Thursday, December 10, 2009

Attacks on Black LGBT Youth

An organization serving primarily African-American LGBT youth in Chicago has reported seeing an increase in violent attacks on youth served. 17 youth have been attacked this year. According to the Youth Pride Center:

"The youth who are targeted tend to be more flamboyant or feminine. They aren’t attacked in Hyde Park, near the center, but in their own neighborhoods, such as Englewood and Roseland, on their way home from YPC."

Interestingly, I haven't seen reports of this violence in mainstream media sources, even in Chicago. I wonder, what would the outcry be if these were heterosexual, white youths who were attacked after leaving a Christian youth group?

The article continues:

"Youth are already working on plans to launch a new campaign that will address anti-gay violence in the African American community. The campaign, Walker said, will be about the price of being black and gay.

The problem of anti-gay hate and stigma against GLBT people in the African American community is large and has many consequences. For example, the majority of youth attacked, Walker said, do not file police reports. Many YPC youth are not out to their families and fear reporting an attack will out them. And of the youth who do report an attack, many are afraid to tell the police that they identify as GLBT."

I am glad to see members of the African-American community address homophobia in that community. Of note, within the article, smaller grassroots organizations in African-American communities expressed disappointment at North Side (read, white) LGBT organizations for "overlooking their issues." For several reasons, I think the situation is much more complex than white people simply "overlooking" the issue of violence and homophobia in the African-American community.

For one, the anti-gay industry, which is dominated by heterosexual white people, has long pitted the LGBT community (which is dominated by whites) against the black community (which is dominated by heterosexuals). White anti-gays, who are rarely allies to racial progress, nonetheless love showing how very concerned they are about the gay rights movement's "misappropriation" of black civil rights argumentation. They know that some blacks, like the virulent Ken Hutcherson, detest comparisons between LGBT people and racial minorities and so they feed right into that hatred. For instance, here, one white, conservative, anti-gay man calls comparisons between the two movements "pathetic" and a "smear" on what black people have gone through.

The anti-gay industry also presents a narrative in which equality and progress is a zero-sum game where if gays win, then blacks lose, and vice versa. For instance, here, a rightwing commentator argues that due to the pervasive homophobia in the black community, black men will stop marrying the mothers of their children if same-sex marriage is legalized. Why? Because black men will associate marriage with something fags do, and will stay away from it. Here, too, they state their common claim that if same-sex couples can marry, the "normative link between children and marriage will be severed" and this will lead to greater rates of black fatherlessness. The message is clear, if LGBT rights are won, the black community will suffer.

I wonder, how does this pitting of the black and gay communities against each other feed into mistrust between the two communities and further marginalize those who are both black and LGBT? How does it perpetuate the victimization and invisibilization of black LGBT people?

Two, perhaps because of or in addition to the anti-gay industry's creation of the black v. gay narrative, it is still somewhat taboo for white LGBT people to criticize or acknowledge the homophobia that exists within the black community. After Proposition 8, polls suggested that black voters voted against marriage equality in greater percentages than other groups. Unfortunately, some white LGBT people engaged in really despicable namecalling and scapegoating, blaming the loss on black voters, despite the many more white voters in California who voted against equality.

Yet, a fact remains. Polls show that blacks oppose LGBT rights more than any other racial group. I wonder, are well-intentioned white LGBT people wary of acknowledging homophobia within the black community for fears of being called "racist"? How effective would it be, for instance, to have white LGBT people inform black heterosexuals that they're homophobic and then "teach" them how to be less so?

And, while I would like to think that most white LGBT people care about the violence black LGBT people face, I also wonder if we are "overlooking" it. Just because we can. Just because those aren't "our" neighborhoods.

Finally, what is the best way to have honest conversations about these issues knowing that the anti-gay industry is perched, primed and ready to prey on any weaknesses within the LGBT and black communities that come to light as a result of these conversations?

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