Wednesday, February 22, 2012
On Being Black and Gay
Six years ago, when I started this blog, I decided to focus it on the socially-constructed, political notion of "race." Consequently, I have only occasionally broached other issues, even issues I feel fairly strongly about, such as women's reproductive freedom, Palestinian national autonomy, and rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, trans-sexual and queer people, including same sex marriage.
Since I've been teaching courses in gender and sexuality from the sociological perspective in recent years, I've been made increasingly conscious of the rabid homophobic panic that many Black folks seem to feel in the face of the fact that there are millions of people in the U.S. who are GLBTTQ and a statistically representative number of them are Black. Once, during the second lecture of a sexuality course, before anyone had as yet gotten comfortable, I mentioned the word "gay" in passing only to have a young Black male student throw up his hand instantly to announce out of nowhere, "I'm not gay!" I was speechless.
When On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep With Men was published in 2005, fewer people in the Black community than I would have expected appeared shocked. Everybody seemed to know somebody who fit the description, despite the fact that many Black people are quick to point out that being gay will send you straight to hell. I wish I had a nickel for every student I've heard make this claim in one of my classes or on the campus or even at a public event where horrified gay students on a panel were hacked at by machete-tongued others.
"I'm a Christian," they'll offer in a discussion setting, "so I believe that gay people go to hell. And I don't think it's mean to say so since it's true."
When I point out that most Christians do not, as a matter of fact, necessarily believe this and that many Christian denominations accept GLBTTQ members and even clergy, they don't even look puzzled. They just dismiss the thought. Those Christians, apparently, are not real "Christians," according to the doom-predicters, even though the way I got it as a child, "Christianity" is supposed to be based on love, not condemnation.
Anyway, yesterday, I received the following press release from the National Black Justice Coalition and I think it makes an important case, so I'm posting it here for your consideration. It's high time African-Americans quit attacking each other over this issue, if at all possible. It's difficult enough to be Black in America without losing the support of other Blacks. And the White man, I'm sure, gets entirely too much pleasure from it.
The National Black Justice Coalition Stands With Community
to Condemn Recent Anti-LGBT Attacks
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Our community is now at a crossroads. Our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are calling out to us. This is the moment we make it unequivocally clear that we are here, we are listening and we are ready to take action. In light of the recent anti-LGBT attacks and murders of our Black youth, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black LGBT people, is standing with community members to demand that this pattern of violence against our own end now.
Earlier this week, a video of Brandon White, a Black gay man in Atlanta, being brutally beaten went viral. The 30-second clip shows a group of men suspected to be members of the gang Pittsburgh Jack City kicking and punching the unsuspecting young man as they repeatedly call him anti-gay slurs.
Just last Thursday a Black transgender woman, Deoni Jones, was fatally stabbed in Washington, D.C. According to a press release from the D.C. Transgender Coalition (DCTC), an altercation between the victim and her attacker broke out at the bus stop, which resulted in the victim being stabbed in the face. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) suspect and is looking for a Black male, 30 to 40 years old.
Last month, new details emerged in the hazing death of gay Florida A&M University student Robert Champion, Jr. Friends have said they believe his orientation may have been a factor in the severity of the brutal beating that killed him. And those are just three of the incidents we know about. Many more attacks, assaults, and incidents of harassment go unreported.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has found that violence against LGBT people is up 23 percent, with people of color and transgender women as the most likely targets. Of the victims murdered in 2010, 70 percent were people of color, and 44 percent were transgender women.
“Enough is enough,” says Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC executive director. “Our children are dying and they’re taking each other’s lives. Simply because it’s anti-LGBT violence doesn’t change the fact that it’s Black-on-Black crime. We need to act now.”
Black LGBT people are at the intersection of laws like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which were passed to protect people like Brandon, Deoni and Robert. But federal law enforcement alone will not address the systematic and societal realities around violence in our community.
This tragic string of attacks is a clarion call that more deliberate action within the Black community is needed now more than ever. Anti-gay violence is not only a civil rights issue; it is a Black issue. It is a Black issue because violence against gay and transgender individuals is disproportionately affecting our Black youth. The civil rights community can no longer stand on the sidelines while our LGBT sons and daughters continue to suffer in silence.