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Why Is It So Hard to Be Black and Gay?

By Manuel McDonnell Smith

Last Friday, former Cosby Show and Disney Channel actress Raven-Symoné sent out the following tweet:

Hollywood journalists and celebrity bloggers widely took the statement as confirmation of long-time rumors that the young African-American actress is a lesbian. But instead of universal accolade for her announcement, it again revealed a widespread culture of homophobia in the African-American community.

Raven-SymonéAs Allison Samuels of Newsweek and The Daily Beast pointed out, journalists rushed to add Raven to galleries of Black celebrities who have also come out as gay. (Only one other female Black celebrity, comedienne Wanda Sykes, is openly LGBT.) Is it tougher for Black celebrities to come out as gay than white celebrities? Judging by online and social-media responses, the answer is yes. But as Samuels wrote, “Many believe that is for good reason.”

Exposing the Issue

During the 2008 presidential campaign speech, candidate Barack Obama exposed rampant homophobia among African-Americans in a speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church, saying, “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been as true to King’s vision of a beloved community. We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them.”

But exposure of the issue, even by a widely respected figure like President Obama, did little to change attitudes. In May 2011, CNN anchor Don Lemon publicly announced his homosexuality in the book Transparent, a bold move that he was hesitant to make. “It’s quite different for an African-American male,” he explained to The New York Times. “[Gay is] about the worst thing you can be in Black culture.”

“Interracial relationships and same-sex relationships are still subjects most famous people of color won’t discuss,” author and historian Donald Bogle told Samuels, who traces attitudes in the Black community back to strict Baptist Church teachings.” Since the days of slavery, and especially through the civil-rights movement, the Baptist Church has remained a pillar in African-American community life, determining not only religious but also social norms. Renouncing homosexuality has been a cornerstone of the preaching of many Black ministers, leading to the renouncement of gay life by Blacks. “Those ultraconservative beliefs can go a long way in deciding who is and who isn’t supported by the Black community,” wrote Samuels.

Resolving the Debate

With support for LGBT culture growing, a result in part of efforts to end assaults and bullying of members of that group, what can be done to evolve perceptions of the gay community among African-Americans?

While more traditional approaches including education and sensitivity training can be part of the solution, there are other avenues. “Just as African-Americans call for more positive depictions of themselves in film and television,” wrote author Helena Andrews, “the doubly or triply ostracized groups that represent LGBTQ people of color are crying out for the same thing.”

In a column titled “Jason Collins: The Great Black Hope,” blogger Irena Collins described the NBA athlete’s coming out as a “game changer” that would hopefully lead to “more straight brothers embracing their gay brethren.”

In any case, a truthful conversation among African-Americans regarding sexual orientation is needed. Although some Blacks may not feel comfortable about being openly gay, in a 2012 Gallup study of more than 120,000 people, 4.6 percent of African-American respondents identified as being LGBT, higher than the rates of whites (3.2), Latinos (4.0) and Asians (4.3). DiversityInc has several resources, including “Things NOT to Say to LGBT Co-Workers,” that can serve as a guide to opening more productive and inclusive conversations on the issue.



  • While there are many members of the African-American community (prominent and average) who have identified themselves as homosexual, it is still not accepted by the staunchly Christian group. The prevailing view is that a homosexual lifestyle is not one that provides people with the right to love as they choose but a lifestyle that goes against biblical teaching. It is not about denying a group the right to love or marry like the rest of the population.

  • Just read an article in this morning’s obituary section of the local newspaper about the beating to death of a young Jamacian (16 years old) transgendered youth. This young person made the mistake of telling a close friend that she was going to show up at a local party in female clothing for the first time. Jamacia still has anti-sodomy laws and apparently the island is very anti-homosexual. LBGTs are deep in the closet there as the threat of being beaten to death is very real.

  • Delorme McKee-Stovall

    The are many reasons that African Americans have out-migrated from Southern Baptist Church for Non- Demominational Churches. S. Baptist Church sanctioned bigotry towards women clerics, LGBTs, church patriarchy, and the myth of original sin are just a few of the lies swallowed by those who are called and are uneducated about the history and teachings of a long dead Rabi.

    If you look at the African American demographic under 30 that has become anti-religious it is noteworthy. When a church caters to bigots & faith in induvidualism and capitalism instead of the teachings of a simple Rabi, it is doomed not only for decline but possible extinction. Have visited a S. Baptist Church lately? Notice the demographic in the pews. There are few, if any young families or young people. That’s the sign of a dying church. And God speed.

  • Why was my comment removed? Isn’t this DIVERSITY Inc? Or is diversity of opinion not allowed here unless you agree with the author…in a “diverse” number of ways? Smh. And what I said was disrespectful nor derogatory in any way.

    • Luke Visconti

      Your remark was offensive, disrespectful, factually incorrect and mean spirited. I will not allow my publication to be used by trolls to post their hate. You’ll have to find some other place to rail against what you’re probably most afraid of when you look in the mirror. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Good for you Luke!
        In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
        Thank you for not letting your publication become a hate gateway.

      • As an openly gay African American male living in a terribly homophobic city named Detroit, MI., I have to agree with Mr. Visconti. Being black (used for purposes of this conversation) and openly gay is a double whammy for me, opening myself up to hatred, anger, bitterness, and vitriol, both from races other than African American and from African Americans themselves. But I soldier onward and upward, because living in the closet is no way for me to live at all, regardless of cost or loss. (This from a person that hid in the closet {not doing a very convincing job of camouflaging myself} for approximately 18-20 years before being publicly outed at 31 y/o.) I mean, if you’re not going to be honest, forthright, and truthful, first and foremost with yourself, who are you going to do it for?
        But back to Mr. Visconti’s decision to remove commentary from this publication: He made the right call. The most dangerous people to the GLBT community aren’t straight men and women—those that ARE genuinely comfortable in their own skin. Rather, the most dangerous people to the GLBT community are those closeted individuals—regardless of race, culture, heritage or ethnicity—who would ruin another human being’s name, reputation, or career, or even wound, maim, or kill another human being for intense hatred, anger, bitterness or vitriol over what the closeted individual finds AND loathes in themselves—those that AREN’T genuinely comfortable in their own skin.
        I hope and pray that what I have written is factually correct and is not misconstrued by the reader. Mr. Visconti, I invite your comments—good and bad.

        • Luke Visconti

          I agree with you. Self-hating people are very dangerous and I think that describes a good number of anti- LGBT “activists” and pray-the-gay-away crackpots like Marcus Bachmann. By the way, self-haters should NOT be lumped in with people who are closeted because they’re afraid of hate and/or discrimination. Thank you for taking the time to post your comment. Luke Visconti, CEO, DIversityInc

  • It is unfortunate that a group that has fought for equality for so long, can as a whole, lose credibility by their prejudice toward a segment of their own community.

  • It IS NOT hard to be Gay & Black. “Black’ people who feel to need to be affirmed by others have issues that no one can appease. You DON’T need another person’s opinions about your own decisions.

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