Friday, October 17, 2014

The Erasure of 'Gay' From Black History & the Black Community Must Stop

Editor's note - The following post was initially exclusive to The Huffington Post, where it received much support and attention. I am now posting it here:

Your blogmaster hard at work.
As a gay African-American, I've heard the argument about how "you can't compare the gay civil rights movement to the African-American civil rights movement" more times than I care to count.

The constant so-called moral outrage of some African-American heterosexuals when the topic is mentioned has gotten me to the point where my mind automatically tunes out the monotonous drones of how supposed sinful homosexuals are "high jacking" the civil rights movement or how gays "can't compare their sin with black skin."

As such, I almost missed the epiphany which occurred over two weeks ago.

I was vaguely scanning comments on a conservative site by an anonymous African-American female as she went on and on about how gays were never subjected to slavery, segregation or declared three fifths a person. While the logical side of my mind was gathering up the customary argument of how wrong it was for disadvantaged people of any stripe to play the "Oppression Olympics," the emotional side of my mind struck immediately.

"This is the most ignorant crap I've ever heard," I thought. "Just where in the hell does she think gay black people were during slavery and segregation? On a spaceship orbiting the Earth? "

I was instantly struck by oddity of what I had thought. Not that my outrage wasn't coming from a place of truth, mind you, but how the simple fact never entered my mind that yes, gay people were subjected to slavery, segregation and racism because of our skin. Just as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people of color exist now, we existed back then. Then it suddenly struck me again that I've never recalled any acknowledgement of this fact during the myriad of discussions, I've read, listened to or seen regarding comparisons between the gay and civil rights movements.

And why is that?

There have been numerous debates, articles, columns, movies and documentaries about how the legacy of racism has had a negative effect on so many aspects of African-American community, from our families to the way we interact with each other. It stands to reason that the legacy of racism didn't leave LGBT people of color unscathed. But information about what LGBT people of color did during those awful times in our history or what effect it has had on us is practically nonexistent.

It is a subject hardly ever mentioned. No one talks about it in the black community and that includes leaders, intellectuals, journalists, authors or any other person with some type of platform.

And this leaves me feeling as if the events of black history, which are supposed to be a part of my heritage, are nothing more than hand-me-downs donated to me out of charity because there are very few, if any, events which are specific to me as an LGBT person of color.

Or at least that's what I am led to believe by the black community at large.

 It's all part and parcel of being an LGBT person of color. Generally in both the LGBT and African-American communities, LGBT people of color tend to always find ourselves in the background while someone else is doing the talking and planning. Apparently we are only good enough as faces but without voices or opinions regarding strategies or leadership. And our issues are not considered important, but examples of "identity politics" gone too far.

It is slowly (and I mean very slowly) changing in the LGBT community, but it is in the black community where LGBT people of color run up against a massive brick wall. There is a pattern of erasure which strips our presence from the majority of black history. And this pattern of erasure bleeds into day-to-day treatment and interactions. Personal biases and prejudices prevent us from being considered as genuine members of the black community and many heterosexual African-Americans conveniently ignore issues and concerns indigenous to us as LGBT people.

When African-American civic organizations talk about "the state of Black America," we are omitted. We are talked about as examples of how tolerant the black community is becoming rather than conversed with as African-Americans who just happen to be gay but with a genuine stake in the survival of the community. In the rare moment that we are able to interact with other members of the black community in discussions about our lives, we barely get a word in edgewise while they seem to always monopolize the conversation.

To some African-American heterosexuals, we are mere sidebars or addendums. We are objects they hurl Biblical scripture at to cover up their own religious shortcomings or soulless reservoirs of salacious gossip holding court in places like beauty parlors.

Supposedly righteous church ladies or upstanding church men smile in our faces but then hypocritically say rude things behind our backs because we seem "too butch" to be a "real woman" or "too swishy" to be a "real man." And while they do this, they are totally oblivious to the fact that we are hip to their behavior but will disguise our hurt as a show of respect.

Being an LGBT person is not considered an identity by some in the black community, but rather a condition placed upon you by an unfortunate occurrence or mishap. And for the benefit of those who know what I am talking about, no one "turned me out." I was born this way.

Some LGBT people of color condition ourselves to accept these roles and disrespect because we fear rejection and isolation. This behavior is often mistaken as a reason for the problem rather than a result.

The sad fact is that some in the black community at large simply refuse to see LGBT people of color in the same light as they would see each other. And the erasure of our voices and faces from black history is proof of this because it is an example of how they deny us our heritage and our place at the table on our own terms rather than the terms of their fearful and misguided perceptions.

And that simply has to change.


Erik Atlas said...

I am shaking my head reading this honest and tear inspiring account. I got history. It was collected from accounts and stories and relatives that cared to remember.

I was regarded as discard-able by my kin. But we're littered with "confirmed bachelors" in our family. LGBT history is only remarked when it is so obvious it can not be ignored.

Much of it we cant find because straights have been active in hiding it. Do you think its likely you may never find any because our detractors were so active scrubbing us out?

BlackTsunami said...

I can only hope that one day, we find our history. I've looked and done research about slavery, reconstruction and those times and as of yet can find nothing :(

Erik Atlas said...

I read you all the time. You matter man. If we dont have nothing behind us at least we can look forward.Appreciate the pavement man! Thanks!

Erica Cook said...

I remember a couple of years ago there was a collection of photos taken from the 1800s on the old camaras that took something like 10 minutes to take a photo. They were of same sex couples from the time, all men. I'm trying to remember back to it and it seems to me that there were a few of them who were black couples. I wish I knew how to find it, but if it were found it would be nice to be able to find it to bring out when they pull crap like that. As I wrote in your Hufington post article, I believe all hyphen gays deal with this. The LGBT community doesn't always know what to do about us, and our other community may actively hate us.

In regards to the gay slaves, I wonder if many of them simply didn't live long enough to make it to adulthood. We think now a days what it mush be like being LGBT and a racial minority, but I can only imagine if one was in that place, their family actively hated them, and they were owned and couldn't run away or find someone to help them. It makes me sick to think what the best case scenario would have been then.

I think that on some level many in the black community don't want to admit that in this case they are the oppressive majority. I don't think they quite know how to handle that.