The intersection of racism, homophobia

Published: May 21, 2014

There’s good news and bad, as is always the case with LGBT rights issues.

With D.C. Black Pride in full swing this weekend and the country reeling from the latest eruption of ugly racism — Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s comments and bewildering CNN interview — and homophobia — the reaction to out football player Michael Sam, who kissed his boyfriend in a clip shown on ESPN last week — illustrate how thorny life can be at the intersection of the black, LGBT experience.

“I wouldn’t even call these isolated little pockets,” says Sharon Lettman-Hicks, an LGBT ally and executive director and CEO of National Black Justice Coalition. “[This is] the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling and it’s very clear that structural racism does still exist and African Americans deal with it everyday in some form or fashion of their everyday lives. For Donald Sterling to be talking to a person of color in those terms shows an attitude that’s deeply steeped in an attitude of superiority, to use this boy dynamic in how he characterized a grown black man, it’s just deeply steeped in structural racism.”

She says the reactions to Sam’s kiss are no different.

“For him going so low in the draft and to only go in his home state where there was a level of familiarity, for someone of his talent and his accomplishment, where he went in the draft was an insult,” Lettman-Hicks says. “Yes, we have to celebrate the nuggets of victory, but we should not always have to be on the very lowest level of success. I see great similarities between racism and homophobia as I live and advocate at the intersection of these issues everyday.”

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a black lesbian, agrees.

“This fiction of us being a colorblind society is just that — fiction,” Nipper says. “People are still being impacted by this on all sides, that’s the reality of the kind of racism and bigotry that still exists in this country. … You really see it in the comments sections of these articles when these stories break. You see, first, what Sterling said, or what happened with the Sam video, but then you scroll down through the comments and it really tells you a lot about where we are. … You begin to see that these attitudes are not so isolated and we are impacted across society by these issues and there’s a lot more work to do around black LGBT issues and with other people of color. Before you even get to the issues of sexual orientation or gender identity, you have all this racism that still exists. I think there’s a unique opportunity for us as black gay people to bridge the issues and remind people of what it’s like and the way it’s compounded for those of us with multiple identities. For so many black trans people or gender nonconforming people, it’s really bad and ends in violence.”

And with racial hatred continuing to flare up in the national dialogue 60 years after the Brown case and 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, what does that say about where we might be nationally on LGBT issues in 50 or 60 years with several legislative victories still eluding activists?

Kylar Broadus, senior public policy counsel for the Trans Civil Rights Project with the Task Force, says it will take a long time for public attitudes to catch up.

“I would like to say no and look through rose-colored glasses, but I’m a pretty straight shooter and in terms of human behavior, we don’t tend to learn our lessons very well,” says Broadus, who’s transgender. “We do it over and over and over again. We might pass a law, but it takes a long time to implement that law and to roll out everything and understand how it really works in society. The 1964 Civil Rights Act took years for it to really take hold. Sometimes in the LGBT world, we want everything on the fast track. That’s great and I would love to see that, but it really takes a while to fully embrace things culturally.”

Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity and a longtime organizer of D.C. Black Pride, says there’s a degree of removal from these cultural issues and those who attend Black Pride events, which are in their 24th year this weekend and of which organizers predict about 20,000 or more people will attend in some capacity this weekend, with as many as half coming from out of town according to Fowlkes’ estimate.

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