Life isn’t always easy. From dealing with family drama to challenges day to day, this is particularly so for black-queer people due to latent homophobia and racism in their dual communities.
Unique issues arise within these dual communities from conditions created by historical oppression and inherited systemic racism. Their black communities and their queer communities often subject them to exclusionary practices or cast them into stereotyped roles and ideas that lead to existing in a kind of in-between space.
“Not just black people but the world, society has a negative outlook on gay people, being gay and black, well that’s two things against you, the world already doesn’t like you because you’re black and now they won’t like you because you’re gay,” Indiana State University alumnus Marvin Bills said.
Stemming from this history of degradation, the black community has found strength and unity to survive. The pillar of this strength often is the black church; however, the churches have also led to issues of contemporary queer acceptance.
“I would go to a black church on Easter, special occasions, when family was in town. There was one sermon I listened to about how gay people are full of sin and don’t belong within the church community,” Indiana University-Purdue-University of Indianapolis junior William Fairrow said.
Although, this has not been the sole factor leading to this general lack of queer acceptance. Systemic racism and oppression has led many black communities to experience issues of a lower socioeconomic standing then many white communities. Thus, white communities have the luxury of less stress and more freedom in much of life.
“I’m mixed so I’ve come out to my entire white family almost, and I have not felt comfortable enough to tell anybody on the black side of my family about me being gay because of the way they would mention a few family members who were also gay, so I’ve never felt comfortable telling them that because I value my relationships with them and don’t want anything to come between that,” Fairrow said.
These conditions create attitudes about how young black men should act and behave to become strong members of their community who can be relied on and survive in the broader society.
“Black men are held to a standard that they’re supposed to be better, that they’re supposed to carry themselves in a way that doesn’t hinder who they are or their culture,” Bills said.
The struggles that have been faced are not unique to only their black community. Within the queer community systemic prejudice is alive and well too.
“It’s more of me noticing that if I were a certain color I would have not have received a certain response from people – there is a prejudice against minorities in the gay community for sure. I would always wonder why in the queer movies and shows, for instance Queer as Folk, I would always wonder why whenever they would mention a black guy or when a black guy was in a scene or involved in the show at all, I wondered why the black guy had to be characterized as this real big buff Mandingo guy. They didn’t characterize black guys any other way, so that always confused me,” Bills said.
The prevalence of these attitudes may exist for a number of reasons. One that has been seen is as the queer community gains more acceptance, the desire or need to remain as relatable and appeal to society at large becomes a pressure on its own inclusiveness.
Those that do find success then may become “gatekeepers,” such as RuPaul has shown with comments about transgender drag contestants.
“Growing up I never saw myself represented, especially after I came out. I never saw myself represented in gay media. There was no one that was brown out there,” former ISU student Elliott Sandifer said.
While strides have been and continue to be made in the realms of racial and queer acceptance, it is important to stay vigilant. Clearly, issues do still exist and solutions are necessary.
“Educating people – I think that’s the biggest thing. Especially the older generation,” Sandifer said. “Exposure absolutely [as well]. The more seen it is, the less shocking it becomes.”