Gay Civil Rights. Black Civil Rights.

ImageGay civil rights, black civil rights. Same issue, same struggle, right? Not so according to one very introspective ICT African American lesbian. Though she had to conceal her real name and identity, “Gail” offers a stripped down glimpse into what it means to be gay and black in Wichita. She was kind enough to share her “naked” thoughts with all of us.

“Drawing parallels between the experiences of African Americans and those of gay Americans is a common misnomer made by white people,” Gail said. “We need to dig deeper to understand the differences in culture that result in different racial communities treating their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters differently.”

Gay people have never been systematically rounded up, loaded onto horrific boats, and sold into slavery. They haven’t suffered the same systemic economic and social inequalities throughout history. Gay people can also walk into a room without everyone knowing their sexual orientation.” When you’re black, you can never conceal your race. Gays can choose to hide, but when you’re black, there’s no hiding from prejudice,” Gail points out.

It’s no secret that the blacks and the gays don’t always peacefully coexist. Nationally, African Americans are far more resistant to accepting homosexuality than Caucasians. When Proposition 8 passed in California, 90% of black people voted for Obama, while at the same time 70% of them elected to outlaw gay weddings. Religion is a big factor in the divide. African Americans are a religious and church-centered bunch. Many sociologists contend that it’s socioeconomics, not race, though, that plays a central role in black homophobia. Gail concurs. “It’s about education. The more educated a person is, the more accepting they tend to be. The education rates are lower among blacks and that’s part of the problem. If we want to address homophobia, we need to also address access to education. We need to get serious about ending poverty,” she said.

“Gay people also need to stop being afraid to come and talk to us. Part of why Prop 8 passed was due to the fact that the white gay leaders were too scared to outreach to black communities. They viewed us as the enemy, and so we voted that way,” Gail said.

Gail believes, though, that an opportunity exists locally to move the dialogue forward…but she admits that some things have to change first.

She paints a picture of a Wichita black gay community marginalized and hidden. She believes that proportionally there are just as many black people in town who are gay as there are white people. The different is in how they deal with it. “There’s a lot of hiding, and a lot of fooling,” she said. “Some people hide it from their family, but are out to certain friends. They date, but keep it quiet. Then there’s that infamous “down low”—what I call the fooling! A lot of people just find the social pressures to hard so they fool everyone by pretending to be straight. Just last week I saw a man at church with his wife and kids…and the week before I saw him out at one of the bars kissing a dude!”

She characterizes Wichita African Americans in general to be a very tight-knit community. “Everyone knows everyone,” she said. “Most of us who are here grew up together. Our moms still talk to each other. Our kids play together. The closeness is good in the sense that it creates lifelong bonds and friendships. It has a dark side, though, in that it can lend itself to gossip. And let me tell you, when it comes to other people’s kids, black people love to gossip!”

It’s this close-knit spirit that Gail sees as the biggest opportunity for progress. She believes that local gay rights groups need to do a better job building relationships with black leaders. She says they shouldn’t be afraid to get into the churches and meet with the ministers, too. “Really, if more people were just honest and spoke from the heart, this issue would be go away. I know so many parents who have gay kids and they just hide it from their friends. When it comes to black gays, the parents are in the closet just as much as their kids,” she said.

Gail struck me as someone who could, herself, be a powerful communicator within the black community for the LGBT cause. She’s an active member of her church, a mom raising kids with her partner, and a dynamic professional. She’s out to her family and her congregation. She says most have accepted her. I was surprised when she requested that I conceal her identify. “This is Kansas, and where I work, we don’t have a non-discrimination policy. Until we do, I’ll have to be a bit on the down low myself, sadly,” she said.

Gay civil rights and black civil rights aren’t the same fight, but it seems they have bigotry as a common enemy.

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