In an interview with Atlanta Magazine, King has denied that she’s homophobic by saying, “People have labeled me homophobic. If I was homophobic, I wouldn’t have friends who are gay and lesbian, so that can’t be true. But because I have a certain belief system, I am now the enemy. And I’m not the enemy. I have love for everybody, period. I don’t think it’s my role and responsibility to take on a platform unless God calls me to do it. That’s not something I feel called to do.” When pressed about her gay friends, she admitted she wouldn’t marry them but “But I don’t dictate that [marriage equality]. That’s society’s call.”
It’s difficult to get a complete handle on King’s stance on gays because while she has confirmed that she opposes marriage equality, she did give the LGBT community a shout out during a speech at Atlanta’s 2012 MLK day rally.
So it’s difficult to pinpoint King’s position as well as her impact on LGBT rights.
It goes without saying that her mother’s and sister’s work for LGBT rights was invaluable. It’s also obvious that their work and positions were given extra gravitas because of the late Dr. King. His widow in particular, was given deeper credibility and respect by activists because of her closeness to her husband, and her devotion to LGBT rights was so strong, it was a recurrent theme at her funeral, mentioned several times by speakers.
But I’m hesitant to call Bernice King a homophobe, because I don’t know that she is. Unfortunately, her self-serving explanation doesn’t help, especially when she asserts that’s impossible for her to be a homophobe, because she has gay friends. I’m shocked that a woman so surrounded by the Civil Rights Movement would be so naïve to utter the silly, “My best friends are gay…” defense. It shows a cluelessness and a tone deafness to how she comes across when talking about this issue. Obviously, folks who are homophobic can have gay friends – I have a very good, very close friend, who is a lovely woman, who also is a Christian fundamentalist, who is continuously praying for my soul because I’m gay and I’m an atheist. Racist people can have black friends, even black spouses. So there’s little-to-no logic to King’s argument.
Aside from some anti-marriage equality activism, King hasn’t embraced the virulent anti-gay activism of many of her colleagues, and that bodes well for her. So while, I don’t think she’s a friend or an ally (despite her having gay friends), I agree, she’s not an enemy, either. She explained that her belief in God drives her activism – hopefully she gets the same “call” her mom and sister both received, as they have been able to show that despite their religious beliefs, they were able to join the LGBT community as allies and activists, and were all the better for it.