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. 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.”
That's why having gay and black representation on a young adult show such as GREEK, or a transgender and black contestant on America's Next Top Model, or lesbian and black characters on The Wire and Lincoln Heights is so necessary: If black communities can see from their favorite shows and movies that an LGBT member of the family is still a member of the family, then progress is being made. But those same representations also offer a lifeline. “What those images do most is offer young people in the closet or just exploring who they are, it allows them a chance to recognize part of themselves in those characters,” said Sonja Sohn, who played Kima Greggs on The Wire. “And by seeing that they are not alone, it lets them embrace that part of their being a little quicker, a little easier. I think that’s where some sort of change, a greater magnitude, will shift.”
A lot of great information and ideas were shared during the panel and thanks to the Screen Actors Guild, we will soon be posting video from the evening. Check glaadblog.org in the coming days for more from “Knocking Down the Door: Black LGBT Images in Media."