Lee Daniels Explains Why It’s Harder For Black Men To Come Out

Out filmmaker Lee Daniels is surely sitting on top of the world today after his fact-based drama Lee Daniels’ The Butler cleaned up at the box office with approximately $25 million in North America over the weekend, yet the director told Larry King that black gay men have more difficulty coming out because they face more intense pressure from their family, church and peers.

First, Daniels startled King (it’s true, the 79-year-old interviewer can still express emotions) by revealing that he realized he was gay at the tender age of five.

The 53-year-old Daniels recalled walking around in his mother’s red pumps as a child in front of his father and some of his policemen friends who were playing cards.

“He beat me severely for it,” Daniels remembered. “But that didn’t stop me because the following Sunday I walked down the stairs wearing her blue pumps — this time with her purse!”

The director, who received an Academy Award nomination for his work on 2009’s Precious, also shared a telling anecdote about his research on that film. He visited  the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center expecting to see a waiting room filled with gay men, but instead it was filled with black women who’d been infected by closeted men.

“Black men can’t come out,” Daniels stated firmly. “Why? Because you simply can’t do it. Your family says it. Your church says it. Your teachers say it. Your parents say it. Your friends say it. Your work says it. So you’re living on this ‘DL’ thing and you’re infecting black women and it’s killing us. The black culture and the hispanic culture have a thing about [homosexuality].”

All the more reason to be grateful for men like Jason CollinsDarren Young and Lee Daniels!

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  • Kangol

    Gag! Of course Lee Daniels is going to promote the idea of extreme black homophobia, and that black men cannot come out, even though he is out, as are Jason Collins, John Amaechi, Darren Young, and so many others. Some of the biggest gay pioneers have and continue to be black men. And black straight candidates (Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun) supported same-sex marriage before most of their white peers. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

  • Eric Auerbach

    That sounds about right. I do buy that it’s harder for the average gay black man than for the average gay white man to come out.

  • boring

    Now if he’ll only admit he makes terrible movies.

  • iMort

    Yes. Lets do play the race card. Being a person of color with no rights at all really is the issue of the day.

  • Scribe38

    Things are changing slowly but they are changing. Culture is a hard thing to fight against. I prepared myself to leave my whole world when I came out. I had my own place, car, and job because I didn’t want to have to answer to anyone. I have known black, Arab, and Mexican men who will never come out because they fear they will never be welcomed at home again. I feel for the guys, just not going to date them.

  • Caliban

    I believe there really is more pressure on gay black men not to come out. I also believe that it’s no picnic for ANY man to come out and that gay white men in the past had pressures on them just as great but they did it anyway. You either own up or you don’t, but stop making excuses, blaming other people for why you can’t or won’t.

    The ONLY reason we have the rights and visibility that we do now is because people gutted up and came out despite the consequences, fought for their (our) rights when it was much harder to do so. So either do it or don’t, but for god’s sake stop blaming other people for why you “can’t.”

  • GayFilmmaker

    Black men can’t come out? Bullshit. Grow some balls, come out and deal with it. If they “can’t” come out, it’s because they’ve been brainwashed by their churches, or because they’re just plain weak.

  • sangsue

    Anyone who says that there isn’t great pressure for black men to remain in the closet is being disingenuous. I’m sure there’s also more pressure for any man to remain in the closet if they’re in the South or the Bible Belt as well but it’s extreme in the African American community, for men AND women. The church is super strong in their lives and with their families.

  • Brian

    Lee Daniels’ comments are homophobic and anti-male. Firstly, he appears to connect male homosexuality to the spread of diseases. Secondly, he appears to blame men for the spread of diseases to women as if somehow women are never to blame for spreading diseases to men.

    Down-low is cheating, not homosexuality. Male cheaters can cheat with women or cheat with men. Homosexuality has nothing to do with it. Male cheaters need to stop blaming their cheating ways on homosexuality.

    The other issue is gender politics. Men who have sexual feelings for men are often resented by their wives. Women who have sexual feelings for women are often accepted – and indeed encouraged – by their husbands. The latter occurs because husbands see such wives as being “liberated” and open to a swinging lifestyle which he, being male, is naturally inclined.

  • skcord

    He’s in his 50’s, I think he is speaking more to his formative years rather than current generations (intentionally or unintentially.) I couldn’t disagree with him more personally. Coming out is a process for anyone.

  • Caliban

    “Anyone who says that there isn’t great pressure for black men to remain in the closet is being disingenuous. I’m sure there’s also more pressure for any man to remain in the closet if they’re in the South or the Bible Belt as well but it’s extreme in the African American community, for men AND women. The church is super strong in their lives and with their families.”


    But so what? You think it’s easy for ANYONE to come out, to risk their friendships and family relationships? *IF* it is now easier for people to come out now it’s only because of the people who came out before us, who laid the ground.

