The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition are denying the allegations by a former employee that Rev. Jackson engaged in “harassment, retaliation and discrimination” as the result of his sexual orientation. Tony Bennett, who is gay, made a long list of disturbing accusations against the pastor, arguing (among other things) that he was treated unfairly for being gay.
Bennett originally filed a complaint with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Rainbow Push issued a statement saying, in part, that “The organization does not condone or tolerate discrimination in any form….[Bennett’s] inflammatory allegations are an attempt to malign Reverend Jackson and the organization, and are hurtful and harmful to the progressive community.”
Bennett has accused Rev. Jackson of having him escort women to his room for sex and forcing him to clean up the room after Jackson had sex. He also referred to incidents during which Rev. Jackson allegedly made comments that were of an uncomfortable sexual nature. He told a story about an especially interesting incident in which he was asked to take notes in Rev. Jackson’s room in the middle of the night, rub cream between his legs, etc.
I’ve worked with Rev. Jackson on multiple occasions, appearing on his show more times than I can count, so I guess you could say that I’ve seen him up close. But as close as one man might be to another, he can almost never vouch for another man’s sexual decisions (I went through this dilemma when a friend of mine was accused of rape 20 years ago). I am not here to say whether or not Rev. Jackson engaged in any of the odd things that Mr. Bennett claims the reverend did. Of course, I hope none of this is true.
What is certainly true is that this has been a tough three years for Rev. Jackson. His popularity and public image have taken a bit of a nose dive since that unfortunate “cutting your nuts off” incident with President Barack Obama back in 2008. After being frozen out of the White House, I noticed that people began to speak of Rev. Jackson in a manner which implied that perhaps his best black leadership days might be behind him. Perhaps things will turn around, but it’s hard to know what life has in store for you when you hit the age of 70.
The decline in Jackson’s public approval saddens me, primarily because I believe one can never quickly dismiss 40 years of dedicated service to the African American community. While many of us see the glamour that comes with being in the public eye, almost none of us see the discomfort, stress and inconvenience of carrying such a broad set of expectations. For everything that Rev. Jackson does right, there is a line of people wishing to point out what he did wrong. But the truth is that almost none of us have what it takes to walk in this man’s shoes for as many years as he has done so, and that’s a simple fact.
With that said, I sincerely hope that none of what Mr. Bennett says is true. Public figures are often the target of efforts to embarrass or ridicule them, so we shouldn’t believe anything without seeing the evidence. At the same time, Mr. Bennett is right that there are some in our society who deem themselves to be untouchable, so this kind of abuse occurs regularly across America. No matter what comes of the investigation into these allegations, nothing can change the fact that I respect the work that Jesse Jackson has done for the black community, and those who choose to curse his name may want to reconsider their perspective.