In the LGBTQ community, there are many leaders but some stand out. One particular influencer is a minister who came out as a gay man at age 30 in 2015 — and has been making his mark in South Florida ever since.
“It was all because, again, the work of BMe,” said Benjamin ‘Brotha Ben’ Evans, co-founder and director for the Miami area BMe Community. “I was traveling the country, telling men and women to be themselves, bring your full self to the table. And all the while I was not bringing full myself to the table. I was hiding, living a double life. I love myself, despite of the black church, despite of the black community and despite of many communities’ hate for the LGBT community.”
A year ago, Evans was recognized with a SAVE Luminary of Equality Award for his work as a prominent voice in South Florida’s LGBTQ community.
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“Ben did a very courageous thing in 2015,” said Tony Lima, executive director of LGBTQ-rights group SAVE. “As a Baptist minister and a child of an African-American, religious family, he came out of the closet as gay, blazing in an article. I admire him for his candor and his strength. We needed his voice on the front lines of the fight for LGBTQ equality and he has done such an amazing job of speaking at countless rallies, events and hearings as a leader within our community. It is imperative that we help uplift black and brown queer voices within our community. It is also important for LGBTQ folks to reflect the [diversity] that makes up our vibrant community.”
Evans said his family has embraced him as a gay man.
“At first it was very difficult for some members of my mother’s side of the family to accept me for who I am, especially my mother. Time has healed some of the wounds and my relationship with my mother is much better. They said they loved me, but could not accept me as a homosexual,” Evans said. “My younger siblings and relatives embraced me with open arms, as well as my father’s side of the family.”
He wrestled for years before telling anyone that he is gay.
“Coming out was extremely difficult because for years I lived in the shadows and even condemned homosexuals as a minister of the Lord,” Evans said. “So not only was I coming out, but I was facing the condemnation I once put out. And my coming out was not small, it was on a national platform, which opened me up to scrutiny from all over the nation.”
Coming out created a major stir in Evans’ Baptist community.
“The reaction was crazy and hostile but that was to be expected. It was a very mixed reception from the faith community,” he said. “On one hand, I had thousands of hate messages on social media from people who claimed to be God-fearing Christians, some going as far to tell me to kill myself. And then on the other hand, I had tons of messages of support and praise for me being my true self. I even had ministers who were struggling with the same thing asking for guidance.”
Evans’ work transcends the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. In South Florida he has been known to moonlight as a stand-up comedian, activist and actor. Last month, he was a cast member in Miramar Cultural Center’s production of “Dreamgirls.”
“Our hope is that people will shift their views on race and each other,” Evans said of BMe’s work in South Florida and the nation. “We teach people to value their neighbors and value the people that they serve. So, instead of telling the story of our demise and how bad we are doing and all of the things that we need to fix, we look at what is working and what is right. How can we invest in that? And how can we help people become their best … take care of themselves and their community and build wealth?”
Evans ultimately has clear expectations for the kind of legacy he wants for future generations.
“That is a trick question for me, I cannot answer it fully, because I never thought that I would be here,” he said. “If you would have asked me this question four years ago I would have given a totally different answer because I did not know I was going to come out of the closet. The only legacy that I would love to leave is a legacy of love.”