The black community gets a bad rap for being homophobic. While in a previous article, we discussed how to create a more welcoming community for black lesbians, we also want to acknowledge that some of the challenges and stigma that gay black men face are very different.
Gay black men may feel a lack of inclusion from both the mainstream (predominantly white) LGBTQ community and the mainstream (predominantly straight) black community. They can feel like they are welcomed in neither community.
As members of the black community, we can offset this lack of inclusion by acknowledging the following challenges and understanding how to combat them.
1. Lack of Visibility
Fear of rejection, hatred, or violence from homophobic people may lead young gay black men go to great lengths to hide their sexual identity. This can lead to a lack of visibility, and when gay black men aren’t visible in the community they have even less reason to expect community acceptance. It also adds fuel to the argument that being gay is a “white” thing or somehow foreign to the black community.
Spaces that give LGBTQ people room to be visible are important to people because it takes a lot of energy to hide part of your identity. These spaces provide young gay men a chance to feel safe being who they are, feel affirmed in their identities, and grow to become happy, healthy, and productive adults.
So when gay black men feel as if they have to hide in order to remain safe in their own communities, it saps them of energy that could otherwise be spent on developing as well-rounded adults.
The stigma toward being black and gay has a lot to do with gender expectations, and there are two sides to this coin. On the one side, gay black men are portrayed as hypersexual and aggressive. On the other side, gay black men are portrayed as extremely effeminate, flamboyant, and “sassy”. These are amplified versions of the stigmas facing white gay men and black men in general, and the intersecting identities of black and gay layer them over each other.
On top of that, there is a higher risk for gay black men to contract HIV. Though HIV transmission can happen to anyone, many still choose to see it as either a gay or a black disease. Since attempts to blame HIV on groups of people have predominantly targeted gay people and the African Diaspora, it’s no surprise that gay black men are hit hard by this stigma.
Religion is culturally significant in many predominantly black communities. Unfortunately, predominantly black churches have a complex relationship with the gay community. Black church leaders like Eddie Long attack gay people, only for allegations of pederasty and homosexuality to come out about the church leaders later.
This open hostility and hypocrisy turns many gay people off, and religious gay people may feel a disconnect from their community without a safe space in which to worship.
Gay affirming churches do exist, however, and churches like Metropolitan Community Church in DC work with local organizations to support the LGBTQ community.
4. Violence and Rejection
Violence against black men by members of the black community is unfortunately not uncommon. Also problematical is all the violent language toward gay people that is laced into common expressions.
There’s also the fear of being kicked out and disowned by their parents as well as a lack of support after being attacked or rejected. Up to 20-40% of homeless youths are LGBT. Of these youths, 43% were kicked out by their parents and 44% are black.
How Can We Support Black Gay Men?
For the black gay men in our lives who are dealing with this, we can:
- Understand that being black and being gay aren’t always two wholly separate identities—they blend and coexist. Gay black culture has produced Vogue, half the words you hear on Ru Paul’s drag race, and bleeds into popular culture. Gay black men have also made significant historical contributions to the world as we know it. Among them is Bayard Rustin, an American civil rights leader and contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. who organized the 1963 March on Washington.
- Be trustworthy. Even though visibility is good for black gay men, being outed by a third party can have serious consequences. So don’t. We’ve written in the past about ways to support gay friends who come out to us.
- Avoid policing anyone’s gender presentation or personality. At times, people will discourage gay men from “flaunting,” their sexuality. They should stop. Gay black men, be they flamboyant and over the top or reserved and under the radar, aren’t “flaunting” anything by acting like themselves.
They are just being themselves, and the best thing we can do to support them is accept them as they are.
These are just some of the challenges and ways we can make our community more welcoming to black gay men. What are some other challenges and ways to support them?
This article was written with input from the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL). SMYAL builds, sustains and advocates for programs, policies and services that LGBTQ youth need as they grow into adulthood in the Washington, DC metropolitan region.Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
Jarune Uwujaren is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. A Nigerian-American recent graduate who’s stumbling towards a career in writing, Jarune can currently be found drifting around the DC metro area with a phone or a laptop nearby. When not writing for fun or profit, Jarune enjoys food, fresh air, good books, drawing, poetry, and sci-fi.