Opinion: Homophobia and the Black community — Don’t believe the hype

By Khalil Edwards, Portland Black Pride and PFLAG Portland Black Chapter


(Left to right) Khalil Edwards with his dad, Keith Edwards, and his sister, Kijana Winchester.

It has long been the narrative that Black folks are anti-gay and homophobic. This type of messaging is inherently problematic. The recent announcement made by President Barack Obama in support of marriage equality has brought to light what many of us have known all along.

Over the years many mainstream media outlets have continued to perpetuate the myth that Black/African Americans as a demographic are anti-gay. Politicians in turn have used this stereotype to drive anti-gay campaigns. Whether it is the media spreading the political rhetoric or politicians using the media to support their arguments, the message is wrong and the outcome harmful either way. The argument has been used time and time again, too often successfully, to drive a wedge between communities.

To paint the Black population as anti-gay denies Black/African Americans who identify as part of the LGBT community and makes them invisible. We as a people come into this world with multiple identities that are continuing to be shaped and shifted over time. Our gender identity, race, sexual orientation, and religion are all pieces of what makes us our whole selves. Too often LGBT Black/African Americans are forced to minimize, prioritize, or ignore part of their identities. We can be and often are Black, Christian, and gay. That in itself, to me, makes the whole ant-gay argument not only false, but just a little silly.

I applaud the president for his recent announcement in support of marriage equality for a few reasons, the topmost of those being simply that he has sparked a national dialogue. The conversations, debates, campaigns, and political battles around marriage equality are not new to me. Partly because I work for Basic Rights Oregon and PFLAG Portland Black Chapter and partly because I identify as part of the LGBT community, the issue of marriage equality is constantly on my radar.
But for those of us in Oregon and in the rest of the country who are not engaged in these issues, the president’s announcement is very potent. Obama has brought marriage equality to the dinner table, the living room, the grocery store, Facebook, email, and more. Aunties are talking to their gay cousins, moms and dads are talking to their children, friends are talking to neighbors, and coworkers are talking to each other. Obama has sparked a national conversation that before had been somewhat marginalized in different pockets of communities throughout the country.

And in the wake of all this, people are presented with the opportunity to become public allies and supporters. Celebrities like Jay-Z and Will Smith along with influential national organizations like the NAACP are speaking up to affirm or reaffirm their commitment to LGBT equality.

Now we get to highlight what many of us have already known: don’t believe the hype and there is still much work to do. Polls are being conducted, surveys are being collected, data is being analyzed, and numbers are being crunched. Overall the majority of the Black community supports LGBT equality and marriage equality, often in higher numbers than other communities.

“Black people are just as multi-dimensional as anyone else, but a stubborn media narrative routinely suggests that Black folks are robotic, monolithic and homophobic, programmed by ‘powerful’ ‘Black pastors’ who are all anti-gay,” journalist Rod McCullom wrote in an opinion piece for Ebony magazine.

Black folks have deep spiritual ties to faith-based groups and organizations and tend to be more religious than the population at large. On the same token, Black folks overwhelmingly support progressive political candidates, and overwhelmingly elect pro-gay politicians.

As Portland Black Pride fast approaches and we come together to celebrate our achievements, honor our heroes, and work to build a more vibrant community, we can be proud of where the country is moving and use this opportunity to continue the dialogue and momentum it has begun, using this momentum not only to build support for marriage equality, but also to highlight the many inequities LGBT Black/African Americans are dealing with every day.

Black Gay and Transgender folks are among the most vulnerable in our society. In particular we experience stark social, economic, and health disparities compared to the general population and our straight black counterparts. These issues must be addressed, as well as the structural barriers that prevent the well-being of all Americans.

PFLAG Portland Black Chapter is currently working with the Urban League of Portland on a groundbreaking report that will highlight some of the issues and disparities facing LGBT Black/African Americans in Oregon. This report will help to inform how we can better serve our community and improve the lives of not only LGBT Black/African American Oregonians, but all Oregonians. We know that dismantling discriminatory practices, systems, conditions, and institutions does not only serve the individual, but entire communities.

The president has opened a window of opportunity, the Black community has responded overwhelmingly, and we are here not only to open all the windows, but to open doors, and tear down all barriers through education. However, don’t mistake our patience for complacency. We are going to accomplish what we will by any legal means necessary.

Khalil Edwards is a native of Portland, and recently returned in 2007 after teaching middle and high school English in Southern California. He has long been an advocate and activist in the LGBTQ community and will be recognized as one of 30 Queer Heroes at the Q Center on June 14. He currently works as an organizer in Basic Rights Oregon’s Racial Justice Program and as the coordinator for PFLAG Portland Black Chapter (pflagpdx@gmail.com). For information on Portland Black Pride, email portlandblackpride@gmail.com.