How racism exists in our community
Published Thursday, 20-Nov-2008 in issue 1091
Keith Boykin has been double marginalized.
The black New York Times best-selling author, host of Black Entertainment Television’s “My Two Cents” and editor of The Daily Voice, has reported on cases of racism in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
“There is something wrong when we as an oppressed people in the LGBT community are oppressing our own who are also fighting in the struggle of equality and freedom,” Boykin wrote in 2005, responding to incidents of discrimination in San Francisco’s Castro district.
Despite the fact GLBT people know the impact of discrimination they aren’t precluded from showing prejudice.
According to the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, “An individual’s racial or ethnic identity plays a powerful role in social belonging and group affiliation. LGB individuals who are black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander or Native American are members of a ‘double minority.’”
When California’s voters passed Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage on Nov. 4, gay bloggers and columnists made much ado about the black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islanders role in pushing the initiative through.
According to exit polls, 70 percent of black voters voted “yes” on Proposition 8, 53 percent of Latino voters passed it, and 49 percent of Asian Pacific Islanders voted “yes.”
While Proposition 8 has focused some activists’ attention on outreach to communities of color, some question what’s being done to reach out to black, Latino and Asian members of our community.
“I think what we’re dealing with here in light of Proposition 8 passing is issues of race and the LGBT community surfacing,” said Ramon Johnson, the Guide to Gay Life on About.com. “It’s something that has been longstanding in the community – a disconnect with diversity within the community.”
“In light of Proposition 8, one of our faults is, we haven’t embraced enough our own differences,” Johnson said. “We’re assumed to be gay first and then our other identity second. But, there are LGBT people of all ethnic backgrounds and all religious identities. There is not one face of the LGBT community, or one voice.”
Johnson said for too long there’s been one image of the GLBT community; which, he says, is particularly interesting considering a diverse crowd, including a number of ethnic backgrounds, took part in the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
Bar nights that cater to one race, and racial tension in the GLBT community can be attributed, Johnson said, to the disconnect diverse communities feel from the GLBT population at large.
“You talk about separate entertaining nights, or separate Pride events, and that’s a result of the feeling of disconnection, of being invisible within the larger LGBT community,” he said.
While some recognize the division in the community, others simply choose to ignore race as an issue among GLBT people.
“Many gay activists want to believe that there aren’t issues of racism within the gay community,” wrote Temple University Sociology Professor Chong-suk Han in a 2006 article titled “A Different Shade of Queer: Race, Sexuality, and Marginalizing by the Marginalized.” “As members of an oppressed group, they like to think that they are above oppressing others. Yet, looking around any gayborhood, something becomes blatantly clear to those of us on the outside looking in. Within the queer spaces that have sprung up in once neglected and forgotten neighborhoods, inside the slick new storefronts and trendy restaurants, and on magazine covers, gay America has given a whole new meaning to the term ‘whitewash.’”
As Boykin says, “Let’s face it – racism is still a problem in the LGBT community.”
‘Whiteness in the gay community is everywhere’
Racism among GLBT people can be implicit or explicit – from the online ads that read “no fems, no fats, no Asians” to the documented cases of discrimination at bars and clubs.
In the 1980s, non-white GLBT patrons at bars were asked for multiple forms of identification to be allowed in. It was documented most widespread in San Francisco, and on the other coast, the “Boston Bar Study” showed black gay men faced similar treatment at bars that welcomed gay white men.
According to a survey in 2000 conducted with black GLBT people in nine U.S. cities, a third of the respondents reported negative experiences in predominantly white GLBT organizations and with white GLBT persons in bars and clubs.
In 2005, Les Natali, the owner of the San Francisco gay bar Badlands, was cited by the city’s Human Rights Commission, which documented 13 incidents of racial discrimination by the staff. Examples of discrimination included refused entry for black patrons, and white patrons being served first despite black patrons being first in line. Natali has denied the accusations, and a settlement, which was not made public, was reached in mediation after a 19-month dispute.
In 2006, there were also reports of verbal attacks on gay Latinos by gay whites in San Francisco’s Castro district.
John Mendoza, who protested in the Castro against racism in the GLBT community, said he was told by a gay white male to “go back to Mexico you fucking wetback where you belong.”
When we talk about race dynamics in the LGBT community, it mirrors race dynamics in general culture. Just because people identify a particular sexuality does not make them void of any other societal influences, or societal impacts on their lives. This is nothing new. No one should be surprised. Race relations have been passed on through society. — Ramon Johnson, the Guide to Gay Life on About.com
In Dallas, Adrian Harris, a member of the Abe Lincoln Black Republican Caucus, a civic group of gay and bisexual men, said predominantly white gay clubs in Dallas still host “Negro nights.”
