NOTE: All pages are meant to be read in the order in which they appear at the top of the site.
“I know what it means to be called a nigger. I know what it means to be called a faggot. And I can sum up the difference in one word: none. Bigotry is bigotry. – Melvin Boozer (cited Brown 1)
I have demonstrated that homophobia and racism are still pervasive in current society… so what does this mean for the people who are doubly oppressed, subjected to disadvantage not only for being black but also for being gay? In short- a lot. Queer people of color face homophobia within the black community, and racism within the LGBT community, leaving them torn between the two. In their article “African American Gay Men and Lesbians: Examining the Complexity of Gay Identity Development,” Dorie Gilbert Martinez and Stonie C. Sullivan note that “To the extent that African American gay men and lesbians identify more strongly with the gay or African American community, they will have different experiences of integrating their sexual orientation” (258). Additionally, queer people of color face erasure from both the black and gay communities. Erasure especially is a double-edge sword, as it harms not only queer people of color, but also the LBGT movement as a whole.
Below, I have embedded two videos that I watched, and I have pointed out some of the most important comments made by the individuals in the videos. Following that, I discuss the three issues stated above. I present things in this order because I feel that it is important to see and hear from the people who are facing these issues before reading generalizations about others like them (that is, very generally, black and gay) as a whole.
Young, Black, and Gay in America:
One of the videos I watched while researching was this one, in which a black American discusses his experiences with being black and gay in the US, and what it means to him. Some of the things that he touches on are points that I found in some of the articles that I read. The following are some quotes or points that were made:
— “[Black gays] have to make the choice to live openly or stay behind closed doors to protect themselves.” This idea is one that also appeared in a thesis written by Brown, which focused on the experiences of black gay men as they discussed in interviews with him. The societal pressures on black gays are such that one lives in fear of ridicule for being who they want to be, or such that one lives in fear of having to repress one’s true identity for the sake of acceptance. Considering that American society is such an environment where these people are made to stifle themselves on one hand and subject themselves to violence on the other, one must wonder how this state of affairs can be changed and rectified to benefit these individuals so they no longer feel forced to make these sorts of decisions.
— “It wasn’t something that I wanted.” One of (in my opinion) the most poignant moments in this video came when Xem states that being gay was not something that he wanted- rather, it was something that he prayed would be taken away from him, something that he did not want in his life.
–“No one choose to be ridiculed. No one chooses to be ostracized. No one chooses to be harshly critiqued.”
— “It’s a case of… we’re both condemned as second-class citizens.” This comment is made with “both” referring to blacks and gays in America- that is, both of the communities with which this woman identifies are considered second-class, or, for the purposes of my analysis, third-world due to their being relegated to that lower-class position in relation to the “normative” white, straight individuals.
— “Some people are stuck on it being a choice, so I can’t explain to them that it’s not a choice, don’t discriminate against me, that’s not fair.”
— “Being black and being a female and being gay is just, like, a triple negative in the US, it really is. I mean, I’m a third-class citizen.” This comment brings up something very important that I nonetheless will not attempt to cover here, as I do not feel I have adequate time to devote to it and would not wish to do it injustice. While I have been focusing on how racism and homophobia combine to impact blacks in the LGBT community, I haven’t touched on the issue of being female on top of all that. Despite women slowly rising up to be seen increasingly as equals in American society, equality has not yet happened, and that means a lot for a woman who is already disadvantaged by virtue of her race and sexuality. While I don’t have much to say on this topic, as adding another, feminist approach to this analysis would make it too large and unwieldy for the time constraints in which I am working, I felt it necessary to mention that the issue of gender within the black LGBT community is something that deserves critical attention. However, I feel that the following video highlighting black gay females and their experiences with describing themselves, coming out, division in the black LGBT community, and other things is an excellent place to start.
