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Black on a Rainbow Flag

9 Jul 2020

Ellen Wright

Black on a Rainbow Flag

A lot of the time when we think about social issues such as racism, homophobia, and sexism we think of them as self-contained issues- they're easier, mentally and practically, to compartmentalise. However, these issues have numerous intersections with most problems and people existing within multiple groups. These intersections have received more attention recently due to the Black Lives Matter movement being reignited during Pride month.

The Stonewall Riots (1969) were a pivotal moment for the LGBT+ rights movement, effectively acting as the spark that lit the fire. A leading figure in these riots was Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who resisted the police and led protests. She was not only heavily involved in the event that started the LGBT+ rights movement but also set up the movement STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) which supported gay and trans individuals who were homeless. She remained an activist until she died under suspicious circumstances in 1992.

In academia, there have been figures such as James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. They wrote about the intersections of gender and class, as well as race and sexuality. In the arts, there is Alvin Ailey, a gay black man who opened his own dance company, which has created ballet that shows the experience of African Americans. In politics, there is Bayard Rustin, a member of the NAACP and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. He was asked to avoid the spotlight due to being gay. This is by no means a comprehensive overview of all the black LGBT+ people who have furthered the movement, as these identities and movements have crossed paths countless times.

Unfortunately, these people who have done so much to improve the lives of LGBT+ and black people face some of the worst discrimination. In the US, black trans people are four times more likely to be unemployed and eight times more likely to live in extreme poverty. HIV continues to be a crisis in the Black LGBT+ community, despite multiple studies showing that black gay and bisexual men are more likely to use protection and less likely to use drugs than their white counterparts.  However, they are still far more likely to be HIV positive.

While the systemic discrimination these people face is terrible, another particularly upsetting area of discrimination comes from their own communities. Whether there is homophobia in black communities is a debated area. Still, studies have indicated that hypermasculinity in the community can have damaging homophobic connotations. In the LGBT+ community, it is undeniable that racism is an issue. Stonewall reports that 61% of black LGBT+ people have experienced racism in their local LGBT+ groups. The Netflix show Dear White People illustrates this issue with a dating app profile that lists “No rice, no spice, no curry”, to which the black gay man using the app confusedly asks, “We’re supposed to bring food?”. This places a comedic spin on a significant issue, with the show trying to illustrate how others may shun black people in the gay community.  People may even go in the opposite direction with so-called ‘jungle fever’, and the fetishisation of black people.

It’s time for the LGBT+ community to realise that their identities do not give them a right to discriminate against others; their experiences of discrimination are not equal to that of other identities. While the choice to be proudly and outwardly gay should be a free one, it is still a choice. LGBT+ people have the option to omit their sexuality for protection, but there is no hiding skin colour. People from different communities should be striving to learn more about the struggles that people with other identities go through and help those people with those identities feel accepted in their own community.

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