The king of the ’down low’ discusses (& disses) Eddie Long
Atlanta-based author, activist and publisher JL King garnered national attention in 2004 when he hurled the contentious phrase "on the down low" or "the DL" into vernacular surrounding the spread of HIV/AIDS in the black community. And with a reappearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show on Thursday, Oct. 7, and a new book, King once again finds himself in the spotlight.
In the six years since he published his first book-even as his seminal "down low" theory has come under serious question, King has remained undeniably quotable, particularly in his response to the most recent high-profile case of a man caught in the apparent thrills of DL loving: New Birth Missionary Baptist Church’s Bishop Eddie Long.
King, who today identifies himself as a "black gay proud man", spoke openly about the Long scandal with CNN and other news outlets, and also weighed in with EDGE ahead of A Pair of White Tube Socks’ release in Chicago on Sunday, Oct. 10. He feels the Lithonia, Ga. megachurch leader’s predicament will not be the last outing with which the black church will have to grapple. King expects
church members, as well as those in the sports and entertainment industries, will follow closely behind him.
"I wasn’t surprised at all that Eddie Long was called out the way he was," King told EDGE. "I think we’re going to see more powerful people in the church that are going to end up in the same boat as him. One day, there will come a time when a lot of powerful clergy within the African American community will be exposed and will need to admit to their homosexuality."
A glut of openly black LGBT voices could prove influential in encouraging dialogue surrounding marriage equality-and perhaps more urgently the impact of HIV/AIDS among people of color. A Centers for Disease Control study last month found higher percentages of black men who have sex with men (MSM) who live with the virus are unaware of their status when compared to other demographics.
King said the grim statistics for black MSM continue to reflect a stereotyped perception of the epidemic as "a gay disease." Anti-gay stigma remains rampant among communities of color, and King is not necessarily optimistic this reality will change anytime soon.
"These numbers are frustrating and piss me off," said King. "We’ve been doing this work on HIV for 25 years and we’re still facing many of the same issues we faced 25 years ago. I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a point where the African American community will really jump on the bandwagon and do what it really needs to do in terms of education and prevention on HIV."
Keith Boykin, author of Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies and Denial in Black America, and other activists have criticized King’s work since its original publication, particularly its "five signs" to identify a man on the down low and singling out black men apart from any person who cheats on a significant other, King admitted his perspective these issues has changed. His theory notably carries a much broader reach today than it originally had-though the author declined to comment on other aspects of his work that have since been questioned.
"Everybody has a secret to keep, and whatever secret you’re keeping can be called ’DL’ behavior," said King, offering examples of a woman cheating on her husband or any person secretly cheating on a diet plan. "The term means different things to different people and you can’t only attribute it to men who have sex with men. The DL impacts all ethnicities and nationalities."
But the legacy of King’s original theory carries on. It is still, for the most part, exclusively applied to black men who identify as heterosexual while engaging in secretive sexual acts with other men though CDC officials, as recently as last year, have proven the concept’s logic faulty at best. Some argue the "down low" theory’s continued ubiquitousness continues to stigmatize gay men and encourages the same spread of misinformation and silence around sexuality that brought on the behavior in the first place.
In June, The View co-host Sherri Shepherd and guest host D.L. Hughley argued the down low continues to be "very prevalent" in the black community and was largely responsible for rising cases of HIV among African American women. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, in conjunction with the National Black Justice Coalition and the Black AIDS Institute, issued a national "call to action," but ABC refused to retract Sheperd and Hughley’s statements.
Despite his deterrents, King remains dedicated to what he describes as a "crusade as a catalyst for positive change within communities" through his own work and the development of young writers of color through his publishing company, JL King Publishing. Author Adolphus Herndon, whom King met at a book event in Alaska, co-wrote A Pair of White Tube Socks.
"Everybody has a story inside of them and I want to be the person who helps bring that story out," added King.
King will appear at One Six One at 1251 W. Taylor St. at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 10.