Black Gays... Caught in the Middle?
Almost immediately following Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, the media began speculating about its impact on black voters. After all, blacks have been slower than other groups to embrace gay rights. Will they stand behind Obama in a show of racial solidarity or stay home come Election Day? Unsurprisingly, polls show that the announcement had virtually no effect on black voters’ opinion of Obama.
Still, African Americans consistently poll lower than on LGBT issues compared to whites. This can largely be attributed to the prominence of religion in the black community. Analysis of Prop 8 results showed that frequency of church attendance was better than race for predicting how someone voted. The media naturally went for the convenient and more sensationalist angle.
The movement for gay rights has many parallels to the civil rights struggle of the mid-20th century. Gays want equal access to housing, employment, and benefits that straight people have. Like blacks, gays have been smeared as sexual predators, dysfunctional, and dangerous for society. LGBT people deal with insulting stereotypes in the media, although things have improved considerably in the last ten years. It’s not hard to see why prominent activists like Julian Bond say that “gay rights are civil rights”.
But gay is not the new black. Blacks are still black, gays are still gay, and some of us are (gasp) both. White gays don’t have to contend with racial profiling or the numerous ways our criminal justice system targets people of color. If they can pass for straight, harassment and discrimination become nearly non-existent. And for all the press about black homophobia, black gays have experienced racism in so-called “safe spaces”. For all the supposed progressiveness of the gay community, the bars, clubs, and events can be every bit as segregated as mainstream American society.
This leaves black gays in a precarious position. As far as the media is concerned we might as well not exist. To (some) black people our sexuality is a result of the nefarious influence of ‘white people’. To (some) gays our race is a punchline for their hipster racism. We’re horrified by the bigotry displayed by white gays in the wake of Prop 8 and saddened by the familial relationships damaged by daring to live our lives authentically.
So the effects of Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage could a huge boon to us. Maybe more blacks see our relationships as worthy of respect. Maybe certain activists will stop throwing tantrums at every slight disappointment by what is unquestionably the most pro-gay president in history. Certainly it’s prompted many conversations in barber shops, bars, and churches.
 This shouldn’t suggest that being ‘in the closet’ makes being gay a walk in the park. The deception brings on a host of other issues and complications.