Black Gay and Lesbian Journalists Feel Overshadowed by Civil Rights Movements

Article excerpt

In their efforts to redress the wrongs they say have been inflicted upon them, African-American gay and lesbian journalists face an ironic barrier: the black civil rights struggle.

An emotional and occasionally raucous session at the recent National Association of Black Journalists convention was the first direct attempt to fix where black homosexual journalists fit inside the larger community of black journalists.

Throughout the sometimes heated discussion, this question lingered as subtext: Is the gay liberation movement anything like the black civil rights struggle? Several journalists argued vigorously that it is.

"All the things we [blacks] have endured as a people, we [gay blacks] have endured as well," said Donald Suggs of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"But on top of that'" Suggs added, "we have had to endure the ravages of our own community."

Black homosexuals too often find themselves shunned by both the black community and gays and lesbians, several gay and lesbian African-American journalists said.

"Because we are missing from the picture, it seems that gay equals white," said Linda Villarosa, senior editor of Essence magazine and a lesbian.

Nadine Smith, a former Tampa (Fla.) Tribune reporter turned full-time gay activist, was one of the four co-chairs of last spring's Washington gay rights march.

Yet the media virtually ignored her and other gay and lesbian minorities, Smith said.

"It was a battle over and over to get the media to talk to someone who was not white and male," she said. "The job with the black press was harder," Smith continued. "We would send out the press releases and follow up with phone calls and nothing would appear."

One reason: "There's a sense that the gay and lesbian struggle is riding on the coattails of the African-American experience," Smith said.

One journalist who feels that way is Chicago Sun-Times columnist and editorial board member Vernon Jarrett.

Jarrett argued vigorously - amid occasional hooting and catcalls - that any comparison of the bloody black civil rights movement and gay rights is odious.

"It does trivialize the experience of black people, which is unparalleled," he said.

Homosexuals were never held as slaves, Jarrett observed. They were never declared three-fifths of a person by the U.S. Constitution, nor declared property by the U. …