May 25, 2012

To Be Young, Gifted, And Black… And Gay

Popular discussions about race and sexuality, namely Black versus LGBT, keeps people who are Black and LGBT invisible.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade January 2011 005

A couple of weeks ago, US President Barack Obama made history once again.  He is now the first of our 44 presidents to publicly endorse legal same-sex marriage in the US.  The media frenzy that followed his historic announcement seemed to center on why President Obama made this announcement now (simply playing politics for the upcoming election?)… and what Obama’s new position means for Black Americans.

Beyond Obama’s own racial identity — multiracial (Black and white) — it struck me as odd that I read article after article about what same-sex marriage, as well as Obama’s opinion on the matter, means to Black people.  I was further troubled by what seems to be an understanding of Black as distinct from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).  Some discussions of race and sexuality even reflect a notion that Black is the opposite of LGBT.

The Intersections Among Race, Ethnicity, Sexuality, And Gender

As some have pointed out, these popular discussions of race and sexuality — or even Black vs. LGBT — diverts our attention away from several issues: coalitions between Black and LGBT communities, Black heterosexual and cisgender allies to the LGBT community, anti-racist activism in LGBT communities, and homophobia and transphobia among white Americans.  The most damaging result of such discussions is the continued invisibility of people who are both Black and LGBT.

In a few of my previous posts, I have written about intersections among our social identities, including race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.  Drawing on the academic concept of intersectionality entails considering how an individual’s life and experiences are uniquely shaped by the the intersecting relationships among their various social identities.  For example, in many ways, Black transgender people face harsher social realities — namely, poverty, discrimination, and health problems — than white transpeople.  Or, another example would be extending research on anti-LGBT discrimination to consider other forms of discrimination that LGBT may face, namely racial discrimination.

To Be Young, Gifted, And Black… And Gay

There are a number of reasons to make visible the lives and experiences of Black LGBT people, especially youth.  For Black LGBT youth, simply considering their racial identity or their sexual and gender identities misses that other huge, important component of their everyday lives.  For example, radio talk show host and writer Clay Cane wrote about his preparedness for racism and racial discrimination since his childhood, but no such preparation for homophobia.  In addition, new research highlights that Black LGBT youth may be at great risk for abuse, bullying, and homelessness, as well as HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, and mental health problems.   On the positive side of things, beyond celebrating Black history and LGBT history, it is important for Black LGBT youth, as well as the rest of the US, to celebrate the experiences and contributions of Black LGBT people throughout history.  Just to name a few:

So, as we celebrate LGBT pride during the month of June, let’s remember that we are not merely transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, and heterosexual people.  We are also made up of our unique racial, ethnic, gender, class, ability, religious, and cultural identities.

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