Mentors Needed: Openly Gay Men Need Not Apply?
May 2011 I decided I wanted to be a mentor. In my research I came across many programs in the black community but all were affiliated with churches or religious organizations. I got the idea to join a popular nationally recognized organization from three black gay men I knew who (at one point) belonged to this organization.
I made an appointment with this nationally recognized organization to join and become a member. I went to their downtown offices to fill out an application, pay my membership fee, conduct a back ground check and go through the interview process.
After I had completed my application, the nice young lady (let’s call her Linda) began to go over and read each individual question aloud to verify the answers I had wrote. Once this was completed she had a questionnaire that she read and had me answer the questions aloud while she typed the answers into her computer.
I was caught a little off guard when Linda asked me, “how do you identify sexually; hetero, homo or bisexual?” I told her that I identified as homosexual and that at that time had been in a relationship for about two years. From her facial expression, it seems she was somewhat caught off guard by my response.
Keep in mind this organization does accept and include everyone and their application clearly states…
*In screening volunteers, we do not discriminate against any individual based on national origin, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, physical disability, marital status, or immigration status
Also during the interview process, Linda asked what race of young man I preferred to mentor. She stated you don’t have to worry about mentoring a young girl because that’s not allowed (you know because young girls don’t need male role models *sarcasm). Woman are allowed to mentor young boys or girls but men are only allowed to mentor young boys (sexism anyone?).
I told her “my preference is to mentor a young black male, being that I think we need mentorship more so than any other race/gender group in the US”.
After the interview / questionnaire process ended, Linda began the formal introduction about the organization including their rules and regulations. Linda informed me that their largest group of mentees seeking mentorship was in fact young black males. “Great this should be an easy match” I thought.
Linda said they classify them into different categories…
- Young black males who were of single mothers but have little to no relationship with their father.
- Young black males who were of single mothers but have little to no relationship with their father due to the father being in jail/prison.
- Young black males who are being raised by grandmother/grandparent/s due to one or both parents being addicted to drugs or alcohol.
- Young black males who are being raised by grandmother/grandparent/s due to one or both parents being in recovery (from substance abuse).
- Young black males who are being raised by grandmother/grandparent/s due to one or both parents being in jail/prison.
“Okay, why is that” I asked. Linda begin to explain that black single mothers, grandmothers and or guardians have stated (requested) during their interview process, they specifically do not want openly gay men mentoring their young boys / children. Linda explained due to their personal ideology, conceptions or religious beliefs concerning homosexuality, these guardians did not want a homosexual man to mentor or be alone with their male child or adolescent. She stated that of all the current available black young men that were waiting for a match, all of their guardians had this request in place. She said it was unfortunate because they don’t get that many black men to come in and volunteer to be a mentor.
Being honest with myself, I wasn’t that surprised but was a little mentally perplexed. Here I am a progressive, intelligent black man who feels he has ‘something’ to offer but in many black folks mind, I am worse than the absentee father who may be in jail, on drugs or just don’t give a f#$k about his son. That model (even though not preferred) still superseded the level headed black male volunteer who happens to be homosexual…WOW.
As I got my parking validated and exited the building, got in my car and headed to the highway I was thinking, “how did the three black gay men I know become mentors”? I also thought about how they each told me the single mothers of the young men they were mentoring flirted with them and talked about how “they needed a strong black man in their life”.
When I got back to work and texted each one of my friends to ask them “how did you answer the question about your homosexuality during the interview?” All their responses were exactly the same…
In August 2011 we started Cypher Avenue. Over the years we have gotten (and continue to receive daily) emails from young black gay and bisexual men in their 20’s from around the world explaining how an article we posted has help them to personally deal with a situation concerning their sexuality. Many have left comments in our “feedback” section with similar statements. We get numerous direct emails and direct tweets seeking advice on how to handle and accept one’s sexuality.
I now realize mentorship is more than just physically being in the presence of a young black male seeking guidance. The internet has been a vessel to carry our voices (Nick and Ocky) around the world and at the same time, has allowed so many young men to bypass their false shame and embarrassment and ask us serious questions because they don’t feel comfortable going anywhere else.
Needless to say, I never got a call from the organization to let me know they had a possible match for me to mentor a young black male. I still hope my $30 membership fee was put to good use.
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