Homophobia in African-American communities:
“Black people are afraid of gay people because they do not understand it and they do not understand why. They are taught not to understand why, to block it out. Black people are terrified of gay. It’s like the biggest disease on the planet.” -Respondent 1 (Brown 53)
“For many Black folk we fall in the same line as people who are on drugs, people who have alcohol problems… somehow no matter how much success I achieve I’m still less than authentically Black or less than a fine contributing example of black manhood because I fuck dudes.” -Respondent 10 (Brown 57)
Homophobia in the black community is just one of many factors that makes living openly and well difficult for queer African-Americans. This trend was noted in all of the academic literature I read while researching for this project, with reasons from high religiosity to aggressive championing of heterosexual masculinity cited as reasons why this trend exists. Within the articles I read were a few individual-specific cases where black gays discussed their relationships with the black community, or the black community’s reception of gays in general. Martinez and Sullivan quote a gay black man who states that white gays seem to have more support from their communities “whereas blacks are quick to denounce black gay people’s lives” (253). Additionally, one of the men Brown interviews states, “Well, I will say that I feel like I’ve never been treated more disrespectfully as a gay Black man then [sic] by other Black men who are straight” (54). Examining why exactly black communities tend to be more homophobic than white communities could be a whole separate project in an of itself- perhaps even getting down to looking at the differences between black family structures and white family structures (which I have found from experience to be notably different in terms of internal hierarchy, though I can’t claim that my experiences are representative of all black and white families). Another of the men interviewed by Brown suggests that it might be partly due to racism and other problems that blacks still face today that the black community is so homophobic, remarking that, “I think that as a community, we feel that we have enough to deal with and then adding that [homosexuality] to the equation is just too much. It’s the unknown and it’s like, ‘I don’t feel like figuring this out now when I still need to figure out why this White man down the street is still looking at me with dirty look” (56). Regardless of the combination(s) of factors that led to this state, the fact is that the black community is general is homophobic, which has negative consequences for queer people of color.
Racism in the LGBT community- a “white” movement:
Martinez and Sullivan mention multiple things that factor into the process of building personal identity for black gays in addition to the homophobia found in the black community, including “limited inclusion in the larger, White gay community” (245). As examples of this, they cite an anecdote told by a gay black man, who recounted being treated differently while paying for entrance- while the white patrons’ change was returned to their hands and they were not asked for IDs, his change was placed on the counter, he was asked for ID, and the cashier did not engage him in any friendly or courteous way (248). Additionally, they cite a study done by Comstock that found that “lesbians and gay men of color were more likely to experience being chased or followed, hit with objects, and physically assaulted than their White counterparts” (250). In his thesis “Racism in the Gay Community and Homophobia in the Black Community: Negotiating the Gay Black Male Experience,” Clarence Brown notes that he personally was surprised to find that there was a Black Gay Pride event separate from the Capital Pride celebration in Washington D.C., and some of the gay black men he interviewed also shared experiences of racism, such as his eleventh respondent’s saying that, “You are always either pushed away from conversations or felt like you are an outsider around White gays. Or they make you feel like you are not as good as them, they are better” (Brown 41). Really, I could cite endless anecdotes from my readings- of black gays being discounted for relationships because of their race, of finding themselves in situations of de facto segregation in clubs, and feeling unwelcome or even used by white gays (“…whites with capital, if you are not fucking them, entertaining them, or cheap labor; they don’t have no use for you” [Respondent 10 in Brown 45]). After conducting my research, it is clear- in my mind, at least- that the gay community is only open and welcoming if you happen to be white.
Erasure- how queer POCs are made invisible:
As previously mentioned, queer persons of color are made invisible in the gay rights movement as a result of the LGBT community championing a paradigm of American normalcy over the reality of the complexities of their movement. Additionally, they are made invisible in the black community as strong homophobia leads to some feeling they are no longer welcome there, either. I believe that this sort of erasure is harmful for these individuals because it paints them as somehow less important than what each community sees as desirable: whites on one hand, and straight, stereotypically masculine men on the other. In a country that prides itself on championing equality, the fact that this group is doubly oppressed strikes me as anti-American in the most basic way. Rather than being ignored for not fitting comfortably into the accepted societal norms, queer persons of color should be embraced for their differences, and should be recognized as human beings on the same level as everyone else.