We Need To Talk About Ellen Degeneres And Kim Burrell…

01/04/2017 11:18 am ET Updated Jan 04, 2017
NBC via Getty Images

...because they're not going to be talking to each other.

I'm having a hard time with this one. First, let me give you my background check and some context for this story: I'm Black, I'm gay, and have been pretty Christian since my first Easter suit as a little boy. I've experienced homophobia in the many places life demonstrates it, including the men & women who were tasked with loving me because of being either/and church or blood-related family members. 

This weekend, 2016 thought it might have one more kick-in-the-stomach scandal left in it, and I’m not talking about Mariah and that lip-sync. Kim Burrell, widely known in the gospel and R&B community for her wildly awesome voice, went viral during a Facebook Live broadcast of her speaking/preaching to what appeared to be a lively congregation.

In the two-minute clip of her sermon, she’s seen and heard referring to people that have the “homosexual spirit” and talking about all the ways they’re ungodly, how their actions are “perverted” and how they may answer to God when their lives are over - when they die because of their “homosexual spirit.” (Full disclosure: Burrell offered two videos late that night, later taking them down, saying her words were taken out of context, that wasn’t what she meant, blah blah blah… Kellyanne Conway.)

Burrell was scheduled for an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show in the coming days, performing with Pharrell Williams, promoting their song from the film Hidden Figures. That performance, at the very least Burrell’s participation in it, have now been cancelled according to a tweet from Degeneres.

What I’m having a hard time with this isn't about what Kim Burrell said, although it's obviously wildly problematic, albeit not unfamiliar, for me. What I'm having a hard time with isn't about Ellen Degeneres, or her team, choosing that Kim Burrell shouldn't appear on her show - because she has every right to not offer her platform to someone saying such hateful things.

What I'm having a hard time with is the missed opportunity to talk. Now, had Kim not been booked before, I wouldn't have expected Ellen to call her up with a "Hey girl, say what now!?" because that's not really what Ellen does. And that's totally fair on her part, I'm not mad at that at all.

But because Kim was already booked, her new wig on its way from abroad, and her vocals prepared, it hurts me that the opportunity for these two women to have a conversation in front of the world is tossed out now.

I don't have to tell you how huge Ellen's platform is. I don't have to tell you how important Ellen has been to the starting of conversations, the shifting of thinking, and the continued evolution of how LGBT(QIA) people are viewed in America and the world. But I do think I have to tell her that this could have been a moment.

Would Kim have walked away from the sit-down having changed her mind about what she thinks about gay people... excuse me... people "with the homosexual spirit?” Probably not. Ellen certainly wouldn't have changed her position either. But, people watching could see a civil discussion between two people who don't see eye-to-eye.

We could have seen Ellen ask her "do you think me being gay is simply about 'putting [my] face into a woman's breasts?' Do you think that being gay is only about sex? Because my life and my love is about more than sex. I'm a complete human being, who loves another complete human being, and to be reduced to simply sex is actually the perversion."

And having a Kim Burrell-type of person have to hear that, think about that, process that is what begins the changing of hearts - if only for the people watching that love Ellen, know Kim, but may think what Kim said has merit; the growth of understanding, and the progress most of us hope to see. Because we all ignored one thing very quickly while watching Kim's video: she isn't alone in that room talking to herself.

If we learned anything last November, it's that there are a lot of people who don't believe in progressive thinking. That's not to bash them or try to put them down, but more so to say, if we're in the business of progress, we have to take the opportunity to put progress in the forefront. We can't legislate the changing of hearts, but we have to create opportunities for people to see and feel something differently.

Ellen Degeneres has the opportunity, the voice, the platform to start conversation but... this time that seemingly won't happen.

I saw all this in the wake of something that happened for me personally, just Monday. I had a brief phone call with an elder in my family who wanted me to know that they knew I was gay, but they’d not been able to recall if they’d ever discussed it with me, but wanted to make sure that I knew that they loved me, even if they didn’t agree with my lifestyle (more on that another day).

I reminded said beloved elder that we indeed had discussed it, that we’d gone to The Cheesecake Factory and talked about it over dinner, maybe 12 years ago now. Their reply was priceless: “Oh, yes... and I didn’t have dessert that day!”

The small detail told me that while their memory of the conversation may’ve wained, her priorities were still in tact: Cheesecake and love. (One in the same depending on who ask, but I digress.)

That conversation also told me that having conversations with people that don’t agree with us, that may not understand us - that may even hate us - are sometimes worth having because of the small ways they can spark something in us privately, or the way they can spark something globally, not unlike Ellen did many year ago on the cover of a magazine and on her eponymous TV show with two under-said but, now, super-appreciated words: “I’m gay.”

We need to talk about Kim Burrell, with Kim Burrell. We need (people like an) Ellen to talk with (people like a Mike Pence, and a) Kim Burrell. They may have a hard time seeing each other's side of the argument, but no good is done if both sides can’t sit down and enjoy a slice of cheesecake and hear each other for a moment.

That’s all.

PS: I want to reiterate that Ellen has EVERY right to decide who she invites onto her platform, what she shares with her audience, and who she sits across from, I simply wish she would reconsider.

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Follow Jarrett on Twitter: @JarrettHill

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