Inside a secret society: A gay African American Freemason's story
Jan. 10, 2007
by Rich Martino
Secrecy. Conspiracy. Mystery. Power. Influence.
These are just a few of the words that have been used to describe the elusive brotherhood called the Freemasons. You can find sensationalistic references to the Masons in the wildly popular book "The Da Vinci Code." If you do a Web search, you'll come up with quotes like "Freemasons control the world!" But what are the Masons really about? According to their official Web site, it is this:
"We are the Masons. We believe in helping others. We believe there is more to life than pleasure and money. We respect the opinions of others. And we all want to grow and develop as human beings. Masons are moral, honest men who work together to improve themselves and their communities. Our motto is "friendship, morality, and brotherly love."
So why is there so much speculation and controversy surrounding a fraternal organization? What is fact and what is fiction? Due to the oath of secrecy required to become a Mason, the general public may never know these answers for sure.
We recently had the opportunity to interview a newly inducted openly gay African American Mason, who wishes to remain anonymous. Some readers may be surprised that there is such a thing as a gay African American Mason -- one of the reasons we wanted to interview him.
How did you become a Mason?
I received a letter asking if I had ever heard of the Masons, and if I would be interested in becoming a member of their esteemed organization. There was mention of their charitable work, how the organization was centuries old, and that I probably already knew someone who was a member. I decided to call the number they gave me and find out more.
How do you think they found out about you?
I don't know. I've asked other members who were going through the process, but they did not know how they were chosen either. I thought they might have bought a list from one of the charities I give money to. The address on the letter had a zip-plus-four zip code, and the only way I'm thinking that they could have gotten this was from a service of some kind.
However, I asked an influential member about whether this might be true and he told me that the Masons did not buy this kind of information. Perhaps someone recommended me. When I questioned him further, he said, and I quote: "It could be the kind of wines you like, it could be places you like to go, your taste, your station in life." There are a whole bunch of things that are considered.
And how would they find out that kind of personal information about you?
From whoever recommended me. I do not know the identity of that person. The one person I know who is a Mason assured me that he was not the one who recommended me.
Can you ask to become a Mason?
Why did you agree to join, and what do you hope to accomplish as a Mason?
The most important reason for joining is the networking benefits. I do not think that I would have the opportunity to meet the people that I am meeting otherwise. The men at my lodge, who are 35 to 45 years old, are at the top of their fields -- they are active, they are getting things done and they care. I think that is hard to find.
The Masons embrace all cultures, all types of people, and their main goal is to help people and fight against tyranny, and I'm all over that. I want to be a bigger part of the fabric of my community, not just the gay community, and being in the Masons can help me accomplish that. Not that I don't want to be involved with the gay community -- I want that as well. I hope to accomplish getting more community work done, and do that with other people who share that same mission.
Were you surprised that they would ask a gay African American man to be a member?
No, because I know of other black Masons. My uncle was a Mason.
As a gay African American man, how do you feel about allegations that the Masons have a history of racial and homophobic policies or practices?
Things vary from lodge to lodge. The city I live in has a few dozen lodges. I know that in the past, and speaking on a global level, there are lodges that have not allowed blacks, lodges that have barred Jews and lodges that have kept out Catholics.
What about gays?
I have not heard of any lodge that has a policy that does not allow gay men in.
You believe that in the past or present, there have never been lodges that discriminated against homosexuals?
I'm not saying that. But I will say that I have not heard, before or after my induction, of a lodge that openly discriminates against gays. However, my friend who is a Mason is gay, but he is not out, and feels that if did come out, that it would be a problem in his lodge. There are people being inducted in my lodge who are surprised that I am allowed in as an openly gay man.
None of that bothers you?
American society does not accept gay people or black people. But I don't wake up every day and walk out of my home thinking about that. I don't live my life that way.
So people in your lodge are surprised that a gay man would be allowed in. Does this mean they are also not happy about it?
