Thursday, May 21, 2015

URSP Student Sheila Martin Examines the Effects of the Black Church’s Homophobia on the Identities of Black LGBTQ Millennials

My research examines the effects of the Black Church’s hypermasculinity and homophobia on the identities of black LGBTQ individuals. In my project, I have been conducting interviews, observations and background research with in order to profile two male-identified individuals about their experiences in the church and journey to self-reconciliation in a digital exhibit. My road to this project began in Spring 2014 when I completed an independent study entitled “Race, Religion and Sexuality” with Dr. Wendi Manuel-Scott, director of the African and African American Studies program. In that semester, I looked at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and religion in the black community and completed a research paper on the suppression of sexuality in the black church, specifically male homosexuality. Following that semester of reading books and articles on the issue, I knew I wanted to conduct interviews and tell the stories of black LGTBQ individuals struggling with reconciling their sexuality and religion. This semester, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to spend hours doing just that – interviewing and observing two participants in order to tell their stories and contribute to the conversation. After graduating, I hope to study religion and sexuality graduate school, so it is my hope that this project and the research I have conducted previously will serve as a solid foundation and stepping stone in my academic career.

My weekly research process is varied and always exciting. Each week, I work on background research, which involves me not only reading articles about black LGBTQ issues and the Black Church, but also finding information about the Washington, D.C. area LGBTQ community. I have attended worship services, community meetings and resource fairs as a part of this research. I also work on transcribing the interviews I have conducted with each individual. Lastly, I usually conduct some sort of observation of my participants. This observation includes taking notes, audio recording and also taking pictures. This has included observing them at home, in their neighborhoods, at work and also while they spend time with friends. In my project, I take 90% of my pictures with my iPhone or a small digital camera to avoid being invasive in the community. It is important for me as an observer not to distract from the environment (especially in sacred spaces), so I try to be as invisible as possible.

This week was a big week for me, while interviewing and observing one of my participants I realized that these stories I will tell are very intricate, which has required me to rethink how to best present the stories. Both of my participants are originally from different parts of the country and have traveled extensively before settling in the Washington, D.C. area, so I am considering incorporating mapping in my final exhibit to demonstrate the routes traveled by the participants. It is my hope that this inclusion of maps, along with the pictures, background research, interview and observation transcripts and profiles of each individual, will allow me to tell stories that provide insight to the positive and negative effects of the Black Church’s rhetoric on the lives of these individuals.