“Whiteness in the gay community is everywhere, from what we see, what we experience, and more importantly, what we desire,” Han wrote in “A Different Shade of Queer …” “Media images now popular in television and film such as ‘Will & Grace,’ My Best Friend’s Wedding, In & Out, ‘Queer as Folk,’ ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,’ ‘The L-Word,’ etc. promote a monolithic image of the ‘gay community’ as being overwhelmingly upper-middle class – if not simply rich – and white.
“Even the most perfunctory glance through gay publications exposes the paucity of non-white gay images. It’s almost as if no gay men or women of color exist outside of fantasy cruises to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, or the ‘Orient.’ And even there, we apparently only exist to serve the needs of the largely gay white population seeking an ‘authentic’ experience of some kind. To the larger gay community, our existence, as gay men and women of color, is merely a footnote, an inconvenient fact that is addressed in the most insignificant and patronizing way. Sometime between Stonewall and ‘Will & Grace,’ gay leaders, along with the gay press, have decided that the best way to be accepted was to mimic upper middle-class white America.”
Johnson also attributed disconnects in the community to the notion the GLBT community must present one face, or have one voice to present a united front.
GLBT people of color lose a connection with their community, he said, when they don’t seem themselves represented on television or in media.
Johnson said, similar to the diversity in the black, Latino, or Asian communities, for example, there are liberal and conservative members of the GLBT community, religious and non-religious members – and those who are less accepting of diversity.
“Every community is equally diverse,” he said. “When we talk about healing, the first step, A., is recognizing not all black people or Latino people are the same; and B., is realizing we can’t win this battle on our own. We need our straight allies, we need healing within our own community.”
In regards to Proposition 8, Johnson said, opponents of the same-sex marriage ban didn’t do enough to target communities of color.
“There are thousands of same-sex couples of color, but very few were in advertisements for No on 8,” he said. “The opponents soliciting support, very few of them went to people of color; the Yes on 8 people did. It’s not really a surprise. As long the LGBT community of color remains invisible within the LGBT community, so does the heterosexual community of color.”
‘No fems, no fats, no …”
Much has been said of online profiles that specify, for example, “no blacks,” “no Asians,” or “white only.” The debate is heated, at times, with some calling the limits racist.
So, when someone specifies a preference for one race, is it racism? Or, is it an issue of sexual compatibility?
There are two sides to the argument Johnson sees debated in his online forums. Some think requirements, such as “no Asians, no blacks” etc., reflect sexual preference, not underlying tension between races; others think the blatant limits reflect internalized racism. Johnson says he doesn’t subscribe to one view or the other – but he encourages readers online to keep open minds and not limit the possibility for love.
“The more we narrow down our options, the more we limit ourselves, the more we limit the possibility for bringing love into our lives,” he said. “Personally, I don’t believe in limits to love or connection.”
Han takes a more pointed view, identifying the behavior in online profiles as racist, and potentially damaging to people within the community.
“‘No fems, no fats, and no Asians,’ is a common quote found in many gay personal ads, both in print and in cyberspace,” Han writes. “Gay white men routinely tell us that we are lumped with the very least of desirable men within the larger gay community. To many of them, we are reduced to no more than one of many characteristics that are considered undesirable. Rather than confronting this racism, many of these gay Asian brothers have become apologists for this outlandish racist behavior. We damage ourselves by not only allowing it, but actively participating in it. We excuse their racist behavior because we engage in the same types of behavior. When seeking sexual partners for ourselves, we also exclude ‘fems, fats, and Asians.’ We hope that we are somehow the exception that proves the rule. ‘We’re not like other Asians,’ we tell ourselves. I’m sure that similar thoughts go on in other minds, only, Asian might be replaced with black, Latino, Native American, etc. In our minds, we are always the exceptions.”
It’s not likely we’ll see an end to users on dating or hookup sites specifying preferences for one race over another, but some dating sites are eliminating fields that ask users’ race or ethnic background or preference. They’re replaced with questions about compatibility, likes and dislikes, goals and interests.
“That’s significant,” Johnson said. “There are a significant number of people thirsting for a connection beyond a checkbox.”
‘We’ve identified the elephant in the room’
Where do we go from here? Conversations about race relations in the community are just beginning. Online, Johnson’s forums on race in the gay community reflect the issue of race relations in society as a whole. “When we talk about race dynamics in the LGBT community, it mirrors race dynamics in general culture,” he said. “Just because people identify a particular sexuality does not make them void of any other societal influences, or societal impacts on their lives. This is nothing new. No one should be surprised. Race relations have been passed on through society.”
“There’s this misconception that sexuality somehow makes us these intangible beings, or this intangible identity that media has defined for us,” he said noting GLBT people are as capable of feeling division between races as other communities.
Johnson said we’ve taken the first steps to healing the divides among diverse GLBT people.
“We’ve identified the elephant in the room,” Johnson said. “Now we need to begin a dialogue. It’s starting to happen. We’re starting to reach out to each other. We start by starting a dialogue that’s inclusive of all voices. We need to start having town hall meetings, online dialogues, groups – all to make the connection between people.”