Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
“My son in high school last year, trying to go to the prom, he said, ‘Dad, I ain’t got nobody to take to the prom because all the girls in my class are gay. And ain’t but two of them straight and both of them ugly.” —the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, July 3
Wilson’s above comments, made during a sermon graphically excoriating gay sex in the black community, have already been criticized as intolerant by gay-rights activists and political figures. Students at D.C.’s School Without Walls (SWW) have another complaint: They go to class with Wilson’s only son currently in high school, and they say the story isn’t true. Not only does SWW’s student body appear to be largely heterosexual, but Hamani Wilson didn’t need a date to prom—he’s been dating a classmate, Janeese Lewis, for the past year.
According to biographical information circulated during Wilson’s 2002 mayoral run, Wilson—pastor of the 8,000-member Union Temple Baptist Church and key organizer of the Million Man March’s 10th-anniversary celebration, the Millions More Movement—has four children, three of whom have long since graduated from D.C. public schools. That leaves Hamani as his only high-school-aged son.
Hamani and Janeese’s relationship is no secret, according to SWW students. “She goes to [Union Temple Baptist] Church,” says Morgan Bowers, a classmate of the couple. “His father knows Janeese….They’re very close. And why would [Hamani] be looking for a date besides her? It makes no sense.”
Several students say that they’re puzzled as to why Hamani, then a junior, would have gone to prom at all; SWW’s prom is traditionally only for seniors. Held this spring at the Grand Hyatt Washington, the event was the classic high-school staple. “Pretty much the whole senior class—about 80 students—went,” says 2005 SWW graduate Christian Alicia Bartley. “The theme of prom was ‘A Red-Carpet Affair,’ and we had a red carpet and paparazzi taking pictures of us.” At the event, the senior class crowned its prom king and queen; according to Bartley, no same-sex couples attended.
Going gay hasn’t become a trendy thing to do, students say, even at School Without Walls, a magnet school for some of D.C.’s most academically accomplished and progressive students. Among the 326 students enrolled last year, peers can think of at most a handful of students who were openly gay. “I was aware during the years I was there of only two people who were openly gay. I was pretty good friends with one of them,” says Noah Kramer, who graduated this year. “If [Willie Wilson] actually said that, he was just lying about it. The guy’s an idiot.”
In a recent statement, Wilson posited that a roundup of girls at a “local school” produced a 10-to-one lesbian-to-straight ratio.
Asked whether her school has a particularly high number of gay students, SWW Principal Sheila Mills-Harris can’t say: “I have no idea about their sexual orientation, nor am I concerned about it.” It’s enough of a challenge, she says, “trying to keep a roof over my children’s head that doesn’t allow the rain to come in [and] trying to make connections with universities so I can offer students opportunities.”
Though no one at SWW is entirely sure exactly how many homosexuals are currently enrolled at the school, no one’s too worried about it, either. “It’s a close school—a small community,” says Bartley. “We accept everyone like they’re our family, no matter what religion, race, sexuality, or ethnicity they are.”
That’s an attitude Mills-Harris wants to encourage. “There are no ugly people at Walls,” she says, “spiritually and physically.”
Bowers says Wilson’s use of the SWW student body as a preaching aid is offensive. “No person in [Wilson’s] position should be saying that,” she says. “Condemning somebody because they don’t agree with what he believes in…As an African-American, I’m finding that a little bit embarrassing.”
Students also dispute the Rev. Wilson’s claim that the heterosexual girls in his son’s class are homely. “If I was in the junior class, I’d be very offended,” says Bartley. “There are a lot of beautiful girls in that class, and I don’t know any of them who are gay.” Both male and female students note that Hamani’s girlfriend is considered quite pretty.
Several SWW students suggest another flaw in Wilson’s story: Even if Hamani had been in need of a prom date, they don’t think he would have said something like that.
“I can’t see that kind of character coming from him,” Bartley says. “He was always respectful.”
“He’s never said anything rude or derogatory to anyone….He’s a cool kid,” says Bowers, who believes the Rev. Wilson probably made the story up, using his son as a prop. “That’s so sad.”
Hamani did not respond to efforts to contact him, and his father is currently out of town. But Hamani’s older sister, Lili Wilson, suggests that perhaps Wilson wasn’t speaking of Hamani at all. Though Hamani is the minister’s only direct descendant in high school, “[the Rev. Wilson’s] got a lot of spiritual sons,” she says, making it possible for the “son” in question to be any number of young people. “There are a lot of children without father figures who look up to him.”
Lili Wilson does not know which of those, if any, went dateless this past spring.CP
The Straight Facts
The Rev. Willie Wilson Said: His son couldn’t get a date to prom last year.
The Truth is: Hamani Wilson, then a junior at School Without Walls, had a steady girlfriend all last year. And since his school doesn’t even have a junior prom, he wouldn’t have needed a date anyway.
The Rev. Willie F. Wilson Said: All but two of the girls in his son’s class are lesbians.
The Truth is: Students at School Without Walls say no more than a few of their peers are openly gay—and that there were no lesbian couples at this year’s prom.
The Rev. Willie F. Wilson Said: The remaining straight girls in the class of 2006 are ugly.
The Truth is: “That’s a matter of taste, but it’s pretty mean-spirited,” says 2005 graduate Noah Kramer, and in his opinion, “not true at all.”