Black LGTB Americans, although unafraid to express pride in their queerness, nonetheless frequently worry about not being fully accepted by the wider African American community, who, because of religious reasons, may be opposed to gayness. This paper seeks to examine two things: the ways in which Black LGTB express their pride in being gay and the perception or acceptance of gayness and queerness in the wider African American community.
In order to justify their Black and queer identity to the Black community, LGTB activists often attempt to link the history of Black activism and cultural progress with gay or queer identity. In doing so, they make reference to the queerness of prominent Black voices who were essential to the forging of Black cultural identity in cultural and political movements such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights movement. This includes people such as Langston Hughes who played a large role in the Harlem Renaissance and James Baldwin, who played a prominent role in the Civil Rights movement. In pointing out the queerness of these prominent Black figures, gay people hope to prove that Black LGTB people have every right to take pride in Black cultural identity and struggle for equal rights. A case in point is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which was founded by queer Black Women, highlighting and fighting against police brutality against Blacks. This strategy seeks to convince the wider African American community that gay sexuality can exist alongside rather than compete with Blackness (Moore, 2010).
The Black LGTB community expresses their pride in gayness in a variety of ways. However, gay pride parades stands out as one of the popular expressions of pride for the Black LGTB community. There are a number of cities holding annual gay pride parades. These parades serve as an opportunity for Black people to come out and express their gayness without being judged or feeling bashful about it. The list of cities with Black gay pride parades keep growing and includes Orlando, Philadelphia, Memphis, Harlem, and others. In many case, gay pride parades are even marketed as part of the tourist attraction of these cities (“Center for Black Equity,” n.d.). The parades serve not only as an opportunity for Black LGTB to revel in their queerness, but also provides the wider community a chance to show its acceptance of Black LGTB lifestyles and queerness.
The African American community is frequently labelled as being more homophobic and less tolerant of gay culture than the dominant White society. This perception especially gained ground during the vote over California’s Proposition 8, a constitutional ban on gay marriage. In the wake of the law being passed, many commentators blamed African American political support for its electoral success, and went on to accuse African Americans of belonging to a culture which promotes homophobia. However, a later study carried out by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) among African American Protestants has shown that while a small majority of African Americans (51%) oppose gay marriage, the majority of African Americans (over 60%) support LGBT nondiscrimination protection laws and reject the idea of giving businesses the legal right to use the religion of the owner as a basis to refuse services to gay people (Ford, 2016).
Black LGBT pride remains rooted in the wider African American struggle against discrimination. Black LGTB activists often attempt to prove that their Blackness is not in conflict with the wider Black identity by pointing out that Black queer individuals have always and continue to contribute significantly to Black culture and Black political struggle. This strategy may have the potential to persuade the wider African American community as there is evidence that African Americans are more supportive of the LGTB community than they are given credit for.