No -- not al all. These men have been to my home. They have gone into my bedroom to get their coats and have seen pictures of naked guys on my walls, and then they have come back again afterward. I have not seen any evidence of discrimination in my lodge. I feel strongly that I need to go through my life on my own experience. If there is a history of something, I want to be the exception and the pioneer. I want to be a trailblazer. For example, there are events in the gay community that black men say, "oh, that's a white event." I'm not going to prove by my absence that what they say is true.
So you were open about your sexuality with the Masons from the start?
Absolutely. I made it very clear to them that I was an openly gay man. I told them I was very active in the gay community, and I asked the person who interviewed me if this was a problem. He said, "What we know about you is that you are someone we want with us. We want everything you are. We want the real person to come to this lodge."
Do you know if there are many gay men or men of color in the Masons?
Yes. I believe there are many gay men in the Masons. That is just my opinion. Gay people love pageantry, we love rituals, and we love secrets. We already feel like we live in a secret society with secret codes -- with "gaydar" and stuff like that. My gaydar was going off at my particular lodge. There are also quite a few black men in my lodge.
What type of people do you think they look for?
They look for people who can bring energy, heart and organization to the group and really get things done. They want people who can be an example to others in their respective communities. I am black man living in a gay community, and those two things are the basis for the charities and organizations I am involved in. You will, however, spend much of your time inducting other people into the Masons and raising money for the various charities that they give to. The Masons want people who can help them achieve those goals.
Do you plan on using your membership in the Masons to further gay-related causes and/or causes that benefit people of color?
The cause I am most interested in furthering is my own. [Laughs.] Actually, I believe that living my life the way that I want to live it, and pursuing my interests and goals, will inevitably help the gay community, the African American community and everything else I am.
Is it a religious organization?
It is an organization with religious overtones, rites and tradition, but it's actually pan-religious. That is why some churches and governments don't trust the Masons, because they group very different people together.
Would the Masons accept someone who was an atheist?
I do not think they would want an atheist person in their organization.
What are your religious beliefs?
That's hard to say. I have religious beliefs, and that's as far as I want to go on that subject.
Does the organization practice secret rituals?
Yes. They have secret rituals. There are even secret rituals that people do in public life. For instance, President Washington, who was a Mason, performed secret rituals on all the buildings he was involved with building. He had a late-night ritual to prepare the building for good luck and to increase its power.
Are there initiation ceremonies?
There are initiation ceremonies.
Can you describe them?
Can you say if they involve costumes or nudity?
They involve costumes and partial nudity.
Why do you think organizations like this exist?
I think human beings need to have times and people that they consider special so that the days just don't go on and on without meaning. They want milestones. Also, people find that they want to be together with other people who are like themselves. That could mean people who look the same, come from the same cultural background, or the same station, or have the same interests. These people may want to be together, and they create organizations so they can do so. Sometimes, the act of a certain group banding together might create opposition, so they make them secret.
It is said that the Freemasons are a direct descendant of the Knights of Templar, an ancient organization shrouded in legend and conspiracy theory. Do you think that is true?
The Knights Templar were supposedly stamped out in the early 1300s. The Masons as we know started in the early 1700s. It is said that many of the rituals and information used to start the Masons came from whatever scraps of information were known about several religious organizations that were stamped out, including the Knights Templar. What we know as American Masonry is based on Judaism, as well as Moslem, Islamic and Christian influences. But the Masons are not a continuation of the Knights Templar; it is a totally separate entity.
A "Da Vinci Code" plotline, along with the theme of a movie called "National Treasure," purports that there is some hidden knowledge or secret treasure out there that the Masons have withheld. Do you believe any part of this is true?
That is true, and they are giving me an allowance from that treasure. [Pauses, laughs.] I'm kidding! No, I do not believe that to be true. I am new to the Masons; however, I truly believe that is untrue. I think it is just one of those things people like to cook up about organizations like this.
Are there levels to achieve within the Masons?
Yes. There are 33 degrees. I have just made the second degree.