    Basically being “on the Down Low” is just another phrase for “closet case.”

  • erikwm

    DL = damned liar.

    Speak your truth. Don’t be controlled by your fears.

  • jckfmsincty

    I just saw “The Butler”. Although, it has an important social message, it’s a mess of a movie. It’s just a series of episodes of recent American history highlighting teaching moments about the importance of civil rights in this country. I thought is was embarrassingly cliched. It’s far inferior to “Fruitville Station”.

  • Geoff B

    I’m not black, so I can’t speak to what he said and thus have no reason not to believe him. I’ve heard this same thing about the Latino community. My Mom is mostly Latina and most of my family on that side are %100. Maybe I got lucky, but while my family is rather conservative for the most part (because money), they are super supportive. My Grandparents didn’t miss a pride parade (my Grandma passed 2 weeks ago, but they were huge hits in Chicago since they were always hugging people and telling them how much they and God loved them just the way they are). But I’ve heard horror stories from other people. I guess everyone has their own story and point of view from their own experiences, but just because someone else’s experience isn’t yours doesn’t mean they’re lying. Don’t get me wrong, Ihate when people falsely claim victim or play a race or minority card, but I just don’t see Daniels doing it here.

  • carob

    Controlling families are the single most important reason why some people can’t come out. Has nothing to do with race. Religion and culture are just convenient excuses they employ in order to control their children.

  • nic_1989

    I as gay black man I can assure you that Lee Daniels is spot on in what he’s saying, he’s not saying everyone in the black community is homophobic or its impossible to come out, he is merely saying because of the influence of religion which plays a huge part in this community, their is a huge amount of ignorance and intolerance which leads to men/women terrified of being who they truly are and leading double lives, possibly not having safe sex and spreading this illness. It takes a strong person to walk away intolerant friends/family/co-workers to be who they truly are.

    This comes from someone who is a part of the black community.

  • B Damion

    @ nic_1989 I agree. But, I also understand and agree with the folks that disagree with him. I think everyone makes valid points.

    Caliban.. makes a very profound point “it’s no picnic for ANY man to come out and that gay white men in the past had pressures on them just as great but they did it anyway. You either own up or you don’t, but stop making excuses, blaming other people for why you can’t or won’t.”

    Folks, at some point we all each and everyone of us has the live our truth.

  • the other Greg

    He’s making a simple enough point. I think it’s true that gay white men who take the risk of coming out to their families, and DO get rejected by their families, tend to have a much bigger world to escape into and tend to have a bigger gay world to fall back on. So however intimidating that step seems at the time, it seems do-able. But most blacks would sense that it wouldn’t be so easy for them so the family stuff is more of an obstacle.

  • Dev.C

    The magnitude of a black man proclaiming their gay pride will almost almost always be seen as a negative by their family and community. Majority of black people in America are some form of Christian and within the eyes of the church community they don’t agree with the reality of being gay.
    For one to be gay and be proud they are rejecting fear and personal doubt, Christianity thrives on fear; Fear of judgement, damnation, exile and loneliness.
    Being gay in a christian environment I personally think is unhealthy because you will always be viewed as a negative.

  • bmwblonde

    Those writing above who grasp what racism actually IS, also get that it IS (even more) horrendously difficult for many black men to embrace their gayness than for most other guys. That is not to say that some white guys do go through hell in order to free themselves from other people’s sick “training” and expectations. But the essence of American anti-black racism has been the deliberate dis-empowering of all black people, but PARTICULARLY of black men. In the horribly racist culture of Southern slavery (I am a southerner and an American historian), black men were “prized” above all else for their ability to WORK endlessly (for their masters), yet also FEARED above all else for their white master’s terrified “protection” of “THEIR” white women. Thus black men were singled out for particular craziness: in slavery, idolized for their work ability and strength, demonized for their sexual “dangerousness.” In the 20th century and beyond, “Society” took particular pains to weaken black men, eliminate their opportunities, and put them in the worst sort of mental ghetto. Black women had to fill the gap, often becoming the breadwinner, the family head, and active in (Evangelistically Christian) churches. Black men had no place to go but down, even in their own families. IN THIS SETTING, for a black man, already systematically “de-masculanized” by institutionalized (work, housing, education) racism, to then admit he has “chosen” to be a faggot — well that’s just ridiculously impossible and full of all kinds of punishments. Most of us white boys who have never FELT this done to US, really can’t “get it.” We may have had horrendous treatment for being gay, but we have NOT received THAT on top of the whole, centuries of racism fear and hatred of black MEN. What a stupendously screwed up country this is — stiil stuck in its past (a past where the South USED slaves, and the North bought, shipped and SOLD them). Have a nice day.

  • bmwblonde

    Queery’s spam robot routinely eliminates any comments which are intelligent, have depth, and address controversial issues. My comments often get deleted because Queerty is OBVIOUSLY allergic to intelligence. Oh right, this is an AMERICAN website.

