We all know February is
the shortest month Black History Month. A time for us to reflect on the contributions made by the black community to American history. But, at Mass Appeal we like to do things differently. Instead of reflecting on the past, we’re going to give love to some of the folks who are making history right now. In 2014, there are still many barriers facing the black community, homophobia, racial profiling, mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and poverty are not only plaguing the black community, but are destructive to American society in general. For this series, and the greater good of America, we’re going to confront the issues and drop some knowledge on the pioneers who are diligently working to break down these barriers.
Homophobia continues to plague all societies across the globe, and the problem is rife within the black and African diaspora communities. Of the 83 countries where homosexuality is a punishable offense, 38 of them lie on the continent of Africa. Homosexuality is notoriously stigmatized within these communities for various reasons – religion, ignorance, and intolerance all play major roles. In Africa, where the AIDS epidemic is centered, Do Something says that, “out of the 34 million HIV-positive people worldwide, 69 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa. There are roughly 23.8 million infected persons in all of Africa.” Furthermore, “91 percent of the world’s HIV-positive children live in Africa.” But why? Is it because people of African descent are more prone to HIV and AIDS? No! The truth is that a lack of education and the social stigmas of homosexuality play crucial roles in the spread of the disease. As Adrian Smith, head researcher for Oxford University, tells Time Magazine; “In countries that protect sexual minorities, those groups are able to access services and reduce their risks, but as long as behaviors remain criminalized and stigmatized, you’re on the one hand asking a group to identify themselves and be integrated into a health system — but then the state still poses structural obstacles to prevent them doing that.”
The problem is not only contained to the African continent, in America, homophobia does not only effect the black LGBT community, but black society as a whole. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Blacks/African Americans continue to experience the most severe burden of HIV, compared with other races and ethnicities. Blacks represent approximately 12% of the U.S. population, but accounted for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections in 2010. They also accounted for 44% of people living with HIV infection in 2009.” There is a direct correlation between high HIV and AIDS rates among both gay and straight African Americans and homophobia within the community. Shaming and condemning the black gay community only further hinders the groups ability to combat the HIV epidemic. By oppressing the voices of the black gay community, we are digging our own graves, literally.
Apart from the issue of HIV and AIDS, homophobia is responsible for various other ills within the community, including; higher rates of suicide and depression, domestic violence, ruining families and friendships, and increased homelessness amongst gay youths, with 40 percent of overall homeless youth identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Many of these problems could be alleviated if open and honest conversations were able to be held within the black community. In order to foster that conversation there must be awareness, education and compassion. Even though, historically, black folks have had a particularly hard time coming to terms with the notion “we’re here and queer.” All of that is starting to change as more and more black public figures are coming out of the proverbial closet and making their stories, struggles and triumphs known publicly so that the dialogue and healing can begin. Here are some of those people.
Brittney Griner, WNBA Player
“Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because they’re always going to say something, but, if you’re just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don’t hide who you really are . . . I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn’t hard at all. If I can show that I’m out and I’m fine and everything’s okay, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way.”
Jason Collins, NBA Player
“No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.”
Frank Ocean, Singer
Whoever you are. Wherever you are… I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to. My loved ones are everything to me here. In the last year or three, I’ve screamed at my creator, screamed at clouds in the sky, for some explanation. Mercy maybe. For peace of mind to rain like manna somehow . . . I’ve never had more respect for life and living than I have right now. Maybe it takes a near death experience to feel alive. Thanks. To my mother. You raised me strong. I know I’m only brave because you were first. So thank you. All of you. For everything good. I feel like a free man. If I listen closely I can hear the sky falling too.”
Syd Tha Kyd, Singer
“I decided to come out because I wish I had someone like that while I was coming up. People write on my Tumblr just thanking me for making the video, saying that I really inspire them, and they want to be like me. But I wasn’t always this way, this comfortable with myself, and I remember what that was like. So I figure, fuck it. Everyday people aren’t given this opportunity and I realize that. And I didn’t at first. I thought I was just lucky to be along for the ride.”
Raven Symone, Actress/ Singer
“I am very happy that gay marriage is opening up around the country and is being accepted. I was excited to hear today that more states legalized gay marriage. I, however am not currently getting married, but it is great to know I can now, should I wish to.”
Don Lemmon, CNN Anchor
“I think it’s just important to live your own truth in your own being, in your own life. And if someone asks you the question in an interview or on any format, just say yes, next question. I was born gay, just as I was born black.”
Mykki Blanco, Rapper
“There is a very safe gay attitude toward entertainment, which is: Make noise! But not too much noise. Make waves! But don’t offend the wrong people. And if you want to really be accepted, you’re going to have to tailor your image a little bit to a homogenized, heterosexual mainstream. I am not willing to do any of those things. I’m not going to be some sort of gay political dress-up doll.”
Angel Haze, Rapper
I think that labels aren’t for me. It’s not for a person, it’s to make other people comfortable, so I don’t really buy into that. But If I’m asked to identify myself as something then, yes, pansexual is what I would choose.
I define it as someone who sees people for who they are and not their gender. I don’t base all of my relationships off of sex. I’m still a virgin, I don’t really care about that. I care about connecting with people on a deeper level and actually having something to talk about and something to work for and something we’re both interested in. It’s viable, you know? I want something deep rooted versus having something that’s just rooted in literal sexual tension. It doesn’t really mean anything to me. To kind of identify as pansexual, to me, means to just want love. To have a connection with anyone you can find it with.
Michael Sam, Missouri Defensive End – NFL Hopeful
Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was. I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay. I was so proud of myself and I just didn’t care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay; is that true?’ I would have said yes.
Janet Mock, Writer/ Creator #Girlslikeus
I’ve preached the importance of having role models, mentors and friends who support you. It took a village for me to be who I am today, and it still takes a village to assist me in the journey ahead. While the struggles were mine alone to grapple with, I am a product of my support system, a community that included straight parents and siblings, gay and lesbian classmates, gender-nonconforming teen support group members, drag queens who practiced at the community recreation center where I hung out as a kid, queer volleyball teammates, and older trans women who used their transition experiences to light my path.
I was a transgender child who grew up to be a woman. This is how I choose to speak, how I define myself. I don’t deny any parts of my history, just as I don’t deny being a woman of African-American and Native Hawaiian ancestry. They are equal parts me.
For me, being a trans woman living visibly I understand the weight of my history, which is not just a medical condition. Though I did have to intervene with the help of medicine, I don’t see it as equating to getting a mole removed. My journey is so much more than the surgery I had and the hormones I ingested to physically embody my womanhood. My life has been a series of fights (with and alongside my loved ones, the people around me, and now a larger society) that are so much more than just the medical transition I endured.