By: Richard A. Fowler, Contributing Writer
Spring is springing. And as we say hello to spring flower, April showers, and meeting for drinks on rooftops, we should also take time to refocus on the storylines and news narratives specifically impacting the Black LGBTQ community.
Individuals living at the intersection of race, culture, and sexual identity face a unique set of challenges impacting their ability to find gainful employment, acquire safe and affordable housing, access affirming healthcare, and be accepted by the community at large. While some of these barriers are deeply woven in to the fabric of American culture, many are newly constructed by bias in news outlets and writers rooms, along with media leadership’s lack of care in telling the Black queer story in a 24/7 news cycle. Meant to defame, dehumanize, and discriminate, this pressure on Black queer communities has instead sparked brilliance, birthed resilience, and spurred innovation.
The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial inequity have revealed the work America must do to ensure that its laws are fair, just, and equitable. That’s why, in order to genuinely understand the trending news narratives surrounding the Black queer experience, once must first understand the Black queer folks have to face and tackle the hostility of both racism and homophobia in America.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of the five biggest stories I see impacting the Black LGBTQIA community that live at the intersection of Black queer joy, pain, and perseverance – the bittersweet reality of being Black and queer in America.
1. The Centering of Black Queer Characters in TV Storylines
Whether it is “The Upshaws” on Netflix, the CW’s “All-American: Homecoming,” NBC’s “The Best Man: The Final Chapters,” HBO Max’s “Euphoria,” or Starz #TakeTheLead shows “P-Valley,” “Power Book II: Ghost,” and “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” it is clear that show creators and writers rooms throughout the entertainment industry are finally beginning to catch on to the importance of capturing queer stories as part of the Black experience in America.
Through an intense focus on developing gay, queer, lesbian, transgender, and non-binary Black characters and making their humanity a central part of blockbuster show storylines, Hollywood is conferring dignity and acknowleding the beauty that exists at the heart of the Black queer experience.
In Starz’ “P-Valley,” audience members meet characters such as Lil Murda, a Black queer up-and-coming music artist. Built in a diverse and inclusive writers room, Lil Murda is illuminating the Black LGBTQIA experience and demystifying the stereotypes and stigmas that society has attached to beautifully colored bodies that happen to live at the intersection of Black and queer.
Hollywood’s recent strides do not take away from the calls for more diversity and inclusion, but it does represent some of the success gained from placing proper value on Black queer lives and their storylines.
2. Attempts by U.S. State Legislatures to Hamper the Rights of LGBTQIA Americans
Tennessee’s governor has singed a law restricting public drag show performances. In Florida, lawmakers have passed laws restricting race-based, sexual orientation, and gender identity conversations in schools. And across the country, 429 anti-LGBTQIA bills are moving in state houses.
This year, states like Texas, Alabama, and Arizona have turned some of those bills into laws. While these anti-queer pieces of legislation, cloaked in an attempt to be “anti-woke,” impact the entire community, they have a disproportionate impact Black queer U.S. residents. Black LGBTQIA Americans are subjected to increased significant trauma, over-policed communities, and a race-based lack of access that is only exacerbated by laws put in place to discriminate agains the dual Black LGBTQIA existence.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives throughout America’s newsrooms have led to better coverage of LGBTQIA issues in the media, and yet, there is more work that must be done to tell more stories that sit at the intersection of Black and LGBTQIA.
3. The International Push to Discriminate Against Black Queer Folks Throughout the World
In mid-March, Uganda’s parliament passed sweeping anti-LGBTQIA legislation. The strict new law would create stiff new penalities for same-sex relationships and criminalize anyone identifying as LGBTQIA.
While Uganda and 29 other African countries already have laws banning same-sex relationships, the new law appears to be the first to outlaw identifying as gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer. With the underlying goal of erasure, Uganda’s recent move comes at a time when anti-LGBTQIA laws are running rampant through the majority of Black and Brown-led countries and in the United States.
In Saudi Arabia, police routinely arrest citizens based on their gender identity. In Nigeria, transgender and non-binary people’s existences have been deemed illegal. And in Malawi, it is outlawed for men to wear their hair long. With most of these laws steeped in an attempt to turn religious teaching and moral conviction into modern-day policymaking, members of the internation queer community, especially those who are darker-skinned, have been subjected to a kind of discrimination that should cultivate international outrage. Although, while some countries are moving in the wrong direction, others are working on rewriting harm that is centuries in the making.
In August 2022, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court struck down legal provisions that criminalized same-sex relations in St. Kitts and Nevis. In July of that same year, Antigua and Barbuda decriminalized same-sex relationships.
As the movement for rights, the expansion of PRIDE celebrations, and grassroots organizing continues in the Caribbean and Africa, pushign the line for greater representation and equal access to human rights seems to be front of mind for Black queer activists internationally.
Putting their bodies on the line for their freedom, many Black queer activists have shown a sense of bravery that harkens back to the Stonewall Uprising of 1974. This showcase of strength should make the entire LGBTQIA community proud and spur awareness around the global fight for equality.
4. Lack of Access to High Quality Healthcare
With many arteries to inequities facing Black queer folks in the United States, access to high quality healthcare sits at the center.
Often residing in health deserts and lacking access to affordable healthcare, health information, and resources, Black LGBTQIA Americans have been subjected to a medical setting rich with discrimination. These disparities have resulted in higher rates of HIV/AIDS transmission and infection as well as more signficant mental health and substance abuse issues.
These preventable health outcomes, coupled with compounded discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, make acces to healthcare a more prominent storyline.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed in the United States in 2022. Transgender people of color account for 81 percent of known victims this year, and 59 percent were Black. Centering stories that celebrate healthcare models treating Black queer populations and exposing horror stories of people who cannot access care is a critical part of LGBTQIA people’s movement forward. Without these stories, the status quo will remain as a healthcare system that works for a chosen few.
5. The Redefining of Black Masculinity to be More Inclusive for All
To truly understand one of the many issues facing Black queer America, society must first understand the media stigma, over-criminalization, bastardization, and lack of care that has gone into defining Black men and their masculinity.
Often misdefined as lacking emotion, empathy, or intimacy, Black masculinity in the media’s gaze has been stigmatized to represent overt strength, a propensity to violence, and a lack of care for one’s family. This long-formed definition has also caused society to view any Black men-to-Black men displays of affection from a homophobic lens that often doesn’t extend to white definitions of masculinity. Blurred in thinking and flawed in its conception, this lens has harmed Black queer people and caused compounded trauma for Black men throughout the country.
Thankfully, Black male activists, musical artists, and actors ahve taken up the role to change the deifnition. At the front of that pack have been people, groups, and organizations such as Jonathan Majors, Michael B. Jordan, Saucy Santana, Kid Cudi, “The Quintessential Gentleman,” “FANTI Podcast,” and “Vibe Check.” While there is a lot fo work left to be done, this refreshing conversation has allowed Black men (cis, trans, straight, and gay alike) to harness the power to define themselves and confer dignity upon their humanity, a requirement to ensure that Black men’s lives and queer lives matter.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black communities, including those who identify as LGBTQIA. And, while America works to move out of the pandemic toward a new normal, it should include the centering and prioritizing of Black queer storylines. It may not be a popular thing to do in the eyes of some, but it is necessary to ensure safe, welcoming, and thriving communities for all.