In the latest born-again-Kanye news, it’s been reported that the newly-saved rapper is headlining the prayer rally Awaken 2020, which will also be headed up by a bunch of Trump-supporting anti-LGBTQ rights fanatics. He’ll bring his Sunday Service choir to a 10-hour Arizona event this Saturday, Jan. 18, where evangelical leaders and celebrities—who have referred to homosexuality as a “spirit of lawlessness” and opposed legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation—will stand at the pulpit to address the masses.
In a 2005 conversation with the DJ and radio host Sway, Kanye lamented the homophobia endemic to the hip-hop community while evoking his acceptance of his gay cousin. And in 2015, when Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans, Kanye convinced his wife, Kim Kardashian—Jenner’s former stepdaughter—to accept her parent’s transition without prejudice. Still, Kanye’s recent decision to stand side-by-side with avowed homophobes at a prayer rally will likely not compromise his standing with the younger, queerer portion of his fanbase, nor does it exactly contradict his statements and actions from 2005 and 2015. In fact, many conservative-minded people who think they are accepting of the LGBTQ community do not stand in solidarity with us beyond the individual acceptance of friends or family members.
For many conservative Christians, it is easy to allow the political to stay personal. After all, it’s not quite hypocrisy to oppose the legislation that could keep trans people—especially poor and black trans women—safe while smiling along with your rich, white conservative trans in-law. The former requires real engagement and degrees of sacrifice, while the latter allows you to seem enlightened while fighting for nothing. When Kanye spoke to Sway about homophobia in hip-hop, he was both speaking a long-ignored truth and criticizing a community of mostly black men. Even from a business standpoint, Kanye’s gospel wasn’t exactly a martyr’s position since by 2005, he was accepted into the mainstream. By directing his moralizing at other black people in an oft-marginalized sector of the music industry, he avoided blowback from the corporations that were lining his pockets.
In the video, Kanye explains that his own homophobia stemmed from bullying he experienced as an unconventionally-dressed black schoolkid. It’s that personal experience of the wide-reaching consequences of homophobia in society (often called toxic masculinity) that triggers Kanye’s emotion in the conversation—not the injustice faced directly by gays. Now that Kanye is preaching a different gospel—one of conformity and conservatism as ordained by evangelical Christianity—he can firmly place his previous entreaties against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the personal sphere, legislation be damned.
But this kind of compartmentalization isn’t specific to Kanye—trendy, anti-LGBTQ megachurches like Hillsong are beyond reproach from the likes of actor Chris Pratt, who defended his choice to stay with the church since they supported him through his divorce, “[d]espite what the Bible says about divorce.” Many of these evangelical churches and organizations will say that they welcome anyone through their doors, but simply do not allow openly LGBTQ people in leadership positions. The problem with this stance should be clear: LGBTQ justice is a matter of life and death for the non-rich and non-white, not about abstract help or guidance on the condition that an individual hides or plays down their identity and circumstances. If you are truly in solidarity with the LGBTQ community—with black trans women, queer teens, and poor butch lesbians living in the Bible Belt—you have to be willing to fight for the legislation that will guarantee all of us equal access to health care, jobs, shelter, and education under the law; otherwise, you’re with the rest of them.
Much like the anti-busers, segregationists, and redliners who swear they aren’t racist, it will be easy for Kanye to integrate his new allegiance to evangelical Christianity and Trump with his past verbal gestures of LGBTQ support. But the truth remains that words alone are empty when it comes to justice. Who you stand and fight beside matters.
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