Gay black couple works to empower others

  • by Peter Hernandez
  • Tuesday June 25, 2013
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Perry Lang and his partner, Kenneth Monteiro, were on vacation this spring when they were phoned by a friend with the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee sharing good news: they had been selected by the Pride board as community grand marshals for this year's parade.

The honor will soon accompany many others for the influential and outspoken couple, who regularly denounce dynamics of white privilege. It's unusual that the Pride Committee names a couple as grand marshal, but Lang and Monteiro, a gay black couple living in Potrero Hill, make a good observation.

"I think Ken and I are uniquely positioned to shed light, build bridges, and make collaborations," said Lang during an interview at their two-story home decorated with African prints and safari color palettes.

Lang is executive director of Black Coalition on AIDS and the affiliated Rafiki Wellness Center. Monteiro is dean of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. They both provide services to diverse communities of color. They are both 58 and share the same astrological sign, Scorpio.

They work to eliminate racial barriers and bring attention to issues that affect the black community of which they are a part. They're especially motivated by racial tension, economic disparity, and misconceptions about African Americans.

"The nomination and vote is an affirmation of our empowering work," Lang said.

Being named grand marshal as a couple is a testament of their similar thinking and shared motivations. As dean of the only college of ethnic studies in the country, Monteiro asserts the practicality of the course material among situations and careers for students at SFSU. Lang's work with BCA and Rafiki Wellness Center provides wellness service and health screenings predominantly to San Francisco's black community, which has historically seen a dearth of services.

"We're very similar but very different otherwise," Monteiro said of his and Lang's shared viewpoints but unique approaches to articulation.

When talking to the men, it is common for them to speak with a shared opinion on one subject, one nodding their head while the other speaks, while reinforcing the other's statement. "What I would add," or "How I feel about that," are common pretexts for supportive additions to the other's statement.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for social justice collaborations," Monteiro said. He and Lang propose more work between BCA and other ethnic LGBT groups with mainstream organizations in order to eliminate barriers and misconceptions.

Based on an interview, the collaborations seemed to be a dissemination of ideas. Monteiro and Lang claim that misconceptions about black life run rampant throughout things like lectures, galas, and churches.

"Lecturers say that you cannot be gay and black in a church," Lang said. They added that there is a misconception that there is more of a stigma of homosexuality in the black community.

Lang is also director of the Interfaith Circle, a diverse group of religious individuals who practice meditation to new age music and honor various religious practices. An early January 2011 meeting posted online shows a variety of affirmations in Hebrew, Muslim and Baha'i dialects.

"Our truth is that we are surrounded by gay, straight, questioning, black, Asian, Latino men," Lang said, adding that they are close to people from diverse religious backgrounds, too.

Monteiro, who has a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford, was formerly chairman and an assistant professor of SFSU's psychology department. He bridged the worlds of ethnic studies and psychology and found that there are similar concepts between the two subjects.

Introductory psychology textbooks are often heteronormative and seldom use gay anecdotes or situations, he said.

"Count the number of pages where race or gender are mentioned," Monteiro said.

BCA, founded in 1986 by community activists, responded to the rise of HIV in San Francisco's black community. Lang has been executive director since 2003 and has received recognition from the NAACP and Mayor Ed Lee.

A press release from SFSU recognizing Lang and BCA with its 2006 Community Service Award states that BCA more than doubled in size in Lang's first three years as executive director.

Prior to his work at BCA, Lang was a seasoned journalist of 20 years who was also vice president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. He wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than a decade and realized a disparity between the black community and mainstream media.

"I wanted to give a voice to the underrepresented. I saw that there was a civil rights struggle, and people like my uncle, a serviceman, were never quoted. They needed to be included, and someone needed to tell their story," Lang said. "We need to have a media that's reflective of the community they cover."

The couple enjoys watching films together in their spare time and vacationing in Palm Springs. Their favorite restaurant is a neo-Ethiopian Bayview restaurant called Radio Africa and Kitchen.

"We're discovering the joy of doing nothing well," quipped Lang.

The couple met at an African American gay bar called Eagle Creek on Market Street on a Sunday afternoon in 1987. It was shortly after Lang's then-partner's death.

"I charged over because I thought he was hot," said Monteiro, whose partner also died shortly after he met Lang. Monteiro and Lang fostered a relationship that began in 1989 over their shared interests and respect to their former partners.

Their evolution into the recognizable and admired couple that they are today, whose interests are so deeply rooted in their own lives and social justice work, developed out of their own experience as gay black men pitted against the AIDS epidemic.

"When I first got here, that you were seeing an African American man stopped the conversation," Monteiro said.

Brett Andrews, a gay African American who has been the executive director of Positive Resource Center for 10 years, said he feels empowered by Lang's work at BCA.

"He's certainly been a soldier working with HIV-positive people, or people with high blood pressure or asthma," Andrews said. "I personally feel empowered. There aren't many African American executive directors around. He's a section I see inside myself."