Our earliest introduction to Keith Boykin was in the mid 90s on the bookshelves, after chancing upon his first book, One More River to Cross. We were most impressed, especially because at the time there was such a dearth of material written by or directed toward black gay men and his essays read like a breath of fresh air. That's probably because Keith has so much perspective—he's worn so many hats, attorney, former White House staffer to President Clinton, activist, New York Times bestselling author with the much-talked about Beyond the Down Low, and, yes, a one-time reality television star.
A few years later, we finally met Keith at a party (or barbecue?) in Washington during Black Gay Pride, and then started bumping into each other fairly frequently after his move to the Big Apple. The two of us are fairly simpatico, both having a zest for politics and pop culture, and have similar yet different views on national events, having approached life from opposite sides of the TelePrompTer—Keith by shaping the news from the West Wing, and yours truly writing it for the networks.
You'll notice, the interviews on this site are labeled "conversations" because we try to go beyond the static interview format. Such was the case with Mr. Boykin. We had a fabulous conversation last week, about everything from his latest book project ... to the latest tactics by far-right. And, the question everyone wants to know ...
Rod: Do you think homophobia is more of a problem within our community?
Keith: Not necessarily, but I think it manifests itself differently. You have people like the Rev. Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson who certainly are homophobic and not black. People often expect the black community to be liberal and progressive and sometimes it's a shock when we are not. We still have leaders like Coretta Scott King, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Julian Bond who are very supportive and progressive. And then, there are the Reverend Willie Wilson's.
Keith: Exactly. They're anointing Jakes as the "next Billy Graham." You saw that article last week in the New York Times? I think you mentioned it on your site, about the administration trying to make inroads with black pastors? Did you notice how the article said Karl Rove considered Jakes "a vital partner in the White House effort to court the black vote?"
Rod: The irony of course, is that Rove considers TD Jakes an integral partner to court the black vote ... but the administration totally dropped the ball on the Katrina relief effort.
Keith: Woefully adequate. And that's being charitable. A strong response would have even challenged the perception that they are indifferent toward blacks and the poor. Which they are. Now Rove is looking to spin the issue. Particularly informative about that article was that they quoted a "black senior administration official." How many of those can there be?
Rod: Who was that? Condi?
Keith: I doubt it. She'd be much smarter than that. I'm surprised that person allowed themselves to be quoted as saying that the New Orleans fiasco reminded them of Rwanda ...
Rod: That's why I thought it was Rice. But she is smart enough not to give away her identity.
Keith: Exactly. It's someone else, an aide. But they can be traced by those comments. I'm sure Rove is looking for them now. Not that he can complain about leaks.
Rod: I remember being in a bar in 2002 or 2003, the Hangar on Christopher Street, before the election, and a guy was saying that he worked for the RNC or the Bush campaign, can't remember, and that gay marriage would become the issue of the '04 election. I just thought that guy was drunk.
Keith: Not at all. Just days after the election, the Washington Blade quoted Rove as saying gay marriage had been the president's "wedge issue" to divide the voters, just like abortion had been in previous years. It worked. (ED: Read article here.)
Rod: Ironic, isn't it, that all our success with same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, California and Hawaii would bite us. Liberals and Democrats are almost always reacting, not defining.
Keith: Yes, the GOP always sets the agenda. Hilary was right about the vast right-wing conspiracy. They dominate state and national elections because they find issues to energize voters. Their grassroots organizing is far superior. The media is afraid to question or criticize; they're already criticized of having a liberal bias, so they just don't say anything. Reporters are very wary to challenge.
Rod: Oh, I can agree with that. We're afraid to lose access. But you'll notice a different style of reporting has emerged from Katrina. The disaster is so ... raw. It affects us all. You saw Paula Zahn-Mike Brown smackdown? She flat out called him incompetent.
Keith: Or Anderson Cooper and Sen. Mary Landrieu. Often the politicians get away with just saying bullshit because reporters don't do their jobs. But I have been very impressed with Anderson's performance. He's leading the pack with more aggressive reporting.
Rod: I used to work with him.
Keith: At CNN?
Rod: No, at ABC World News Now, in 2000, right up until the time he left. He was great, just as you see him now. Very conscious. Not afraid to ask questions.
Keith: I thought the media was supposed to challenge authority. Isn't that their job?
Rod: Allegedly ...
Rod: It's allegedly their job, but too many reporters and producers are afraid of losing access. Wasn't that the case at the White House?
Keith: Very much so. The White House press corps is so timid. They basically just sit in the West Wing basement and are spoon fed the story of the day. Some reporters only leave to go outside and do stand-ups. [The staff] would just go to the podium and say, "This person will be identified as an administration official." They all buy it. No complaints. So what if you lost your access to that? Sometimes that's not where it's happening anyway.
Rod: One of the qualities that I love about your personality, or even your via your virtual persona KeithBoykin.com, is that you're willing to put it all out there. You discuss everything from politics to men. It's a great site.
Keith: No, no. Your site is hot. I love it. It's really fabulous. I talk to all my friends about it.
Rod: Do you really? Awww, thanks. But it's just a complement to your work, and that of many others. Thanks so much for the support. What made you change your format?
Keith: I enjoy analysis, but sometimes the longer format can be limiting. You spend hours or days trying to research and write and may miss many other events. And it takes up to much time. I spend hours writing about the administration and ... bam! something else happens.
