color me badd

Lest You Forget, the Whitewashed Image of Gay Americans Is Wholly Inaccurate

twogirls78

Whiteness in the LGBT community is everywhere, from what we see, what we experience, and more importantly, what we desire. Media images in television and film promote a monolithic image of the ‘gay community’ as being overwhelmingly upper-middle class if not simply rich, male and white. Even the most cursory glance through gay publications highlights the scarcity of images of people of color. If we are represented, it seems that we only exist to serve the needs of the largely gay white population seeking an ‘authentic’ experience of some kind, either through sex, music or travel. To the white LGBT community, our existence as LGBT people of color, is merely an afterthought, an inconvenient fact that is thought about in the most insignificant and patronizing way.

In the LGBT political world, this shows up as White people thinking that the issues of importance to them are the only ones that matter. Many White LGBT folk do not realize that LGBT people of color have different perspectives and may think we as a community should focus on other issues. White privilege obscures the fact that LGBT people of color may frame a particular issue in a different way. Moreover, people of color who are attracted to the same sex may not even use the terms “gay”, “lesbian” or “bisexual.” However, the white framing of our issues is the only one allowed in our political discourse. The voices of LGBT people of color are generally not included unless the white LGBT group wants to reach out to communities of color. If LGBT people are included, they are often only done so as tokens and only if they agree with the white LGBT narrative.

We must continue to grapple with the ways invisible whiteness and white privilege permeate the LGBT community because they undermine our movement. Recently, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, released Equality Forward, a report aimed at gaining a deeper understanding about the complexities at the intersection of race, sexual orientation and gender identity. I applaud HRC for this study and the subsequent blog conversations and online town halls they are holding. I hope, though, that HRC discusses white privilege as a part of this work. If they do not, the work will be incomplete. Paula Rothenberg, a professor who specializes in studying whiteness, reminds us that white privilege is the other side of the racial oppression coin. HRC, and other groups that are attempting to be more inclusive, cannot truly look at why people of color are not involved in the larger movement if they do not examine white privilege. It’s time for white LGBT folk to challenge their own privilege, listen to all voices and take on the issues that matter to all of us.