I’m Not Normal — And That’s Okay

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By Christian Brown // February 16, 2016

I remember very clearly the first time I got called a nigger.

I was in the third grade playing in an evergreen field when a lanky white boy decided that teasing me would draw a laugh from classmates standing nearby.

He was right, and in an instant what I already suspected was reinforced.

I wasn’t like everybody else. I was different.

For the last 16 years I’ve tried my best to not stand out, to fit in and adhere to the homogeneous standards placed on me, but I’m starting to realize that God may need me not be normal. In fact, he never uses anyone normal.

Whether you know it or not, I’m a triple minority.

Yup, I’m black, gay, and disabled living in a predominantly white, straight, able-bodied country. There’s nearly ever a moment that goes by without me thinking of one of my anomalies. While I’m undoubtedly blessed to live in the United States where I have many opportunities and privileges, I often wonder which anomaly will kill me first.

As a black man who has faced unjust discrimination from police in the past, I am always on heightened alert, careful of my dress attire, my demeanor, and response to white authorities.

In fact, a friend recently asked me why I’m always dressed nicely. His face turned somber when I revealed that I’m afraid of what would happen if I’m ever pulled over and not dressed nicely.

It’s an unfortunate reality as a minority in this country, always pandering to the highest power, unable to express yourself freely without the fear of retaliation.

I was prepared for maltreatment as a black man by a black mother, who spoke (and still speaks) in real terms about the setbacks and challenges awaiting me simply because of the color of my skin.

However, nothing prepared me for discrimination my sexuality brought.

Last June, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, I came out as a gay Christian man. The punishment was swift as 90 percent of my friends walked away from me and/or never stood up to defend me.

My ministry collapsed and I had to start my life over from scratch.

Maybe that’s why I ran from my sexuality for so long. I didn’t want another minority mark on my forehead. I wanted for at least once to be in the majority.

However, God has revealed to me in recent months that He always uses special people, outcasts, weirdos, freaks to build His kingdom. Let’s not forget, the Jewish people are the minority group in the biblical narrative, constantly oppressed by larger, richer nations.

Esther was an orphaned woman that saved her people from almost sure genocide.

Abraham was an immigrant who traversed foreign lands on God’s command.

Hagar was an African handmaid and concubine who eventually became a single mother to Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael.

Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph went from being a Jewish prisoner in Egypt to second in charge of the entire city-state.

Daniel and his friends were prisoners of war in Babylon, forced to serve an unjust king.

Mary and Joseph were refugees in Egypt for nearly two years as King Herod, a Roman, sought to murder Jesus.

The woman at the well that Jesus later redeems was also a Samaritan with no husband.

And Philip baptized an African eunuch who wanted to know Jesus despite his darker skin and odd sexual identity.

I repeat, God never uses anyone normal.

So while the world gives me every reason to fear my minority status, I’m thankful that I serve a God who celebrates my diversity and never intended for it to be a crutch of fear and oppression, but rather something that adds color, character, and courage to His kingdom.

 

Christian Brown is an award-winning multimedia journalist, specializing in print and radio reporting around topics of politics, faith, and emerging communities. In 2015, he graduated from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism with an M.S. in Journalism. 

To Advocate or Not: The Answer is Unclear for LGBT Journalists

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By Christian Brown

Michael K. Lavers stumbled into LGBT news reporting at just the right time.

The year was 2003 and Massachusetts was an emerging epicenter for the latest lightning rod issue in American politics: gay marriage.

“I was in Boston, covering the first marriages in Massachusetts,” said Lavers, who now writes for the Washington Blade. “A decade ago, it was hard to find stories specific to the LGBT community. Now we’re not the only ones covering these issues.”

Lavers understands the participatory role LGBT journalists have in shaping the discussion concerning gay rights, but unlike others, he stands with those who regard objectivity over advocacy.

“In our news stories, people are very capable of expressing their views,” he said. “We’re journalists, not activists.”

However, high-profile journalists who decide what LGBT newsrooms report, disagree on whether it’s ethical for LGBT publications to openly advocate for gay rights or not.

“We do have perspectives — there are gaps between rights and that needs to be fixed,” said Matthew Breen, the editor-in-chief of The Advocate, the largest and oldest LGBT publication in the U.S. “You don’t act in an ethical vacuum. We’re not at all afraid to report on the negative things that happen.”

Breen, who started off as a publicist, before adopting journalism, cited the history of The Advocate as an example of LGBT news’ roots in advocacy.

“The Advocate started in Los Angeles as a result of bar raids in Silver Lake during the 1960s,” he said. “A lot of young queer people imagine the world as it is now, but that’s not the case. There’s a lineage that’s proceeded anyone alive today.

“It’s not a bias, but it is a perspective. It’s advocacy journalism.”

Similarly, Trish Bendix, managing editor of AfterEllen.com, sees her role as sometimes part journalist, part lobbyist.

“It’s interesting because when I am a queer person anything I do is kind of advocating for queerness because that’s what I am,” Bendix said. “You don’t want to be promoting a gay agenda, but you’re just promoting fairness and equality.

“If that means I’m an advocate because I’m writing that we should demand reflections of us in entertainment and our media then I guess I’m an advocate.”

Owned by cable channel Logo, AfterEllen.com is one of the largest lifestyle and entertainment news websites for lesbian and bisexual women.

“When we first started there wasn’t enough lesbian news or entertainment news to cover just lesbian stuff,” Bendix said. “That’s grown so much now that we almost can’t keep up. It’s a terrible problem to have — no, it’s a great problem to have.”

The Huffington Post had a similar “problem” in 2011 as coverage of LGBT political issues began to skyrocket.

“Huffington Post has a decidedly pro-gay marriage stance and Arianna [Huffington] wanted to embrace that and go with it,” said Curtis Wong, deputy editor of Huffington Post Gay Voices. “We do highlight the triumphs and setbacks of the LGBT community, but we don’t see ourselves as an advocacy publication.”

The reason why may be tied to who’s reading.

Wong said nearly 50 percent of Gay Voices readers are heterosexual. Another 50 percent are based outside of the U.S, he said.

“The Advocate has a gay-centric readership, but we have the main Huffington Post as our platform so a story on Gay Voices can be elevated and someone on the entertainment page can easily click to a Gay Voices story.”

When Wong started writing for the Huffington Post, he assumed his LGBT stories would focus on “a little about Lady Gaga and a little about gay marriage,” but he quickly realized the depth in LGBT news reporting.

“There are ordinary U.S. citizens and it’s our job to highlight things that happen,” Wong said. “Even if it’s not glamorous.”

With acceptance of gay marriage growing across the country, reporting on LGBT topics is becoming more common, but journalists covering gay news agree that more international coverage is still needed.

“The tide is shifting, but there are still other battles that need to be won,” Wong said. “Think about the things that happened in Russia and what happens in the American south and Midwest — LGBT news outlets will have to cover things like that for quite some time.”

In addition to looking aboard for LGBT news, Breen believes it’s time to advocate for people within the transgendered community.

“We’re approaching a point that we can talk about that in a responsible way,” he said. “Informed discussions — not about genitalia. We’re moving past the time when people are viewed as a curiosity.”

As more athletes and actors come out, being same-gender oriented is more openly accepted in the U.S. than ever. Breen said that makes LGBT journalists’ job easier and frees them up to chronicle the community in even more creative ways.

“Our goal is to describe and maintain our culture,” he said. “The achievement of rights is not the end of storytelling.”