CHICAGO DEFENDER (Newspaper) ISSN 0745-7014
2400 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60616, USA
Bus./Editorial (312) 225-2400 Circ. (312) 225-2400
Saturday, June 21, 1997
MY GAY PROBLEM, YOUR BLACK PROBLEM
African American men's fear and misconceptions
contribute to their homophobia
by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D.
Have Black attitudes toward gays undergone much change today? Hardly. Rappers such as Ice Cube still rap that "Real niggers ain't faggots." Leading Afrocentrists have sworn that "homosexuality is a deviation from Afrocentricity." And bushels of Black ministers, with generous support from their white Christian fundamentalist brethren, still brand homosexuality "a sin before God." Some Blacks have escalated their low-intensity warfare against gays to an all-out, "take no prisoners" battle.
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has made it almost part of his divine mission to attack homosexuality. Even though the Million Man March publicly welcomes gays and treated the ones who participated civilly, no one really believed that this represented a sea of change in attitude among Blacks toward gays.
If some did, Farrakhan quickly dispelled that notion in a TV interview with Evans and Novak in March 1997. He made it clear that he still regarded homosexuality as an "unnatural act" and would discourage the practice whenever and wherever he could.
Some traditional civil rights leaders have continued to denounce homophobia and urge support of gay rights. They remind Blacks that homophobia and racism are two sides of the same coin and that many of the same white conservatives, from Pat Buchanan to Jerry Falwell, that relentlessly savage gays are the same ones that relentlessly savage civil rights gains.
They are right, but their arguments still cut little weight with many Blacks. The one and only comprehensive survey conducted in 1995 to measure Black attitudes toward gays, found that Blacks, like whites, hadn't slackened up on their hostility one bit.
More damning and ominous for Blacks is the fact that they still continued to pile special scorn on Black gay men. The one potential bright spot in this even has a taint.
The survey found that there was less anti-gay sentiment among the more educated, less religious and more affluent Blacks, but ONLY if the gay male was white. They still cast Black gay men deep in the nether world of contempt.
That anti-gay feeling runs so deep among many African Americans that there is a virtual "Black-out" of any discussion or activities of Black gay men. Black gays and lesbians have held a number of National Black Gay Conferences since 1987. Yet there has been only the scantiest mention of them in the Black press. The national gay and lesbian publication, BLK, might as well gather dust in the Smithsonian Museum for all that most Blacks know about it.
Black gay men continue to feel like men without a people. They carry the triple burden of being Black, male, and gay. They are rejected by many Blacks and sense that they are only barely tolerated by white gays. Many Black gay men feel trapped, tormented and confused by this quandary. They are still forced to repress, hide and deny their sexuality from family members, friends, and society.
Black gay men worry that the hatred of other Black men towards them won't change as long as they (heterosexual Black men) feel that their manhood is subverted, accept America's artificial standard of manhood, and gay attitudes remain firmly rooted in much of the American public.
This will only change when more Black leaders understand that when you scratch a homophobe, underneath you'll invariably find someone who will deny you all your civil rights. And when more Black men realize that Black gay bashing will win no brownie points with conservatives and will certainly not make them any more sympathetic to Black people.
Khalid Muhammad, the former national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, found that out. In a widely publicized speech in 1994, he made one of the most devastating and disgusting public assaults on gays. Yet he remains one of the most vilified Black men in America.
Some of the leaders who upheld the spirit of the Million Man March were gays. This was a positive step in that it was tacit recognition that all Black men, regardless of sexuality, face many of the same problems. But it in no way meant that the majority of Black men were willing to completely accept Black gay men as brothers and equals.
In time, more gay Black men will come out of the closet and more heterosexual Black men will meet them, get to know them better, or in some cases, discover that they have known them all along.
This will force even more Black men to re-examine their own faulty definitions of manhood and confront their own homophobia. This will go far toward ridding them of their fear of Black gays as their bogeymen.
But mostly I hope that more Black men are wise enough to see that they should be the last ones in America to jettison other Blacks who may be in a position to make valuable contributions to the struggle for political and economic empowerment.
It took time for me to learn all of this, but I did, because I no longer wanted my gay problem to be my Black problem.
Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Assassination of the Black Male Image, Beyond O.J.: Race, Sex, and Class Lessions For America, and Black Fatherhood: The Guide to Male Parenting. Reponses may be sent e-mail to Earl Ofari Hutchingson Telephone: 213-298-0266
Last updated: 28 June 1997 by Chuck Tarver