An Honest Look at Black Gays and Lesbians; Lately, They Have "Come out of the Closet" in Increasing Numbers

By Poussaint, Alvin Francis | Ebony, September 1990 | Go to article overview

An Honest Look at Black Gays and Lesbians; Lately, They Have "Come out of the Closet" in Increasing Numbers


Poussaint, Alvin Francis, Ebony


An Honest Look At BLACK GAYS AND LESBIANS

Lately, they have "come out of the closet" in increasing numbers

SOME people fear and scorn, others tolerate homosexuals, but few understand and welcome them as equal partners in African-American society. Most of us have laughed at Eddie Murphy pretending to be a swishing drag queen. Black comedians rely on stereotypes of Black gays and lesbians as a ready source of unflattering portrayals, adding to the common misconception that homosexuals are concentrated primarily in the theater and arts.

A gay presence exists within most, if not all, of our institutions, including sports, the church and the armed services. "People should realize that the Black gay community is not monolithic. There is extraordinary diversity among us that mimics the heterosexual world," says Craig Harris, AIDS educator at the Gay Male Health Crisis Center in New York City.

How many African-American gays and lesbians are there? For obvious reasons, no one knows for sure. The data on White homosexuality that Dr. Alfred Kinsey reported more than 35 years ago may apply to Blacks as well: 4 percent of White males were exclusively homosexual, 13 percent were predominantly gay, and 13 percent expressed erotic feelings for males but did nothing about them. Figures for females were about one-third those of males. The important point is that while gays and lesbians are--and always have been--a significant part of the Black community, they have come "out of the closet" in increasing numbers, forcing "straight" men and women to take notice. Many Black women in America's major urban centers, including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, bemoan the fact that finding "a good Black man" for the purpose of marriage or a committed relationship has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Justifiably or not, they blame this situation on what they perceive as a rapidly increasing number of upwardly mobile-looking, educated Black males who can be seen in upscale neighborhoods living obviously gay lifestyles.

Homosexual behavior is practiced in nearly all societies, many of which consider it normal. In parts of Africa it can be a culturally accepted interaction. The suggestion that White Europeans introduced homosexuality to Africans and African-Americans cannot be substantiated. There is no "cause" for homosexuality, which is part of the range of human experience. From the psychiatric standpoint, homosexuality is different from heterosexuality, but it is no longer considered deviant. Whether a person is attracted to the opposite sex or to one's own seems to be deeply rooted in one's personality, perhaps as inborn as height or hair curl. Some psychologists argue that the potential for homosexual behavior exists in most human beings; bisexuality is common.

Accordingly, there is no single gay lifestyle. Many people think most homosexuals are promiscuous, engage in heavy smoking and drinking, and use illegal drugs. Some gay people have even imitated these destructive stereotypes. Yet the horrors of AIDS, alcoholism and lung disease come to all those who abuse their bodies, with no regard for sexual orientation.

It is perhaps inevitable that we are uncomfortable with those who are different from us. Phil Wilson, co-chair of the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum in Los Angeles, reflects on the Black attitude towards gays: "The Black community will not outrightly reject you, but they may make their love for you contingent on your being quiet about your gay orientation. So there is always a threat of rejection." Open demonstrations of gay pride often provoke a strong negative reaction. Harris says that the Black community frequently perceives gays as part of its "problems," alongside such social ills as crime and poverty.

Although some African-Americans can tolerate low-key gay and lesbian behavior, many homosexuals complain that this attitude results in their being treated as invisible, thereby suffering the psychologically damaging effects of adapting to that situation.

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