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Black and Gay in the USA
June is traditionally Gay and Lesbian Pride month in the United States. A time to reflect and celebrate the impact gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (glbt) people have had on the world, generally acknowledged with parades, rallies, picnics, and memorials for those lost to HIV/AIDS and/or hate crimes.
U.S. President Barack Obama declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, stating, “I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.” The month was chosen to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village that sparked the modern GLBT liberation movement in the United States. In recognition of pride month, healthyblackmen.org spoke to Mr. Earl Fowlkes, International Federation of Black Prides’ President and Chief Executive Officer to discuss the ongoing struggle for black gay men inside and out of the larger gay and lesbian community. As the national debate over gay marriage and celebrating the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, there are still great strides to be taken for black lesbian and gay people.
“With white glbt people, there is just more visibility. The White gay community doesn’t experience any backlash for being gay in comparison. Black glbt people don’t experience that type of acceptance—there is a real fear of backlash, of being shunned.”
One only has to consider the number of prominent non-black glbt people who are “out of the closet” in comparison to the black community. Everyone from singer, Ricky Martin, Doogie Howser (actor Neil Patrick Harris) to Ellen DeGeneres has come out publicly as being gay or lesbian with relative little long-term fallout. Even with hushed suspicions about black celebrities, there are few on-record as being gay or lesbian. Why is that?
According to Mr. Fowlkes, “In order for people to come out, people have to know their careers won’t be damaged. I cannot say that’s the case right now.” So there seems to be a racial and/or cultural-based concern over backlash. Recently, African American CNN anchor, Don Lemon acknowledged he was gay and documented it in his book, Transparent and similarly Charles Perez, a gay Peruvian-American penned Confessions of a Gay Anchor. While it’s too soon to say if Lemon will face a backlash, Perez was famously demoted from his on-air gig in Miami, reportedly because he was “too gay.”
So this brings us back to the overall progress gay Americans have made since Stonewall and how even President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign is banking on gay donors to support him to a second term in the White House. Earl Fowlkes probably said it best in that black gay and lesbian people need allies. In fact, he said Black Gay Pride typically requires financial support from allies as the needed support within the black gay and lesbian community is simply too small to support an endeavor.
In supporting black gays and lesbians to come out of the closet, Mr. Fowlkes offers a lesson for us all.
“Building relationships individually with people opens your eyes to their experience and you can learn a lot. I think people should be open to building relationships with other people. We learned that in school.”