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What it’s really like to be a black man in the gay world

What it’s really like to be a black man in the gay world

I thought that I would find refuge from racism in the gay community, but this was not to be.

Despite our shared history of oppression, including being subjected to legalized discrimination, some white gay men and lesbians still find reason to discriminate against black and ethnic minority LGBTI people.

Our leaders decided that marriage equality was the pressing priority. Of course they did; they are mostly, if not all, white. If they were black or from another ethnic minority group, then they would have, without hesitation, prioritized an anti-racism drive.

Rallying behind a color-free ‘rainbow’ flag and boasting salaries way above average, our representatives display a distinct lack of empathy with today’s black LGBTI experience.

Frankly, I strongly suspect that they would prioritize becoming the first LGBTI passengers on a return flight to the moon before dealing with racism in the gay community; because eradicating its putrid stench will require an unpleasant look in the mirror and an acknowledgement that their leadership is part of the problem.

Marriage equality is indeed a just cause, but there is something quite odd, or even shameful, in our achieving it before we’ve dealt with racism within our own community.

Effective leadership would reflect and promote the experiences and aspirations of all the LGBTI community and seek to add substance to the ‘rainbow’, not more rhetoric.

The lack of Black, Asian and Latino LGBTI representation at the top table is not an accident or matter of fate; it’s a choice by those already there. It is not enough to just have blacks add to the color scheme in the meeting rooms; we must be key decision-makers, too.

‘Queer spaces’, comprising of trendy places to eat, drink, and dance, have been ‘whitewashed’ to mirror white-run gay publications. It truly catches my eye when I spot a black face and usually do a double-take to make sure my eyes aren’t deceiving me.

The subliminal message is white = money and blacks don’t!

Denied social opportunities that whites take for granted, black LGBTI people – like a sub-class within a sub-class – must go elsewhere to find people who look ‘like them’.

If we do venture into the hot spots, black gay men are more often than not perceived as fetish-sex toy ‘material’, not holistic people. We are also seen as somewhat subservient; designed to please white men in the bedroom, on the dance floor, in the kitchen, or on stage as their entertainers.

In other words, the various identities and stereotypes of black gay men have not made the progress enjoyed by our white counterparts. We remain marginalized, minimized and traumatized.

Racism isn’t just a word; it’s an experience – it scars to the very soul. It carries an impact akin to the death of someone close. You will forever re-live the time and place of its occurrence, especially how it made you feel; the hurt and damage to your dignity and self-esteem.

A white gay man cannot comprehend or feel the experience of being black and gay, and the ‘double-minority’ status and discrimination that come with it.

A black gay man will be racially profiled by the police in the street and then be treated with suspicion or even hostility when trying to get into a gay bar. If allowed inside: Shaazam! Like magic, he’s suddenly invisible.

The black gay man can now expect to grow a full beard waiting to be served his well-deserved drink. Ignoring him is a not so subtle hint from behind the bar that they are wise to his criminal intent: trying to buy while black! They’ll proceed to serve everybody but him until it is beyond obvious that he will not give up.

Experience will have taught the black gay man that white people find innovative ways of expressing the derogatory intent behind the word nigger, without actually saying it.

With a drink at last in his hand, and having regained his former visibility, he must now navigate through the white guys who have made a deliberate beeline in his direction. They are keen to be the first to pop the old familiar question: ‘Are you selling, mate?’

Yes, it’s that infuriatingly common assumption again – you’re a black man, and therefore, must be a walking portal for drugs and other illegalities.

As for racist sexual stereotyping, well, the night is still young! The white guy who’s been checking out the front of your pants really isn’t interested in your name – your cock size will do. Yes Brother, you have yet another assumed role to fulfill before the night is through, ‘top’ man!

Some white gay men say that their sexuality enables them to empathize with the black experience, and yet, on the other, they say my race isn’t a relevant factor and that I have a ‘chip’ on my shoulder.

Well, let me state loud and clear: my race is always relevant; I can’t make it invisible like I can my sexuality.

Living in London, I’ve witnessed abhorrent displays of prejudice, including the use of offensive language such as ‘nigger’.

In one memorably nasty incident I saw a black gay man forcibly ejected onto the street after he was accused by a white gay man of stealing his cigarettes. The red-faced accuser later found the unopened packet on his own person.

In another London bar, the staff were happily handing out jelly babies, when an over-excited Caucasian patron seized the container, loudly proclaiming, ‘I want a nigger one!’

On yet another occasion, an Asian friend and I made our way into a popular bar on London’s Old Compton Street, and heard a Caucasian man sitting at the bar announce our arrival with: ‘Oh, here come the niggers.’ No action was taken by staff against any of the above vile offenders.

The distinct experience of black gay men is made more urgent by the fact they are disproportionately represented in new HIV statistics and present late for diagnosis and treatment.

There is not much point in promoting my rights as a gay man – or even my right to marry – whilst ignoring my experience of racism as a black gay man. To ignore it could be interpreted as complacency, or even collusion.

Our leaders in the USA, UK and elsewhere must get their act together. It’s 2015 and we need action on racism, not rhetoric, please!

Vernal Scott is author of the Polari-shortlisted non-fiction book, God’s Other Children: A London Memoir (Amazon/Createspace). His book is cited in a forthcoming docudrama on the life of Whitney Houston and was recently tweeted as a ‘favorite’ by William Hague, the UK’s former Foreign Secretary.

Watch Vernal Scott speak about racism and the LGBTI community here: