Today is a longgggggggg *read* that was inspired by today’s episode of “The Read.”
The black and latinx LGBT community has been responsible for creating a culture that has influenced the mainstream LGBT community, which has in turn influenced popular culture. There’s a lot to unpack and my intention is to lift up the hood of a community that many do not understand nor are aware of the foundation of some of the current culture. Bias, judgment and *shade* will be present, but are not the explicit purpose.
The LGBT community has made tremendous progress lately with marriage equality, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and some protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Stonewall Riots are widely considered the catalyst for the “gay rights movement” and there’s even a movie (“Stonewall) about the first brick thrown during the riots in NYC’s Greenwich Village. Since then, some have enjoyed the phrase “Gay is the new black” to allude to a follow up of the Civil Rights movement that was widely responsible for reversing legal discrimination against African Americans.
But let’s peel back a layer or two. “Stonewall” the movie is quite emblematic of a problematic dynamic within the LGBT community. The movie was a fictionalized telling of the events, centering on a white male character with people of color (POCs) and transgender people mostly as background characters. Yet, a black transgender woman threw the first brick and most of the riots were filled with black and latinx (POCs). The history of the community matters as much as how it is retold and plays out. Keep this in mind as you read more. More info on Marsha P Johnson (here).
Madonna’s 1990 video “Vogue” (among many of the things she did) helped bring the LGBT community into the mainstream. The impact for many was the introduction to a way of moving one’s hands, or doing the vogue dance. Madonna and the dance she helped popularize is immediately recognizable and the modern style of *voguing* has inspired many to create entire aerobic classes in this style.
Yet, few realize that *voguing* started in the *ballroom scene* in Harlem in the 1980s — before Madonna. This matters because so many have attributed this style of dancing to a predominately white LGBT community but its roots and current legacy are rooted in the LGBT POC community. More info on the dance form (here).
RuPaul’s “Drag Race” has put certain words into the common LGBT vernacular that have made their way to the mainstream including “reading” and “throwing shade.” Throwing shade is now so common it’s in the dictionary. But how many people know the history of what they so lovely say to each other and in social circles?
From my experience, some who use this word have no clue of the origins of the modern popularity of these terms (usually non LGBT people). But even the LGBT community does not realize that these terms were popularized in black and latinx LGBT communities. A brilliant documentary provides a glimpse into the history of voguing though these terms predate the 1990 film. Link to full film (here).
Maybe you’ve started to see a trend here? There’s a LOT of culture that is now commonplace in the mainstream that is rooted in LGBT communities of color. It matters that you know this. It matters that you can see the erasing and whitewashing of some of the history. It matters that the current face of the LGBT community — which often touts how much progress is made — is still white male. It’s not that the others are not there, but they’ve largely been excluded.
Diversity is a huge problem, and it does not only impact black LGBT folks: women and transgender individuals are often excluded…and forbid you be more than one of these things… More info (here).
Now here’s where I get all the way messed up. The amount of discrimination (racism specifically) I have experienced within the LGBT community has felt more damaging than what I experience outside of it. You may already know that there are many forms that this can take. If not, here’s a reminder.
Online/Apps — you might see profiles that say “no blacks, no Asians” and/or “no fats, no femmes.” Similarly, you will have some people see your image and read your profile and their attraction will change when you answer “what race are you?”. YES this really does happen. This is why it’s quite common for folks to describe themselves as “mixed” when they might not be. Or others choose a race for which they can pass. Colorism is often not just internally enforced. Of course there’s also the “positive” benefits. When someone starts a conversation or focuses a conversation solely on your genitalia and asks you to fulfill a set of fantasies acted out in racialized terms. I have reached a point where the only BBC I acknowledge is the television network.
Bars / IRL — most gay clubs, parades and events are segregated. LGBT spaces are usually POC-heavy, white or somewhat mixed. The POC spaces I find comfort in for a few reasons. My presence is acknowledged — versus being walked past or ignored for service by the bartender). What I wear is not policed — non-POC clubs often have “dress codes” that do not include boots, hats or chains. I feel respected — the number of times I’ve been apologized to for an accidental brush against me or stepping on a shoe is every time in a POC club and usually never in a white or mixed-club. The shooting in Orlando was that much more frightening for me because clubs that cater to the POC LGBT community has been the safe space within the safe space.
“It’s not prejudice, it’s a preference” is a common reply to charges of racism. Again, no one wants to sleep with, befriend or date a racist. It is about respect and personhood.
And the *shade* of it all is that those who say “no blacks, no Asians” or “it’s just a preference” are often the most avid fans of the very terms I have surrounded with asterisks.
Are you following?
The beneficiaries and claimants of a cultural currency that is passed into the mainstream actively push off those who have created the culture they appreciate (love to appropriate). And that is the gag. Some have no black friends, have never dated a latinx or refuse to have sex with a POC; yet they will ignorantly repeat words and perpetuate a culture they don’t even understand.
To loop back to where it all began, I LIVE for “The Read” podcast. It features two LGBT POCs (man and woman) who highlight areas of black excellence, answer listening letters, recapping “shade in full” and ending with a read of the week. The show is intersectional and all about pop culture. This week they called out Migos for their homophobia, Milo Y and his literary agent for pretending and a few more.
These are the ~2 hours I most look forward to each week.
Some might read this as a litany of complaints. It’s not.
As I said before it’s meant to lift up the hood to provide insight for those who don’t understand the dynamics within the community and the need for POC-friendly spaces within the LGBT community.
Here’s what I’ve done for the community…I started a QPOC group for Boston grad students — hosted a Valentine’s Day Mixer, sent out a regular newsletter of relevant events, hosted pre-games — and advocated for this community at the Harvard-wide level. As Co-President of HBS’ black student group, I partnered with the LGBTSA for a movie screening of “Pariah,” a story about a young lesbian growing up in Harlem. I also started a GroupMe for Harvard College alums that is squarely focused on this intersection. Oh and was part of a 4-man founding team for Boston-wide events…
Anyway, hit me up if you have questions OR want to get more involved in intersectional activism and community building. Or if you want to chat about “The Read.”
Part of a 28-day series of reflections, stories and feelings for Black History Month 2017. Read all parts (here).