Earlier this week, I saw this article, Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality, and I’ve been thinking about what I want to say about it. Warning! Warning! This may be one of those blog posts that pisses off parts of my readership, so feel free to agree or disagree with me, all right? And comment! Share your thoughts.

The African-American community is, generally speaking, still greatly disadvantaged in our society, and the LGBTQ community is disadvantaged, so people of color within the LGBTQ community are doubly disadvantaged. Therefore, to assist these folks, especially gay black persons, to find real equality, it will take a lot more than simply passing gay marriage. Do I have that right? Here is how the article puts it:

Despite the election of our nation’s first African American president, black Americans continue to trail behind their white counterparts in education, employment, and overall health and wellbeing. And while some states and the federal government continue to expand protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, more than half of all states still deny them basic civil rights. Such systemic inequities render people of color who are also gay and transgender among the most vulnerable in our society.

This sentiment is really quite true, and one I agree with completely, and yet there is something about parts of the article that rub me the wrong way. This post is an examination of what I think that is all about.

Perhaps, the post just has a terrific headline which prompts a person to dig in and read the whole thing, because the whole of the post is far less problematic than the headline. How do you interpret it? Is it meant to imply that for non-black LGBTQ’s, Marriage Equality is enough?  Is Marriage a racial issue?

Doing so will require fresh thinking about the root causes of these problems as well as the political will needed to employ new strategies to address them. As this report highlights, the quality of life of many black gay and transgender people remained relatively unchanged over the last decade despite the significant gains the gay and transgender movement achieved. This suggests that some of the gay headline policy priorities that garnered the most research, analysis, and advocacy—such as marriage equality—underserve this population when taken alone even though they are important for overall progress. This also applies to broad racial justice priorities that overlook gay and transgender people within their constituencies.

Personally, I think this says less about “gay headline policy priorities” and more about the fact that black LGBTQ’s have not been a visible part of the LGBTQ movement all along, from a political perspective.Therefore, what is seen as “major progress” by some is still seen as very little progress by others. I also disagree with the sentence:

the quality of life of many black gay and transgender people remained relatively unchanged over the last decade despite the significant gains the gay and transgender movement achieved.

What significant gains are being considered here? Non-discimination protections impact all persons regardless of race.  Wikipedia has this data:

Twenty-one states plus Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and fifteen states plus Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.[2] Hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are also punishable by federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. On June 26, 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that laws against sodomy or anal sex cannot be directed at homosexuals alone, and furthermore, that intimate consensual sexual conduct is part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. A congressional bill to repeal DADT was enacted in December 2010, specifying that the policy would remain in place until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified that repeal would not harm military readiness, followed by a 60-day waiting period. President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, sent that certification to Congress on July 22, 2011, which set the end of DADT for September 20, 2011.

Not all of these advances have been within the past decade, these types of advances impact all gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer persons.

I believe that Marriage Equality has become a central issue and organizing theme, irregardless of the way it impacts the whole of the community. It isn’t really that more white people want to get married. Rather, the right to marriage has become a frame through which the entire concept of “homosexuality” is being played out. I’ll say more about that later on.

How do we consider the “quality of life for black gay and trans persons” and what are the primary obstacles that stand in  the way of these things improving?  I really appreciate how the post positions a root problem: (emphasis is mine)

In short, black gay and transgender people fall through the cracks when lumped under either a gay or black umbrella. Such categorical thinking ignores the fact that black gay and transgender people are at once both gay/ transgender and black. As a result they experience complex vulnerabilities that stem from the combination of racial bias and discrimination due to their sexual orientation and/ or gender identity. So advocacy agendas that prioritize the eradication of one bias over the other do not fully respond to the needs of the population—nor will they eliminate the inequities discussed in this report.

The solution, it seems to me then, has three parts:

  1. Making visible black LGBTQ persons and their needs, which are often unknown by the majority of LGBTQ advocacy organizations.
  2. Craft and prioritize agendas that address the intersectionality of biases in the lives of real persons, rather than working conceptually based upon “issues.” This requires bringing a diverse group of voices to the table such that new strategies address multiple biases, and are authored in new ways.
  3. Exploring the ways that gains made by LGBT persons in general do actually help LGBTQ persons of color.

In another post, I’ll begin t share my ideas about these parts.


Photo by: ElvertBarnes


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