Double Take

Being black and gay is seen by some as double . But playwright Djola Branner disputes that notion, And his play, Homos in the House, which premieres this month, shows how such attitudes create stigma, erect barriers, and inhibit HIV/AIDS prevention

Still, adds Intermedia Arts executive director Tom Borrup, the audience for the play isn't just African-Americans. "There's a lot of talk about homophobia in the black community," Borrup says. "But gee, it's not only the black community that's homophobic."

The issue of homophobia plays side by side with matters of religion, racism, community, and culture in Homos, but the end result is hardly a scattershot sermon. While Branner's piece does touch on such subjects, it rarely dwells on them. The matters are more like subtext or scenery, problems for which solutions aren't readily available, and Branner doesn't offer any. "So many plays written about homosexuals look for pat endings," Wilson says. "They apologize, they seek to explain to others who are not gay."

Director Murillo puts it this way: "Taboo subjects intersect in this play, but there's really nothing in this play that's apologetic. Djola is really putting himself on the line."

Branner's willingness to stand in the line of fire may stem from his hope that Homos will get people talking. "I hope it sparks a dialogue, not only about sexuality, but about generational struggles and culture," Branner says. To that end, he's organized a public forum to discuss issues related to the play, particularly zeroing in on how homophobia serves as an obstacle to HIV/AIDS prevention and education in the black community.

Ultimately, if the lessons of Homos in the House are to be interpreted, Branner seems more interested in raising questions than in leveling criticisms. And his willingness to do so may stem from his sense of self. He seems willing to reconsider and reshape his identity. Six years ago he legally changed his first name to Djola because "I never felt that my given name was mine exactly," he says. (Djola, he explains, is a Yoruba word meaning "share the wealth.") Friends describe Branner as a deeply spiritual person, a man who knows himself, a man who has taken his own path. "He's a survivor," Carlos says. "He's gay, he's black, he's tall." She laughs, then adds, "He's lost people and dealt with this terrible disease. He's lost his mother. He's found his life and he's laughing."

"What I love about Djola," says Pomo Afro Homos' Gupton, "is he's really gay. He's chosen to honor his nature. He doesn't protest that his gayness makes him better than anybody. But he moves in this way that suggests that he's affirmed. He owns his nature. He never averts it. There's a level of courage that says, 'Damn, go on girl. Do your own thing, baby.'"

Branner, of course, is doing just that.

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