In recent years, there has been a proliferation of literature by gay and lesbian people of color exploring the relationship between racism and heterosexist oppression. This literature is part of a broader artistic, political, and scholarly movement that documents the existence and the varied experiences of gay and lesbian people of color. Jewelle Gomez’s work falls squarely within this movement.

In the essay Because Silence Is Costly,4 Gomez, a black lesbian, crit­ically analyzes selections by black gay and lesbian writers that con­tain explicit themes of "black gay" culture.5 Gomez focuses her dis­cussion on literary works that portray "coming out" stories—or sto­ries in which characters reveal their gay or lesbian statuses to others. She describes coming out as the "process of speaking who we are."6 This "speech-like" or discursive characterization of coming out echoes a theme seen in writings (and other media) by other gays and lesbians of color. Many black gay male writers, for example, employ the phrase "tongues untied" to describe the process of challenging the multiple societal forces—racism, classism, and homophobia—that render black gay male identity, culture, and political needs "silent" and invisible.7

According to Gomez, black gay and lesbian coming-out stories are within the tradition of black oral and written tales—from slavery to the civil rights epoch—that relate testimony of "triumph over ad­verse conditions."8 Coming-out stories, Gomez reasons, are as urgent and as triumphant as the "classic tales of black survival" because ho­mophobia has rendered any public acknowledgment of a gay or les­bian identity "a nightmare for many of us."9

Gomez’s comparison of the coming-out process to black suffering and "triumph" may imply an attempt not only to equate homophobia and racism but also to draw similarities between the "gay"—includ – ing white gay—experience and the "black" experience.10 However, such a reading of her work would be inaccurate, for Gomez endeav­ors at length to situate the coming-out process in a racialized context, particularly within the contours of black communities and black ho­mophobia. Indeed, while Gomez argues that homophobia operates as a barrier to the coming-out process, she makes clear that the homo­phobic barriers confronting blacks are not the same as the homopho­bic barriers confronting whites; homophobia is perpetuated and ex­perienced in racially specific ways.

According to Gomez, black hostility toward gays and lesbians— one barrier to blacks coming out—is attributable in part to a percep­tion that homosexuality "d[oes] not fit the social picture of normality

African-Americans wish to project in order to combat racist stereo­types."11 Gomez does not present this explanation as political apolo­gia; she recognizes that it is problematic because it unquestionably accepts the notion that homosexual conduct is "abnormal," undesir­able, and unblack. She provides this explanation to suggest that, while public revelations of gay and lesbian status serves as "a major unifying thread" for all gay and lesbian people,12 there are racial di­mensions to these revelations. In what is perhaps the most important observation in her essay, Gomez argues that when black gays and les­bians come out, it involves "saying I am gay and also declaring I am still Black."13 The coming-out process for whites does not involve an assertion of white racial identity. Public revelations of black homosex­uality are part of a process of "integrating] racial and sexual identi­ties in a way that creates a fully realized whole."14 By claiming their gayness in a black context, black gay and lesbian people may help destabilize the idea that the two statuses are inherently unconnected and inevitably in tension. Hence, an integrated black gay or lesbian identity may lead to a more complex—or multidimensional—under­standing of race.

The homophobic perception held by many blacks that homosexu­ality collides with antiracist agendas—or is oppositional to "the movement"—has led to a popular perception that homosexuality is a product of "white" culture and to the deployment of heterosexuality as the only legitimate or "authentic" expression of black sexuality.15 Kendall Thomas appropriately describes this "heteronormative" con­struction of black identity and sexuality as "the jargon of racial au – thenticity."16

The friction between gay and lesbian status and blackness has im­portant implications beyond debates about the "authenticity" of racial and sexual identities or the "coming-out" process. Because gay­ness and lesbianism are often perceived as external to blackness, at­tempts to include gay and lesbian issues within racial political agen­das have been met with stiff resistance, hostility, and assertions that such issues detract from racial justice.17 This policing of the bound­aries of racial politics and racial identity, as I discuss later, may hinder efforts to organize blacks politically and may undermine political re­sistance to white supremacy.

In this essay, I address at great length the political dimensions of the tension between blackness and gay and lesbian identity. First, I argue that this tension distorts reality because homophobia often in­teracts with and reinforces racism. Next, I demonstrate how this ten­sion between blackness and homosexuality negatively impacted ef­forts to organize the Million Man March. Staying within the context of the March, I discuss how the discourse of black gay men18 on their (non)participation in the March contributed to an ongoing dialogue on the complexity of racial identity and subordination.