Since the President’s announcement regarding his completed evolution to the right side of history I’ve been thinking about just how important it is to publically own your beliefs and who you are. For far too long it has been the norm in the black community to use the “my business is MY business” excuse to skirt questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. Essentially, giving people an out for not owning their full selves—the same was true for the President. We have known for some time from President Obama’s pre-national stage interviews that he believed in equality for all people, but in order to win the country’s highest office he had to keep a core part of his beliefs closeted.
The closet is a dark and lonely place to exist day after day, year after year.
For black gay and transgender people in particular, the closet has been a prison—until recently. The President’s announcement wasn’t just a campaign opportunity to rally his liberal base, but a catalyst to end the black community’s self-imposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy”. Until recently, there were no substantive conversations happening regarding black LGBT people in the black community.
Black LGBT folks were to be “seen and not heard”.
It was ok for you to bring your “friend” to church as long as you didn’t ask to be treated with the same dignity and respect as other coupled church folks. So, with pain and patience we sat, waiting. Waiting for our stories to be told, waiting for our lives to matter— waiting for the black community to see us.
The complexity in being both black and gay means that you are doubly if not triply marginalized. Black people accept you because you are black but ignore your “gayness”, while the largely white gay movement embraces that you are gay, but wants you to put your race on the back burner. The lives of black gay and transgender people are constantly compartmentalized and never truly accepted in its entirety.
Black people more so than other minority groups know all too well what it means to be invisible. In 1968 black sanitation workers marched in Memphis with the now infamous “I AM A MAN” signs for a march on City Hall. Why those signs? Because society didn’t recognize black men as men—their contributions and struggle were all but ignored and reflected in pay inequities. We are a people that have spent centuries proving our humanity—from chattel to the Oval Office. Once President Obama was elected his opposition couldn’t see him—a black man as President, so he had to show them his birth certificate and prove his authenticity.
With the President’s announcement, NAACP’s vote and several black celebrity endorsements of marriage equality—the black LGBT community for the first time has become visible, and being seen for the fullness of who I am feels fabulous!
But we can’t stop at just visibility we must strive for full acceptance. So, as Melissa Harris Perry said last week “the struggle continues”!
Musical Inspiration after the jump… Live in Your Truth!