LGBT African Americans and African-American Allies: Telling More Stories of Inclusion

Every February the media scrambles to publish stories that tout the historical contributions of the African-American community. Many repeat the age-old stories of Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. And the more progressive media outlets, trying to be inclusive of LGBT stories, tend to always turn to the stories of Bayard Rustin, the driving force behind the March on Washington, famed author James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde. While these stories are incredibly important, unfortunately, that’s where the inclusive imagery of African-American LGBT people ends. It’s no secret that African-American LGBT people are often invisible in discussions around marriage equality, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and employment protections. This translates to the presumption that we either aren’t affected by these issues or have no opinion. Equally as problematic is the idea that African Americans, overall, are anti-LGBT and unsupportive when it comes to advancing equality.  This simply isn’t true. According to the Arcus Foundation, 80 percent of African-Americans favor hate crimes protections for LGBT people; 77 percent favor protection against job discrimination; and 74 percent agree that LGBT people should have protection from housing discrimination. There still remains work to be done around marriage equality, yet while 67 percent of African-Americans are opposed to marriage for gay and lesbian couples, 60 percent are in favor of health care and pension benefits for unmarried couples. So if African-Americans are this supportive of LGBT-inclusion, why don’t we hear more positive stories about African-American’s support for the LGBT communities and LGBT people of color? And further, what can we do to change this?  Fair, accurate and inclusive media images shatter stereotypes. They prove that we are all connected through common, human experiences. And this is the connection GLAAD has been working to share.  Just this past year, GLAAD worked with on their first feature of a lesbian wedding. The story of Aisha and Danielle inspired countless people, gay and straight, to “like” the story on Facebook and share their own experiences about love and acceptance.  GLAAD stepped in and called on The View to correct its problematic coverage of the “down low” myth and challenged ABC to retract their hurtful and inaccurate message about African-American gay and bisexual men.  All of this is a part of an ongoing effort to hold the media accountable for the images and messages it perpetuates. But it’s just the beginning. We have to begin telling our stories.   We must work to raise visibility around the issue of family rejection as we tell the stories of couples getting married in DC. We have to hold the media accountable in our neighborhoods, cities and states when it perpetuates dangerous and hurtful messages they treat the African-American community and the LGBT community as mutually exclusive. This is our responsibility to our future as much as it is to our past.