Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis

Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis

Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis

Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis

Synopsis

This compelling book recounts the history of black gay men from the 1950s to the 1990s, tracing how the major movements of the times--from civil rights to black power to gay liberation to AIDS activism--helped shape the cultural stigmas that surrounded race and homosexuality. In locating the rise of black gay identities in historical context, Kevin Mumford explores how activists, performers, and writers rebutted negative stereotypes and refused sexual objectification. Examining the lives of both famous and little-known black gay activists--from James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin to Joseph Beam and Brother Grant-Michael Fitzgerald--Mumford analyzes the ways in which movements for social change both inspired and marginalized black gay men.

Drawing on an extensive archive of newspapers, pornography, and film, as well as government documents, organizational records, and personal papers, Mumford sheds new light on four volatile decades in the protracted battle of black gay men for affirmation and empowerment in the face of pervasive racism and homophobia.

Excerpt

In 1982, toward the end of his career, James Baldwin addressed a packed audience of the recently formed interracial gay organization Black and White Men Together (BWMT). As reported in the group’s monthly newsletter, the “famous black author[,] who lives in Paris, gave a lecture for BWMT-New York and its guests. This was a first for Mr. Baldwin, who had never addressed an entirely gay group before.” the membership applauded Baldwin’s appearance as historic, reporting, “The black gay religious leader, James Tinney, observed that ‘for the first time in his career … he openly identified with the gay community by addressing more than 200 persons at a forum.’ ” This understanding of Baldwin was both erroneous and correct. Since the late 1950s journalists had questioned Baldwin about his sexual identity, and typically he confirmed his homosexuality, making him one of the most out and visible gay men of the twentieth century. Yet his appearance before a gay interracial audience was unprecedented, something unimaginable only two decades before, when local homophile organizations advocated for acceptance by demonstrating their respectability and most chapters remained invisible, often anonymous, and overwhelmingly white. Several years later, in 1986, Bayard Rustin, the veteran civil rights activist and lead organizer of the March on Washington, appeared before the bwmt to help celebrate the Philadelphia chapter’s fifth anniversary. in his address, Rustin observed that “one chief obstacle to the freedom of gay people is … gays in the closet because if one does not stand up for himself, other people will never be moved to stand up for one.”

This book examines the interplay between dominant, usually stigmatizing representations of black gay men and resistance against defamation in order to understand how the pervasive repression that Baldwin and Rustin once confronted—and often lost to—was transformed into a more visible, collective voice for the next generation of black gay men. It traces a winding historical path from misrecognition and marginalization to a place of shared . . .

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