Having grown up in the black church as a young gay man, the documentary Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church (hitherto referred to as “Holler”) covered a topic that I not only could relate to but also had personal experience with.
My father was (and still is) a minister – so I was pretty active in the church. But because I bought into the church’s mindset that homosexuality is a sin, I fought it as best I could for several years (though I still had a several sinful dalliances with a few guys during that time). And I told very few people – though no one at church — what I was struggling with.
I had never heard an outright fire and brimstone sermon condemning all gays to hell, but I had heard enough to know exactly what the church’s stance on homosexuality was – and even more, I FELT it. So when I came out in the spring of 2004, I not only left the church I was attending but stopped going to church altogether.
Stories of similar experiences with the black church for other LGBTs form the crux of Holler – told largely through on-screen interviews conducted by writer/producer/director Clay Cane.
In one story, an overweight lesbian is disowned by the family that adopted her after she comes out of the closet – which followed a lifetime of mistreatment by them because of her size.
In another story, a lesbian couple raising three young children are days away from their wedding and one of them is hoping that her religious mother (who is interviewed at the end of the film) will show up for the ceremony despite not giving them her blessing for the marriage.
In a third, a gay man runs a home for young gays who have been kicked out of their homes by disapproving parents.
And in the fourth, a gay couple pastor an LGBT-affirming church.
Also interviewed is a transgendered woman, a minister of music and a former clergyman who speaks on those verses in the Bible that serve as the foundation of the anti-gay sentiment in the black church.
Based on the questions he asks in the interviews and the tone taken in the documentary itself, it is no secret how Cane feels about the topic – particularly when he plays devil’s advocate with those whose views he clearly disagrees with. This approach works fine for the film because it’s clearly not going for any sort of balance. But at times during the interview with the bride’s mother where this was at play the most, one could come this close to feeling a bit sorry for how she comes across. At the same time, when she claims that God’s views on homosexuality are all over the Bible, it’s clear that Clay’s approach was probably very necessary. Still, you have to give her credit for agreeing to be interviewed for a documentary that was in direct contradiction with her views.
What’s most fascinating about Holler is that though all the subjects have the same issue of acceptance from the black church AS THEY ARE, how they deal with it differs: some continue to attend church so as to fight for that acceptance (including one who didn’t even believe in the concept of gay churches), others leave to form their own churches rooted in the acceptance they never received from their previous churches while others try to figure out where they fit in as LGBTs who still believe in God and remain followers of Christ.
Holler doesn’t offer up any conclusions or solutions to the ongoing conflict between the black church and the LGBT community as it relates to god’s word on the matter – probably because there isn’t one. But the fact that it tackles the matter head-on in an open, honest and unflinching manner makes the documentary worth watching and should serve as a starting point for black churches to tackle the matter in the exact same way.
Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church premiered on BET’s digital platform in late 2015 and was screened at the White House in early 2016. It received such a rousing response at Outfest’s Fusion LGBT People of Color Film Festival in March of 2016 that Outfest organizers included it in the lineup for their main event a few months later.