth Fellowship Church soon after the church began and while working on his Master of Arts degree at the University of Michigan. He was one of the first at Full Truth to offer support and pastoral care to persons living with HIV/AIDS, working with the AIDS ministry of the church, Healing Ourselves through Prevention Education and Services (HOPES) to provide care during a time when the disease devastated our community.
Professor Battle is an academic, author, activist, and feminist whose research focuses on race, sexuality, and social justice. He was a former president of The Association of Black Sociologists (ABS) and an active member of the American Sociological Association (ASA). He has delivered keynote lectures at a multitude of academic institutions, community-based organizations, and funding agencies throughout the world and his scholarship has included work on five continents including North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. He is the Principal Investigator (PI), in collaboration with Co-Investigator Antonio (Jay) Pastrana, Jr., of the Social Justice Sexuality Project (SJS), a project that explores the lived experiences of Black, Latina/o/x, and Asian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the United States and Puerto Rico. He is also the PI along with Cathy J. Cohen, Dorian Warren, Gerard Fergerson, and Suzette Audam of the BLACK PRIDE SURVEY, a report on celebrations of gay, lesbian, and transgender culture and pride in the Black community (the term Black is used to refer to people of African Diaspora, and to such populations that reside within the United States). Published by The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the report is a survey of participants attending Philadelphia Black Pride, Houston Splash, DC Black Pride, Oakland Black Pride, Windy City Black Pride, At the Beach in Los Angeles, Hotter than July in Detroit, New York Black Pride, and In the Life in Atlanta in 2002.
Additionally, he is a leading researcher and thought partner for the Global Education Movement project housed at Southern New Hampshire University. Working with partners globally, this project works to provide postsecondary education to refugees working in Rwanda, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, and Lebanon. Recognized as a leading scholar in the study of sexualities, Battle also specializes in education, quantitative methods, race, ethnicity, and public health. He is a Fulbright Senior Specialist; he was a Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Gender Studies at the University of Klagenfurt in Austria and an Affiliate Faculty of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, he is a leading researcher and thought partner for the Global Education Movement project housed at Southern New Hampshire University. Working with partners globally, this project works to provide postsecondary education to refugees in Rwanda, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, and Lebanon.
Complementing his academic work, he served as an executive producer of the 2012 film The Skinny about black gay life directed by Patrik-Ian Polk and served/serves on the board of several organizations including the YMCA and GRIOT Circle.