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Eddie Long and Tyler Clementi news urges greater analysis

Julian Bond | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

What are the lessons to be drawn from the geographically separated controversies over Bishop Eddie Long in Atlanta and the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi in New York?

Young Clementi took his life when his roommate secretly broadcast a sexual encounter he had with another man.

Four men have charged the Atlanta mega-church pastor with using his clerical position to coerce them into having sex with him when they were teenagers.

Homophobia is at the root of both tragedies, for if Long's travails don't seem as serious as a young boy's death, they are--if true--tragedies for Long's family and his congregation.

Homophobia is rampant in Black America, and it is driven by preachers like Long, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the most virulently homophobic Black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement. Black Christians are more likely to describe homosexuality as morally wrong than white Christians, and homosexuality is a major topic among many Black pulpits.

We are titillated by the descriptions of Long's alleged largesse to his four accusers, but, most of all, we are appalled at his blatant hypocrisy, if the allegations are true. But we shouldn't be--we've heard this story before. Just remember Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard and Todd Bentley, all, like Long, evangelical preachers.

Long stands out in this group. All were accused of violating the standards they preached about, but none were so identified with strident opposition to homosexuality as he was. With Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter, by his side, he led a march through Atlanta in 2006 in support of former President George W. Bush's anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.

Bible-based discrimination is an old story for Black Christians, and it is peculiar why we tolerate it against others when we reject it when aimed at us. White Christians found support for enslaving people of color in the Bible's pages, which also offers support for condemning homosexuality.

Some who object to gay rights believe homosexuality is a choice, but science has demonstrated conclusively that sexual disposition is not an option or alternative that some select. It exactly parallels race--I was born Black and had no choice. I couldn't and wouldn't change it. Like race, sexuality isn't a preference--it is immutable, unchangeable and the Constitution protects us all against prejudice and discrimination based on immutable differences.

The consensus of the scientific world is that homosexuality is as ordinary as left-handedness--it is not an illness or disease.

Some who believe in Biblical literalism find sanction for their anti-homosexuality there, but selectively ignore Biblical injunctions to execute people who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), to crack down on those who get haircuts (Leviticus 19:27) or to condemn those who wear clothes with more than one kind of thread (Leviticus 19:19).

We wouldn't think of executing someone for having a Sunday job, but homophobia literally kills. We know Tyler Clementi's name because his death has been in the news, but did you know about 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, Calif., or 13-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Ind., who also hanged themselves, or 13-year-old Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, Texas, who shot himself in the head? They all endured anti-gay harassment and bullying until the pressure became too great, as it apparently did for Tyler Clementi.