Great news everyone: Even with President Obama’s death panels, some things just refuse to die. Like racism in the gay community!
Okay, not exactly something to get excited about. But with all the nonsense about Obama’s presidency effectively eliminating the racial divide, it’s important to remember we still self-segregate, we still look down on others (and place others on a pedestal), and still think cultural traditions are hokey throwbacks to a bygone era. Somebody who knows this reality all too well is Noah’s Arc Doug Spearman, a refreshing actor type who doesn’t immediately drive us into clicking elsewhere.
“People tend to believe that racism, on all sides of the color lines, is something that stops at the gates of the LGBT community,” writes Spearman. Except: They are fooling themselves. In a remark that could casually be swept aside, Spearman asserts: “In fact, I think it’s worse now than it was when I came out in l980.”
Back then the bars felt a lot more friendly, prejudice was a dirty word, and the kids of the l960’s and early 70’s – those that had created the gay movement – were still on the dance floors of America elbow to elbow with the people who’d marched in Vietnam protests and Black Power parades, and had been active participants in the original Civil Rights Movement. Those were the grownups who were standing at the bar when I got there. They welcomed me. But they’re gone. That spirit seems to have evaporated. Not everywhere and not for everyone, but enough so that if you’re over the age of thirty-five you would notice.
Now, somehow, we’ve sunk back into old habits of separating ourselves from each other. People talk about white bars and black bars. We have white prides, black gay prides, and Latina/o gay prides. And they’re more than just celebrations of culture and gayness. These prides exist because a great many men and women feel unwelcome in mainstream gay communities.
But the good news? At least we’re (sort of) talking about it now. Especially when it comes to hacktivists and their silly civil rights fights.
It’s been happening for a while, but now, suddenly, people are talking about it. Our community has finally decided to talk about its dirty laundry. And it’s not an easy conversation to have. Race and race relations are a thick thread in the fabric of our country. It was a factor in the last presidential election, and for a while it was the cause of a lot of finger pointing after the Proposition 8 decision here in California. In the early days after the election, a lot of gay activist blamed black voters for not showing support for their plight for marriage equality. First they got the numbers wrong. Black voters, especially in Los Angeles, were not the tipping point. Second, they failed to understand what the issues of civil rights and equality mean to black people in this country. They – meaning well-intentioned gay activists – assumed that since theirs was an issue of equality and civil rights, that they’d have natural allies among a people who’d spent centuries being discriminated against. It’s a valid hope. But then again, when did a group of gay activist ever show up to make sure that black and Latino/a neighborhoods had decent schools or safe streets, or march for union job protection? All things being equal, when did that ever happen? How many gay men and women care or are aware that the President of the Southern California branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Eric Lee is being pressured to resign for supporting marriage equality? Where are we as a community on his behalf? We are all first Americans, despite our sexual identity. And, as Americans we inherit its issues like racism. It’s not possible for us not to, is it?
Now, are we about to abandon racial politics and become color blind overnight? Of course not — the same way we’re not about to ditch our sexual orientation as one of our identities. And that would be missing the point, anyhow. Nobody is (or at least, nobody should be) asking anyone to ditch their ethnic identities.
In fact, we’d encourage you to embrace your skin color and what it represents. But where we’re (all) at fault is letting it become a boundary. Using it as an excuse not to mix and mingle. To set up separate institutions.
Much blame falls into the laps of whites, who are fingered for excluding gays of colors. This criticism is, often, on target. But not always; there are plenty of black or Latino gays who self-seclude and ignore opportunities to interact with their white counterparts. You see, this problem is all of our faults, and inevitably it will be all of us who create a solution. Tomorrow? No. The next day? Probably not. But give yourself a week, and try engaging another LGBT person — at Starbucks, the grocery store, on Facebook, or this website — you would otherwise walk right past.
At the very least, you’ll be aware of any inclination to self-segregate. And realize how silly it is.