  • B Damion

    @bmwblonde…actually it’s UK-based. Sorry! lol

  • B Damion

    @ bmwblonde..not bad. I enjoyed reading that. See, Queerty isn’t all that bad.

  • Dr. Dick

    @bmwblonde: Well said!

    guys, this has been a productive & mostly positive thread, a bloody rare occurence on queerty lol
    I LIVE!

  • neosoulsea

    I can agree that there is homophobia in black communities, as there is in any community, but what I don’t understand is what’s different? Why such blanket statements? There isn’t one black community, we don’t all think alike and we don’t have the same experiences or beliefs. I like Lee Daniels but he’s taking his experience and painting black communities with a broad brush and not recognizing there are many out black folks and there are many welcoming black communities and there is plenty of black LGBT activism.

    There is this idea of an implied uniqueness to homophobia in black communities. Isn’t it hard for lots of folks to come out? Whether they be black, white, purple or green? I sometimes feel as if people think there is a special kind of homophobia in communities of color, which is somehow related to the color of our skin, that keeps folks in the closet. Homophobia occurs in minority communities for the same reasons it occurs in majority communities- religiosity, societal/community tradition, low educational attainment, repressed same sex attraction, etc.

    There is nothing special about the homophobia in black communities. Whenever there is an issue in black or brown communities there is a tendency to connect it to the melanin in our skin, but the same issues occur in other communities and it is not considered a pathology of skin color. For example (and these are examples for reference not to cast aspersions) – The most proud, visible and virulent homophobic groups/communities I can think of in the U.S. are white or white led- Westboro Baptist Church, Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage, Tom Brown Ministries, now defunct Exodus International, etc. but we don’t connect that homophobia to their whiteness.

    Didn’t we just hear about a white man who faked his own death to go live a gay life? If you spend any time on grindr, manhunt or any of the hookup sites you’ll see plenty of white men who are discreet or what is commonly called “DL” because they won’t or feel they can’t come out, but no one connects their reluctance to homophobia in the white community. Yes we have these issues, so does everyone else, and we have these issues not because our communities are a particular color, but because they are human. My experience is that these are universal issues and not unique to communities of color and they should be tackled as such.

  • Cee

    I’ve seen how people react when they find out someone black is gay. It’s always a shock as if black men can’t be gay. It’s always a big deal unless they are the queeny types like you see on Atlanta Housewives.

  • jmmartin

    The attitude of blacks toward gays was perhaps best expressed by a woman I heard once saying that gay rights are not human or civil rights. I wondered why and was told, “Because, unlike us, you do not wear your minority on your skin.” While that is literally true, lgbt-queer people wear pink or lavender just beneath the surface, and as a minority are just as subject to bigotry and ugly treatment. A milestone was reached with the DOMA-Prop 8 controversy: for the first time, African-Americans were referring to gay rights as “civil rights.” I heard many black politicians on TV say so. Rev. Al Sharpton never fails to include the sexual minorities in his list of wronged and mistreated Americans. We are all in the same boat. It intrigued me though that your writer reported Larry King being taken aback to hear Daniels say he knew he was gay from the age of five. If that is so, then King may himself harbor some latent suspicion that being gay is acquired, not innat: Some of us have known since we were even younger.

  • Franklin

    Like “the other Greg” said, there’s more to it then just the religious conservatism of black America. When the majority of white gays come out, they usually have the mainstream gay community open to them. A lot of those men made friends that became their support system and surrogate family. When black gay men decide to come out, however, it’s not necessarily as easy for us to find a place in the mainstream gay community, as we are often not as welcome, as you could probably ask any gay black man on this website.

  • LadyL

    @jmmartin: Yeah, and see, this is why it’s so crucial that black LGBT people come out, no matter how difficult the journey. “Because, unlike us, you do not wear your minority on your skin.” Did it occur to that woman at all that some of “us” are double-minorities, both black AND queer? It’s that notion that gay is a “white thing” — this is what fuels the ignorance. And as a black woman, I further have to say that I’m appalled at how some blacks seem so wed to the legacy of racial victimization that they seem completely unable to grasp the idea that other groups have been as horribly and unjustly mistreated as they. They actually resent even the suggestion–I encounter this all the time, and not just among poor or poorly educated blacks. It’s like a script we’re all supposed to follow!
    If homophobic black people are going to insist on a contest, I would argue that it’s actually harder to be LGBT than black precisely because your difference is invisible. For too many queer people (especially kids) daily life is like living behind enemy lines with school and work spaces potential minefields. Some of the most jarring coming out experiences I’ve ever had in my life were in the presence of fellow blacks–males, mostly–whose friendliness toward me turned hostile to the point of physical threat when they learned I was a lesbian.

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