Rod: Sure, breaking news like ... Omarion flexes at the award show. Important stuff. Can't miss that!
Keith: Haha! Where do you find your pictures? Your site is so appealing, so visual. I love the concept. A mix of fun, politics, pop culture, men. It helped me decide that I wanted to take my blog in a new direction.
Rod: Really? Wow. Well, remember, I'm from television. It's all about the pictures and the soundbite. But you just said "blog." My impression was that you resisted the concept of equating your site to a traditional weblog?
Keith: Yes, the word seemed ... inelegeant ... distasteful to me. It wasn't the extent of what I was trying to do.
Rod: Ahh. Queerty says "webzine", which is new-speak for weblog. But you've built a virtual community. It's wonderful. Everyone reads, chats, comments, quotes, trades messages.
Keith: Exactly! I wanted a community, message board, pictures ... somewhere we people can come, think, look, sound off. Queerty's that new site, right? What other blogs do you read?
Keith: I love that site. I discovered them through you.
Rod: OLLP? Very visual, very hip. They helped me to develop my site. There are so many others ...
Rod: Oh yea, Terrance does a good job. He's very consistent. But for the brothas, your site is still the Mecca. It's great. Everyone knows you and feels comfortable going there. What's the reaction to the new format? And showing some skin?
Rod: Boring. Unless the boys at high tea look like you and the Fire Island posse, sure, put those pictures up! But I know what you mean. People tend to "box" you in. You're supposed to be serious, I'm supposed to be pop culture.
Keith: I think the whole purpose in KeithBoykin.com, and writing One More River to Cross, or Beyond the Down Low, or appearing on the American Candidate is to deconstruct images that people have of black men, or black gay men or even myself. You can't let others set the agenda.
Rod: That brings up JL King. I saw that you were scheduled to be on a panel with him in Atlanta? Was that correct or a misprint?
Keith: We were at a reception together, the opening reception. Two nights before, I asked the organizers who was invited. They told me the names, and JL King was among them. We had never met, and I said, okay. It wasn't a problem, I just have no respect for him.
Rod: Set the scene. Describe the moment.
Keith: I saw him at the reception, and the first thing I noticed was that he had on a sports coat, and a black t-shirt with red letters that said, "Thank You Oprah!"
Rod: Ugh. Why not "Thank You Miami Vice"?
Keith: Okay? He was just so gaudy. He seemed very nervous, too. The organizers introduced us, we all spoke for a few minutes, talked about pride, the performers, what it meant to be there. JL King just waved his hand, thanks for inviting me. Everyone else spoke at length. Later, when he walked by me, I extended my hand and said hello. He was shocked that I didn't say something negative.
Rod: But what can you say? Your book Beyond the Down Low spoke for itself.
Keith: One of the central premises of that book was to establish the down low was nothing new, and to see why media continued to report that HIV rates were increasing among black women. On February 7, the Washington Post published an article that said HIV rates were soaring among black women. I remember that date because it was the week of my book launch. So I checked their facts, and went on the internet, the CDC website, and even called their press officer. She said the numbers were not accurate. I contacted the reporter of the story and said, hey, these numbers are not correct. And he said it didn't matter if the numbers increased, decreased or flatlined. (ED: Read the WaPo story here.)
Rod: That's incredible. But I know reporters like that. Unfortunately.
Keith: We need to have a huge discussion on the subject of HIV and our community. A politically incorrect discussion, and by that, I mean that we need to say everything. Black women are not the fastest growing HIV population. Gay men of color are. But many black women don't want to give up that special status.
Rod: Sure, that's part of the dynamic of being a minority. We want to claim victimization. Somehow. Let me ask you about your recent meeting with Minister Louis Farrakhan regarding the Millions More March in October. How did it go?
Keith: He was very cagey. He didn't commit to much. It's clear that he wants us to be there. But he wants numbers.
Rod: Was he being sincere?
Keith: Since? Hmmm. I don't know. He's an interesting character. It was quite an experience meeting him again. But the fact that he's willing says a lot. We'll see after October 15th. But I'll talk to anybody. I might not agree with them, I'll talk to them. But this is a step in the right direction. If Louis Farrakhan can talk to us, there's no reason why others cannot.
Rod: There's a lot more activism and writing by black gay men and women, from the Farrakhan dialogue to new books and blogs ... can you explain that? Just a few years ago, it wasn't like this.
Keith: That's difficult. I'm glad to see it, I really am. It's very exciting. Possibly ... politics. When you're involved in a crisis, people tend to think more vividly. That's the subject of my new book. I'm writing about how people adapt to change, especially in crisis. The world has changed so much now, you have to adapt to it. How do you even think in terms of New Orleans essentially not existing as a modern city? Or 9-11? Or even, changing my blog format because I simply did not have enough hours in the day to do everything that I would like do? There's a process involved in changing perception and responding to new realities ... How do we change and respond to events? It's not easy.
Rod: Ah. An organic sort of analysis. Do you have a working title?
Keith: That a good one. Not yet. But hopefully that will change!Keith Boykin.com Farrakhan Ends His Silence (Keith Boykin) Beyond the Down Low (Amazon) Is Hip Hop Homophobic (Vibe) A Darker Shade of Pink (Village Voice)