Are you required to contribute money to the organization?
Yes, but less than four figures annually
What can you tell me about what goes on in a typical Masons meeting?
As I said, the meetings I have attended have been about initiation. However, there are regular meetings I've heard about, where they sit there and say, "We own an orphanage in a building that we want to sell. How are we going to go about doing that?" That's exactly what happened at one of the meetings.
Another meeting was about how much money they should give to certain victims of a tsunami and how they should go about it. There's an agenda, people vote on issues, et cetera. It's like a neighborhood charity meeting.
Are those the only type of meetings they have?
There are installation meetings for new members or for a member to achieve a new level.
Are there any other kind of meetings at all?
You mean the mass sex meetings? The "suck the gristle out of Mary Magdalene's bones" meetings? [Laughs.] Seriously, I do not know of any other kinds of meetings.
How do the Masons ensure that members keep the truly confidential aspects of the organization to themselves?
First of all, I am not telling your readers anything that is going to get me in trouble.
How do you know that?
Because everything I'm telling you about I've either read online, or seen on TV. What I am not telling you is the actual words, events and lessons that happen during my installation. To get back to your question, the initiation is so laborious and so hard. It forces you to find the reasons in your heart as to why you want to be in this organization. You struggle so hard to be in this organization that I believe you must really want to be in it, and want to respect that secrecy. That being said, there is rhetoric that suggests that since you take a secret oath to keep this organization secret, you will be killed if you share this information.
Wasn't someone kidnapped and supposedly murdered in the 1800s for threatening to reveal Masonry secrets?
Yes, his name was Captain Morgan. There was another incident in Long Island, where someone was shot a dozen years ago or so in a Masonic lodge. But in truth, it's all symbolic. They want you to believe this is important, and they want you to accept that it's important.
What do you think would happen to someone these days who gave away these secrets; for example, who attempted to write a tell-all book? Do you think he would be killed?
No, I do not. And I don't think they would try to stop him, either. I actually think it's been done.
So how can there still be secrets?
The secrets are bigger than that. They are also simpler than that. They are basic, everyday ideas. They are things that you may have been told, but don't know is a secret, and that everyone may already know. But Masons are told that these things are important and must be transmitted to the next generation. They want you to know that it is important, so they put it in a secret context. None of it is stuff that people don't already know -¿ so far. As you move up in the degrees, it becomes progressively more arcane.
So are you saying that there really are no secrets?
That's part of the secret.
Do people try and infiltrate this organization for the purpose of exposing these secrets?
Yes, I think people attempt it. But there is so much work involved in becoming a member that I think it prevents that from actually happening. But there is a backdrop where there is a threat of murder.
And yet you don't believe that the threat is real?
No, because they don't need to threaten someone like that. The value of coming together and trying to be part of their mission is a greater incentive than whatever someone would gain from betraying that trust. I believe that this is the real reason that secrets are kept by members.
Then why do you think they invoke any kind of threat of harm?
To create a level of importance. That is strictly my opinion.
Did they actually specifically threaten your life if you revealed their secrets -- yes, no or "no comment"?
It's not that simple.
Because the answer is yes and no.
Can you explain that?
The Masons are said to have an immense amount of power. Do you think that is dangerous?
I believe in power. [Laughs.] But power is only as good or as important as the person who holds it. The Masons were active in fighting Hitler's tyranny. They were active in building this country.
What are the biggest misconceptions regarding the organization?
That the lodges have bodies, bones and a grail.
What do you think would happen if the Masons found out that you did this interview?
I think they would be really happy.
Then why don't you want to use your name?
I don't work for the PR department of the Masons. All organizations like to control their information and I am not a legal spokesperson. But I am talking about my own experience, which I feel I am entitled to share. Look, I think if I posted my picture and made it sound like I was giving things away, they might throw me out or take me aside and ask me why I feel that I have a right to give interviews on this subject. So I definitely want to cloak my identity, and I also want to say that I am very proud to be a Mason.