Legal television commentator Nancy Grace ignited a firestorm of criticism speculating Houston’s death might have been a homicide. “I’d like to know who was around her, who, if anyone gave her drugs, following alcohol and drugs, and who let her slip, or pushed her, underneath that water,” Grace told CNN.
On Feb. 11 Houston was found dead in the bathtub of her Beverly Hilton Hotel room on the eve of the Grammy Awards. But now Houston’s former sister-in-law, Bobby Brown’s sister Leolah Brown, is speaking up too.
“I believe Whitney’s death was not accidental,” Brown told the tabloid television news show Access Hollywood. This new and disturbing allegation flies counter to the coroner’s office report that there was no sign of foul play or trauma, albeit the official cause of death won’t be determined until toxicology results are in.
While a murder investigation may well now ramp up the quest to ascertain who killed Houston, so too should a probe querying what killed her. While family, friends, and fans blame Whitney’s colossal downfall on drugs and Boston’s R&B bad boy Bobby Brown, both functioned in helping Houston develop an approving Black identity and an unquestioned sexuality.
What is now an adoring and all-embracing Black fan base of Houston was not always the case. In 1989, Houston was booed at the Soul Train Awards for supposedly “not being Black enough.” It was at that same show that she met Bobby Brown.
“I have a theory about Whitney Houston,” said singer-actress Della Reese, a longtime Houston family friend. “I’ve been called Uncle Tom, and I know how that feels. I think Whitney was so hurt by being called a ‘sellout’ and ‘acting White,’ and crap like that, she wanted to change her image.
“What better way to do that than to marry a bad boy? And the drug abuse makes her a flawed person fighting to overcome her demons — makes her relatable.”
Long before Houston’s former chauffeur, Al Bowman, told the tabloid television news show Entertainment Tonight in February that he witnessed Whitney and Bobby high on crack cocaine and in a threesome with an A-list soul singer in the back of his limo, rumors that Houston was a lesbian have been circulating for more than 30 years. Houston’s personal assistant as well as best friend Robyn Crawford was rumored to have been Houston’s lesbian lover. For a while, the two women lived together.
“I met her when she was 16. It was at a summer job… She had peachy colored skin and she didn’t look like anyone I’d ever met in East Orange, New Jersey,” Crawford, in reminiscing about Houston, told reporter Tom Junod in the February 2012 online issue of Esquire Magazine. “And we went around the world. I was her assistant and then her executive assistant and then her creative director… I have never spoken about her until now. She was a loyal friend, and she knew I was never going to be disloyal to her. Now I can’t believe that I’m never going to hug her or hear her laughter again.”
Houston exhibiting gender non-conforming behavior was no secret to those closest around her. The Daily Mail reported that Houston’s ex-sister-in-law, Tina Brown, and her ex-bodyguard, Kevin Ammons, both believed Houston may have been a lesbian because she “had wild sex sessions with women while out of her mind on crack cocaine.” But it was her ex-spouse, bad boy Bobby Brown, who over time have come to believe Whitney married him with an ulterior motive.
“I believe her agenda was to clean up her image, while mine was to be loved and have children. The media was accusing her of having a bisexual relationship with her assistant, Robin [sic] Crawford. Since she was the American Sweetheart and all, that didn’t go too well with her image… In Whitney’s situation, the only solution was to get married and have kids. That would kill all speculation, whether it was true or not,” Brown penned in his 2007 tell-all book Bobby Brown: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But…
The freest she may have been expressing her sexuality without being drugged out of her mind might have been in 1999 at the 13th Annual New York City Lesbian and Gay Pride Dance. Houston that year flew in for a special surprise guest appearance where she performed her then two most recent hits, “It’s Not Right, but It’s Okay,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
The homophobic constraints of career and family expectations no doubt contributed to the stressors in Whitney’s alleged “down low” life, but so, too, the church, even at her “home-going,” funeral service.
With homophobes like Pastor Donnie McClurkin, the poster boy for African American “ex-gay” ministries, and gospel singers Angie and Debbie Winans, who released a single in 1998 titled “Not Natural” in which they self-righteously denounced lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people, to name a few, singing Whitney’s farewell, only a “down low” existence may have been possible for her.
We may never know all the demons that took this internationally renowned pop star diva down a torturous and troubling road of self-destruction, but one demon not mentioned is homophobia.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.