Communities of African Descent Resource Kit | January 2009
FAIR, ACCURATE & INCLUSIVE
Over the past decade, media coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people- their lives and their issues- has increasingly become more frequent, fair, accurate and balanced. But if you turn on the televsion or pick up a newspaper, there remains virtually no representation of black LGBT voices and perspectives. Within this void, stereotypes and misconceptions continue to grow. And when media outlets do not show black LGBT people struggling to live ordinary, everyday lives like other Americans, their audiences do not realize the inequalities they face.
To adddress this invisibility, GLAAD's Communities of African Descent (COAD) Resource Kit provides guidelines, terminology, and contact information for leading black LGBT organizations and individuals as tools for more inclusive, fair, and balanced coverage of the black LGBT community.
Stories about the black LGBT community provide important insight into today's political and social climate. Interviews with and opinion pieces by black LGBT people are opportunities to increase the diversity of voices represented in the media. Yet, cultural missteps in communications (errors in terminology, use of imagery) aimed at the black community can do more harm than good.
Recognize that the black LGBT community is diverse and that no one voice can or should represent the entire community. Black LGBT people encompass a broad spectrum of life experiences. It is a community that spans every region of this country and every economic class, with diverse ethnic backgrounds, representing a wide variety of cultural and religious experiences.
Consider the daily lives of black LGBT people. So often, stories about gay or bisexual black men revolve around HIV/AIDS. While these are important stories to tell, also try to think about positive or upbeat stories that might be of interest to your readers and which reflect the daily reality of the entire black LGBT experience.
While it is okay to use "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender" or "LGBT" when writing in general terms about the black gay and transgender community, do not assume that all people use these terms to describe themselves. Many individuals have adopted the term "Same Gender Loving" (or SGL) or other terms that are more inclusive of both sexual orientation and race. Others may not identify with any terms at all. Include questions that ask about gender identity and sexual orientation in interviews with the black LGBT community. Always ask interview subjects how they wish to be identified.
Avoid stereotypes when covering AIDS, the black community and the "Down Low." While silence around sexual orientation stems from anti-LGBT beliefs and attitudes, one should not make the distinction that black communities are more anti-LGBT than any other community or that concealing one's orientation or identity is uniquely a black phenomenon. These sociocultural complexities should be examined with respect and dignity for the peole they represent.
Always consult with black LGBT leaders and organizations if you have questions about complex issues. When dealing with an issue that is unfamiliar, community leaders and experts can offer invaluable resources that can assist you in providing the best possible coverage.
There are a wide variety of stories that are inclusive of black LGBT lives:
LGBT issues are ever present in the media from the issuance of marriage licenses to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the increasing visibility of the transgender community. When covering these stories, represent diverse opinions by including black LGBT voices and perspectives.
Profile the work of prominent figures in the black LGBT community, locally and nationally, in politics and entertainment.
Cover your local Black Pride. Major cities across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., hold pride celebrations for the black LGBT community every year. Visit http://www.ifbp.org for a full list of locations, dates, and contact information.
Cover positive stories of inclusion in black churches. Many of these churches are inclusive of LGBT people. The Unity Fellowship Church, for example, is a very prominent coalition of churces reaching out to LGBT communities of color. The Fellowship is another movement of affirming churches of color. The Metropolitan Community Church, Arc of Refuge, and Glide Church are other churces inclusive of LGBT people of color.
Explore some of the sociocultural factors that contribute to many black LGBT people not identifying with standard terms dealing with gender identity or sexual orientation.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
African American: A term used to describe a U.S. citizen of African descent. While this has become an acceptable term to use, it should be noted that some people prefer to use the term "black" because they find it more inclusive. For example, those who are of West Indian heritage may identify as "black," but not as "African American." It is best to ask the individual for their preference and not to assume.
Ball: Balls began in Harlem, N.Y., in the early 1980s. In essence, they are events in which people come as both spectators and participants to compete in a variety of competition categories. The categories often combine athletics, dance, and gender performance. Balls were popularized in the early 1990s; Madonna's "Vogue" is an ode to the ball scene, the community, and culture. Balls continue to serve as meaningful events for the black LGBT community across the country.
Down Low: This term along with "homo thug" has garnered much attention in the media. Both terms describe masculine black men who have sex with men. Men on the "DL" usually do not identify as gay or bisexual and are often in relationships with women. Sensationalized media coverage of the so-called "down low" thus far has largely, and incorrectly, blamed closeted men for the rates of HIV and AIDS cases among black women.
House: A House is a group of LGBT or allied people who create a family structure with an appointed Mother and /or Father and a collective of other members called "the children." Often people join houses because of rejection from their families after coming out. The house is very connected to the ball scene; houses are responsible for throwing balls and many times only those that are in a house are able to compete in the categories.
MSM: A term often used by people in social and health services to describe any self-identified man who engages in sexual activity with other men. This term includes men who identify as gay or bisexual, and men who identify as straight.
Same Gender Loving: The term "Same Gender Loving" (SGL) emerged in the early 1990's with the intention of offering black women who love women and black men who love men a voice, a way of identifying with the uniqueness of Black culture in life.
Womanist: A term introduced by author Alice Walker to describe women of color who are concerned with the oppression of other women. This term was introduced to embrace women of color who have felt left out of the "feminist" movement due to institutionalized racism.
This is a partial list of some of the organizations around the country that provide services to the black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and SGL people.
African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change (AALUSC)
CLOAVE (Collective Lesbians of African-Descent Voices Everywhere)
For Those We Love
Southerners On New Ground (SONG)
Black AIDS Institute (The Institute)
Minority AIDS Project (MAP)
People of Color Against AIDS Network (POCAAN)
People of Color in Crisis
National Advocacy Organizations
International Federation of Black Prides
Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County (SMAAC)
Affirming Black Churches
Unity Fellowship Church - USA