April 06, 2006

Racial Separation in the GLBT Community?

I've pondered that quesiton since I patricipated in Equality Maryland's lobby day rally earlier this year and noticed the only African-American faces I saw were invited speakers. I wondered if that was a fluke, then I heard that Julian Bond, one of the more respected African-American leaders, would not attend Coretta King's funeral because she had come out in support of gay rights. I then knew there was a deep seeded issue at work here.

This article from the Southern Voice delves into the issue of racial division in Atlanta, a city with one of the largest concentrated groups of African-Americans, GLBT people, and one could presume African-American GLBTs. While this piece does not come up with any firm conclusions, it is at least a good exploration of the issue.

I have heard two theories, neither of them scientifically researched. The first one, especially among Christian African-Americans, focuses on the strong "fundamentalist" teaching they receive in primarily African-American churches. The idea is that even as many fall away from the church as adults, they remember some of the basics drilled into them by the sermons they heard as children. We all know how "fundamentalists" feel about GLBTs.

The second theory deals with resentment. At the rally I attended, one of the primary themes put forth by the speakers, especially the African-American ones, was a push for civil rights. There was even a point where we were led in a couple of songs from the civil rights marches in the 1960's, which I thought was a bit over the top.

Anyway, the theory I have heard is that there is resentment among some of the prominent African-American leaders who could really help push for issues like same-sex marriage. Resentment derived from a feeling that the GLBT community is not entitled to ride on the coattails of civil rights icons like Martin Luther King. I can't help but find some merit in that. I believe those who are leading the fight for GLBT rights need to set their own tone and not try to hitch their wagon to civil rights battles fought long ago.

I am very interested in your thoughts here. It is an issue I will continue to study and post on from time to time when I have something of substance to share.


  1. I believe those who are leading the fight for GLBT rights need to set their own tone and not try to hitch their wagon to civil rights battles fought long ago.

    Well, I agree, but I don't quite see it that way. I think civil rights are civils rights no matter what the group which is oppressed. I wish I could quote it directly, but can only paraphrase, but I believe it was King himself that said as long as one group is oppresed, that none of us are free.

  2. As much as I hate to admit it, there is still a lot of racism, even in the gay community. In the various social circles that I've been privy to, so many snarky comments being made about black people: their intelligence, social status, joking speculations about genital sizes and diseases. I also hear it frequently within mainstream communities (and even some religious communities). I know what it's like to be treated disrespectfully simply for being the beautiful person that you were born as... and so does the rest of the gay community. So why the hell do they resort to this sort of disgusting behavior?

  3. Hey, Jim. I tend to agree with Jarrell here. I spent some time a few years back with a gentleman that marched with Martin Luther King. He was a black man who also happened to be gay. MLK supported him and the GLBT community. At the time, the focus was on blacks, but MLK understood a premise that I think many in the black community today would do well to grasp...that civil rights are for ALL people. Coretta Scott King echoed that premise in everything she did.
    I have another theory on the racial divide in the GLBT community. I think that, culturally, many black people feel a need to attend a predominantly black church. Either the church of their youth or one that is local to them now and is of the same teachings. Obviously, it's only a theory, but I think it's worth checking into. Our church only within the last year or so has seen an influx of color in our ranks. I welcome it!

  4. That would be a really interesting topic to research... Maybe I'll do a study. Good observation, there's definately an issue at hand.

  5. I lived in DC for over 10 years. While there I noticed very quickly how at LGBT events you had the "token" black man. What I learned is that the racial divide affects the gay community as much as it does American society at large - in some ways I actually think its worse.

    When I lived in the US I was always disturbed by the fact that LGBT campaigners were often trying to force a link between us and the civil rights work of Dr. King and Ghandi. I always felt it disrespected the complexity of the issues they faced and their example.

    You mention inyour post - and others in response have highlighted it too - that the LGBT community should develop its own voice. I could not agree with you more. We have the same problem when it comes to "Same Sex Marriage" - lesbian and gay couples often "imitate" the rights and theology of straight couples. As a theologian this opens a raft of wonderfully wierd questions. But if I were straight, and if I were straight I would like to think that I would also be very gay friendly (grin) - I can imagine I would be annoyed, even resentful of this mimicking of a rite, a set of customs, and imagery that is mis-matched to the needs and expression of love a gay couple has.

    Likewise, if I were a gay-friendly black man or woman, living in a still very segregated America, knowing that my grandmother was at Selma, and my Aunts were jailed for marching & protesting, I think I would not be too comfortable with a bunch of mostly white lesbians and gays trying to "abduct" Dr. King and force him to speak to their issues.

    Yes, its time (no its overdue) that the LGBT community stop imitating others - and speak with their own voice.

