My Gay Problem, Your Black Problem
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
HAVE BLACK ATTITUDES toward gays undergone much change today? Hardly. Rappers such as Ice Cube still rap that "Real niggers ain’t faggots." Leading Afrocentrists have sworn that "homosexuality is a deviation from Afrocentricity." Bushels of Black ministers, with generous support from their white Christian fundamentalist brethren, still brand homosexuality "a sin before God." And some Blacks have escalated their low-intensity warfare against gays to an all-out "take-no-prisoners" battle.
Notwithstanding this antigay sentiment in the Black community, Black gay men continue to participate in Black political events. Consider, for example, the Million Man March. Despite the fact that one of the principal leaders of the Million Man March—Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan—has made it almost part of his divine mission to attack homosexuality, many Black gay men visibly participated in the March. For the most part, their participation was wel – comed—and they were treated civilly. This was an important and a positive step, a tacit signification that all Black men, regardless of sexuality, face many of the same problems.
Yet it would be a mistake to assume that Black gay male participation in the Million Man March represented a sea of change in Black attitudes toward gays. Farrakhan certainly wasn’t moved by the fact that Black gay men marched. In a 1997 TV interview with Evans and Novak, Farrakhan explicitly stated that he still regarded homosexuality as an "unnatural act" and would discourage the practice whenever and wherever he could.
Some traditional civil rights leaders have continued to denounce homophobia and to urge the support of gay rights. They remind Blacks that homophobia and racism are two sides of the same coin and that many of the same white conservatives, from Pat Buchanan to Jerry Falwell, who relentlessly savage gays are the same ones who relentlessly savage civil rights gains.
They are right, but their arguments still carry little weight with many Blacks. The one and only comprehensive survey, conducted in 1995, to measure Black attitudes toward gays found that Blacks, like whites, hadn’t slackened up on their hostility one bit. More damning and ominous for the Black community is the fact that, according to the survey, Blacks—even the more "progressive" Blacks—still continue to pile special scorn on Black gay men. The survey found that, while the more educated, more affluent, less religious Blacks exhibited less anti-white gay sentiment than the rest of the Black community, these same Blacks did not evidence less anti-Black gay sentiment.
Antigay feelings run so deep among many African Americans that there is a virtual "Black-out" of any discussion or activities of Black gay men. Black gays and lesbians have held a number of National Conferences since 1987, yet there has been only the scantiest mention of them in the Black press. The national gay and lesbian publication, BLK, might as well gather dust in the Smithsonian Institution for all that most Blacks know about it.
Black gay men continue to feel like men without a people. They carry the triple burden of being Black, male, and gay. They are rejected by many Blacks and barely tolerated by many white gays. They worry that the hatred of other Black men toward them won’t change as long as they (heterosexual Black men) continue to believe that gay male identity subverts Black manhood. Black gay men thus feel alienated from the Black community, from the white gay community, and from the broader society. This alienation causes many of them to repress and deny their sexuality, concealing it from family members, friends, and public life.
Black people, and especially Black leaders, need to understand that when you scratch a homophobe, underneath you’ll invariably find someone who will deny you all your civil rights. They need to realize, moreover, that Black gay bashing will win no brownie points with conservatives. Khalid Muhammad, the former national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, found that out. In a widely publicized speech in 1994, he made one of the most devastating and disgusting
public assaults on gays, yet he remains one of the most vilified Black men in America.
In time, more gay Black men will come out of the closet, and more heterosexual Black men will meet them, get to know them better, and in some cases, discover that they have known them all along. This will force homophobic heterosexual Black men to reexamine their own faulty definitions of manhood and confront their own homophobia.
My hope is that heterosexual Black men will come to realize that they should be the last ones in America to jettison other Blacks who may be in a position to make valuable contributions to the struggle for political and economic empowerment. It took some time for me to learn this, but I did, because I no longer wanted my gay problem to be my Black problem.