“Racism isn’t just a word, it’s an experience,” says Vernal Scott, an HIV activist, renowned author, and local government diversity lead officer. “It scars to the very soul and carries an impact akin to the death of someone close; you will forever relive the time and place of its occurrence, especially how it made you feel, the hurt and damage to your dignity and self-esteem. A white gay man cannot comprehend, or more importantly, feel the experience of being black and gay – and the ‘double minority’ status and discrimination that come with it.”
This is Pride Month and at the same time the #BlackLivesMatter movement is making headlines. This is the time when we need black LGBT+ role models more than ever. And it’s no secret that as David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition told ‘NBC News’ “As long as there have been black people, there have been black LGBTQ and same-gender-loving people.”
Unfortunately, although being LGBT+ is deeply carved into the black society, many black LGBT+ people feel this ‘double minority’ discrimination. And where there is discrimination, there is reason for people who inspire the opposite. Role models.
‘The Root’ expresses this opinion by stating: “LGBTQ African Americans have always been here. (Drag) Kings and Queens, dykes, homos, gender nonconforming, same-gender loving, queer and trans folk populate our history and have been foundational to every single emancipatory movement we’ve ever had. But often, they are erased for their sexuality or their gender.”
It continues: “Gay folx been here. And they’ve been doing this work. So, for those we do know—from Marsha P. Johnson to Jimmy Baldwin; from Audre Lorde to Richard Nugent; from Countee Cullen to Patrisse Cullors—we owe it to ourselves, to our community, to all of our children, gay and otherwise, to tell the whole story. The struggle for black liberation continues, but that fight has always included black queer and trans people. The struggle is real; for others, it’s realer. There’s a whole history of neglected people who may have been gender fluid, but pushed us forward and toward a more equitable, blacker future.”
The importance of role models is no stranger to the LGBT+ community. Role models are needed to inspire, to comfort, to make others feel included and safe. They are needed to create a space where it is ok for you to be whatever you are and to celebrate it.
Writing for Glaad, D’Antae Johnson scratches his memories and remembers the struggles he faced as a kid being both black and LGBT+ and how much he was in need of a role model.
“Growing up, I was constantly stuck in this battle with myself, knowing I was gay at a very young age, while going through the constant struggles of being a young Black male in America. It was a challenge trying to find my identity and my place in each of my communities, sometimes feeling like I sat at the outskirts of both. I had no real role models who looked like me and were queer on television, movies, or in music.
“Growing up, I went on this journey of discovery alone, a reality I know many Black LGBTQ+ people face; growing up without anyone to talk about the lifestyle, feelings, thoughts, and hardships you know you will face being Black and queer.”
Black LGBT+ role models are essential for every generation so that all black LGBT+ people feel they are a part of a group and not the isolation that comes with the feeling of ‘not belonging’. For that matter, role models that stand for equality and against discrimination whether identifying as members of any ‘minority community’ or not is of extreme importance too.
E. Patrick Johnson, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University, talking to NBC Out expressed his opinion on what it means to be a role-model, stating:
“As the old folks use to say, 'It takes a village. Sure, it takes people being out in the political way. It also takes people who aren’t necessarily gay but who open up a space for people to be comfortable with who they are.
“It takes the straight pastor standing up in the pulpit on Sunday morning and saying, ‘Y’all stop bashing gay folks,’” he added.
“Everybody has to be involved in being role models. How we define being a role model has to manifest itself –- not by us calling it so because someone declares his truth.”
Lack of role models means less representation, and less representation gives the green light for more discrimination, which leads to some shocking statistics, especially for the black LGBT+ community.
Phil Samba, reporting for the BBC states: “Black, gay men are underrepresented in the mainstream, and the impact of that is huge. One 2017 survey found that 71% of black men said they didn’t feel represented or visible in media and health campaigns aimed at LGBTQ+ people.”
Furthermore, ‘Human Rights Campaign’ reports that “32 percent of children being raised by Black same-sex couples live in poverty, compared to 13 percent of children being raised by heterosexual Black parents and just 7 percent being raised by married heterosexual white parents.
"Additionally, black transgender people face severe rates of poverty, with 34 percent living in extreme poverty compared to just 9 percent of non-transgender Black people.”
It goes on: “Additionally, Black transgender women face the highest levels of fatal violence within the LGBTQ community and are less likely to turn to police for help for fear of revictimization by law enforcement personnel.”
As if the above-mentioned statistics are not alarming enough it has also become clear that black LGBT+ people experience discrimination from within their minority groups.
According to Stonewall, “Just over half of all black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people (51 per cent) report experiencing discrimination or poor treatment within their local LGBT network because of their ethnicity. This number rises to three in five black LGBT people (61 per cent).”
It continues: “It's part of complicated picture if you happen to be LGBT as well as black or Asian. The discriminatory behaviour presents itself within black and Asian communities as well as in LGBT communities.”
This has to change. The importance of active role-models such as Keith Boykin, Angela Davis, Phill Wilson and Laverne Cox is as vital today as it was in the past. Role models like these can create a place where not one black LGBT+ feels like their alone. And role models like Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah actually created a space where all black LGBT+ people can celebrate both their culture as well as their sexuality. Black Pride.
“When you're fighting that battle alone, when you're having to brave it out and put your head above the parapet, it's often scary and you have to make the choice to either go ahead full throttle or stay silent. Staying silent is what some people do; they are challenged in so many ways that it affects their mental health and wellbeing. So what I tried to do with UK Black Pride is to build a family, a tribe. It means that nobody feels that they are left out, nobody feels alone.” Lady Phyll states.
Black LGBT+ people receive discrimination for being black and receive discrimination for being LGBT+ sometimes feeling “forced to reconsider whether or not we’re welcome in the countries and movements we helped build” says Tim Gibson.
“In times when our future and our freedom seems so in peril, and our historical and present day contributions so disregarded, the importance of spaces like UK Black Pride become ever-more apparent”, he continues.
“UK Black Pride promotes unity and cooperation among LGBT+ people of diasporic communities in the UK, as well as their friends and families.” writes Gregory Robinson for the ‘Independent’.
Black pride is a celebration of both cultures, both communities. “It brings together music, food, performances and culture that many LGBT people from black or Asian backgrounds find missing at many Pride events,” claims Michael Baggs for the BBC.
Black LGBT+ history is part of everyone's history. And we are still making history. The importance of black LGBT+ role-models is as important now as it was ever. Whether you are an LGBT+ black or LGBT+ or black or anything let’s celebrate this Black History Month by spreading the message, celebrating this community and becoming role-models ourselves.