  6. I am a 43 year black gay male who has lived most of my adult life in one the urban centers here in the USA. I grew up in a small town and obviously because of my age I grew up in the 60's etc. I have always been a person who has appreciated diverse cultures.

    I write all of that to state my background. This topic 'Racial Separation in the GLBT Community' is something which I have often thought of and discussed with friends either directly or indirectly. I have friends and associate with people of many different backgrounds in addition to those who share my experience in this country (e.g. African Americans).

    I do believe that racial separation exists within the gay community and believe that is has existed to the same degree as in the heterosexual community. I have formed certain opinions based on my experiences, what I have read in books and the internet, and from talking with others. Below I will share those observations.

    * Their is a belief that the GLBT is more accepting of unity and diversity that the heterosexual community.

    * Their is a belief that the African American community is more (or more often than not) should be more accepting of GLBT concerns because of having experienced centuries of oppression.

    * I find neither of those beliefs (in my experience) to hold much water. In the GLBT community (in bars, organizations) I have personally always encountered - and not from everyone- a feeling of not being in the "in circle" that is not invited to purely social events, not necessarily made to feel as comfortable as someone who may be white (no matter how friendly I try to be).

    * In the African American community, because of the influence of Christianity and the importance of that connection (which I believe is both maintained within the black community as a source of comfort in an often cold world and encouraged by the larger community because we do live in a country founded on Judeo Christian principles) homosexuality is seen as sinful. There is also the belief that homosexuality is something that "came from the white man". I share neither of those views.

    * I believe that due to their is a lot of fear of black people on the part of white people in general. Witness the evening news and who is more often pictured as looting, selling drugs, sponging off of welfare. This belief can then transfer to every black person whether consiously or unconsiously - that is black people are thought of as monolithic.

    * The face of gayness is often pictured as a white male or female in the media which I think might be based in some fact (e.g. the person who fears the least economic, familial, spiritual backlash will feel more comfortable in being public). A person who is already working to counter other stereotypes in the minds of their employer and feels that their positiion is precarious to begin with will not be as likely to stick their neck out.

    * A black person who is openly gay/lesbian while risking alienation from his/her family (as many white gays/lesbians might) will not necessarily have a the GLBT community to fall back on and receive support.

    * The analysis of this problem always seems to take the perspective of the problem is "out there" that is that in addition to whites in the GLBT community wondering why the black community is not for open towards gays, there is not the same energy towards looking at what are things really like within the white GLBT community. In the same sense that we have this view of taking personal responsbility (e.g. not being on welfare) in this country, it is not applied equally when we look at ourselves.

    * In the 70's in GLBT clubs/bars black gays were regularly asked for more than one piece of ID if they were allowed into the club. (This is based on stories I have heard from several black gay men from around this country).

    * In the 60/70's separate gay clubs existed for blacks and whites. One older white gay friend of mine who was out in the late sixties confirmed this and that some of the clubs he went to would not allow blacks (actually another word was used when he heard it) to enter a particular club.

    * In the 80's and early 90's a white friend who worked a local gay bar said the manager told he and other employees to make it as difficult as possible for too many blacks to enter.

    * I have been in clubs and been the last to be served (this has improved though).

    * A white guy (who is originally from New Jersey) when talking about a mugging which happened a few weeks ago (three black guys mugging a white guy), said that the bartender who had chased them had his 'nigger beater'.

    * Race is an issue like the elephant in the middle of the room, no one really wants to talk about and because of that things continue as they are.

  7. Julian Bond refused to attend Coretta Scott King's funeral, not because she favored gay rights, but because the preacher of the church where her funeral was held vigorously opposed them. (The service was not held at the church she attended.)He was protesting the bigotry of the pastor, not the committment of Mrs. King. Whether, he should have used her funeral to make that point is another question. But his intent was to express his support for the civil rights of gays, not to protest them or Mrs. King.

  8. thanks anonymous 43 yo black gay male for your insightful commentary.

  9. Coretta Scott King followed her husband's leadership and was a strong supporter of equal rights for our gay and lesbian citizens:

    Coretta Scott King, speaking four days before the 30th anniversary of her husband's assassination, said Tuesday the civil rights leader's memory demanded a strong stand for gay and lesbian rights. "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice," she said. "But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'" "I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people," she said. - Reuters, March 31, 1998.

    I see in this article that the NAACP is rallying religious and other Black leaders to advise voters to reject the anti-gay marriage amendment in South Carolina.

  10. I want to correct a point I made in this post. As a commenter said, my statement about Julian Bond was incorrect. He chose to skip Coretta King's funeral not because of her gay-rights stance but due to the anti-gay activism of the preacher at the funeral.