Race + LGBT

I heard Jasmyne Cannick speak at the Bodies of Knowledge conference at USC Upstate, and the focus of her talk was race and the LGBT community. She made a couple of important points about the failures of the white LGBT set in dealing with black LGBT people. I use “black” because she did; she mentioned that she dislikes the phrase “people of color” but didn’t explain why exactly.

One of her main issues was that minorities are often used to trump up “diversity” numbers for primarily white LGBT organizations but aren’t then given any real power to choose issues within those organizations. Gay marriage in particular was way down on her list of priorities, after things like universal healthcare, jobs, access to education, immigration, access to power/politicians, and other issues of poverty. Her point was that in LA, it’s the white LGBT who live in West Hollywood, but that black LGBT people tend to live in their neighborhoods of birth: Compton, East LA, etc., exactly because of the issues of dicrimination and access.

As she put it: “Just because someone doesn’t agree with you that gay marriage is the most important issue doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be at the table.”

That these orgs actually get added funds for being diverse was another of her points: that the black organizations work with HRC and other white-dominated LGBT orgs but then only get the money they helped HRC get with strings attached. It doesn’t make any sense; the organizations for black LGBT people should get the money on their own, to use as they want, but because they don’t have access to power that HRC has, they can’t. Sound familiar, trans folk?

She mentioned too that the perceived homophobia within the black community is a bit more complicated; that there are plenty of African Americans who are Christian leaders – pastors and the like – but who are never called on to speak for their own constituents or about their own Christianity or their own sexual orientation. The media especially seem to harp on bigoted comments by African American pastors, but fail to present the real diversity within the black LGBT community.

Again, familiar?

She also talked about LGBT media and its lack of black role models (who aren’t sports or entertainment stars). Count ’em, she said, or the lack of them, on the cover of The Advocate. Again, familiar? Has there even been a trans person on the cover of The Advocate? I assume Leslie Feinberg has made it, but anyone else? I was especially surprised to find out that Michael Sandy was African American, because that murder happened here in NYC, and yet I can’t remember a time when his race was even mentioned – only that he was gay. It was proof – not that I needed it – of the way someone’s race can be made invisible by the reports, that black LGBT people become invisible in one way or the other.

In keeping with Quetzalli Cold Thunder’s recent guest blog on the use of the term “berdache”, Cannick also pointed out the language divide. “Queer,” she said emphatically, is not the word to use. “Same gender loving” is what more African Americans use to describe their same-sex sexual orientation, though she didn’t particularly address the terms preferred by trans African-Americans.

I’d like to start working on how our trans orgs can be more inclusive. For starters, of course, you should be reading Monica Roberts’ TransGriot blog, which I find a great resource for her perspective (there’s a link in my blogroll, and her blog is provided via RSS feed on Trans Group Blog as well). To my African American LGBT readers out there, let me know what else I can do – whether it’s asking people to guest blog here, or by regularly spotlighting issues of racial minority communities.

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