With both The Wire and Noah's Arc now part of television history, there are currently — and depressingly — few on-screen television characters who are both gay and black.
On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the NAACP and the 40th NAACP Image Awards, the lack of African American LGBT representation was the crux of a forum hosted in Los Angeles this week by GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition. “Knocking Down the Door: Black LGBT Images in Media" was a standing-room only event that took place at the Screen Actors Guild, co-sponsored by SAG's LGBT Actors Committee and the Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch of the NAACP.
The evening began with a historical video retrospective of black and LGBT images produced by Deondray Gossett and Quincy LeNear, the creative duo behind The DL Chronicles. The two were also part of the evening's lively panel discussion alongside actor/director/writer Maurice Jamal (Dirty Laundry, The Ski Trip); performer J. Karen Thomas, founding member of the SAG LGBT Actors Committee; TV personality Marcellas Reynolds; performer and activist Ashley Love, host of the online series LGB to the T; actor and NAACP Image Award nominee Sonja Sohn (The Wire), and Willis Edwards, member of the NAACP National Board of Directors. The event was moderated by Rashad Robinson, GLAAD Senior Director of Media Programs and featured remarks from SAG Interim Executive Director David White and Alice Huffman, President of the California State NAACP.
The forum explored potential reasons behind the under-representation and how this history of invisibility may have affected voting on California's Proposition 8. Apropos, the 30-second commercial from GettoKnowUsFirst.org featuring the African American family headed by Michael and Xavier was shown to the audience. The spot ran in California television markets during the inauguration, Super Bowl, and the NAACP Image Awards. The absence of these kind of images on television, the panelists suggested, makes the idea of someone being gay and black something foreign and strange to many in the African American community. "Most communication is non-verbal. Whether it’s in a film or on TV or in a commercial, we’re very affected by what we see," said panelist J. Karen Thomas. "So just by having an image of a black gay, bisexual or lesbian, it alters your awareness and your imagination of what can be possible."
The panelists agreed that African American representation, LGBT or not, is influential. “When I first saw A Different World and The Cosby Show, I thought, ‘I can go to college,’" admitted Deondray Gossett. "These images really affected the way I thought about the future. I think these images are absolutely essential. If it’s done well, TV can shape young minds.”
Featuring black LGBT representation provides a necessary and accurate reflection of the African American community. The panelists, like GLAAD, understand the impact the entertainment industry has on America and the world, and all are working to not only help the industry understand that responsibility, but to realize that diversity and inclusion is also good business.