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:
- Audre Lorde, scholar, writer, poet, and activist
- Bayard Rustin, civil rights activist, co-organizer of the 1963 March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- RuPaul Charles, famous drag queen, TV show host, singer, model
- Keith Boykin, writer, TV host, special assistant to former President Bill Clinton
- Langston Hughes, poet, writer, and activist, iconic figure of the Harlem Renaissance
- Gladys Bentley, Harlem Renaissance blues singer
- Marsha Johnson and the other Black (and Latina/o) drag queens who started the historical Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969
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.
For More Information…
- Sexuality educators, researchers, and advocates who are interested in the intersections among race, ethnicity, sexual identity, and gender identity and expression may consider attending the 2012 Summer Institute on Race, Sex, and Equity of the Center for Research & Education on Gender and Sexuality at SFSU.
- Films: Paris is Burning, a documentary about ball culture — a core component of Black and Latina/o LGBT culture in NY City; Tongues United, an artistic documentary about racism and homophobia in the lives of Black gay and bisexual men; The Aggressives, a documentary about working-class Black transmen and masculine-identified women.
- Books: Black Sexual Politics by sociologist Patricia Hill Collins on the intersection of race and sexuality; Invisible Families by sociologist Mignon Moore on the lives of Black lesbian families; One More River to Cross by Keith Boykin on the lives and experiences of Black LGBT people
- Other Resources: For Colored Boys, a site to empower young queer men of color; National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization for Black LGBT people; the Black Gay Research Group, a scholarly group for Black gay and bisexual men.
- Also, throughout the summer, many cities that host LGBT pride events also have special Black LGBT pride events.