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Racism in Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender America

Racism in the US gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender "community" is nothing new. In the 1950s, African American gays and lesbians were not welcome in white-run gay bars and clubs. In the PC 90s, however, this topic of racism within an oppressed minority has been blithely avoided in mainstream glbt dialogues. But whether whites want to talk about this or not, let's hear what people of color have to say:


T, black lesbian recounts her experience:

When I was down South, many white lesbians didn't think I was a dyke. They assumed because I was black I couldn't be a lesbian.

A Eurasian lesbian recalls:

I went to a lesbian bar with a white ex-girlfriend, and straightaway some white women started a table conversation about me, supposedly not directed at me, but deliberately loud enough so I could hear. They said, "She can't be a lesbian; she's Asian!"

Over the past few decades, many European American gays and lesbians have begun to assert their individuality by refusing to conform to faceless traditional gender roles. As the gay rights movement gained momentum, white queers and queers of color exercised their right to choose who they can love in the face of societal pressure. This triumph of the individual over societal oppression was something that many Euro-Am glbts were rightly proud of, but somehow, they cannot ascribe the same experience to people of color.

One possible reason why it was so hard for white glbt folks to believe glbt people of color exist was they did not see people of color as true individuals. People of color are always seen as part of a group. European American feminist writer Gloria Steinem once noted that people simply call a white feminist a "feminist" but they always see a black feminist as a "black feminist". Since many whites wrongly believed (and still believe) that communities of color are always less 'progressive' than white communities when it came to homosexuality/transgender issues, they did not see a queer person of color as a possibility.

Another reason why European or European American glbt denied the existence of glbt of color is biology-based racism, which Will Roscoe and Stephen Murray aptly describes in the Preface to "Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities":

For Europeans, black Africans - of all the native peoples of the world - most epitomized "primitive man." Since primitive man was supposed to be close to nature, ruled by instinct, and culturally unsophisticated, he had to be heterosexual, his sexual energies and outlets devoted exclusively to their "natural" purpose: biological reproduction. If black Africans were the most primitive people in all humanity - if they were, indeed, human, which some debated - then they had to be the most heterosexual.

1990s onwards

In the 1990s, most European American gays and lesbians are finally getting used to the idea that "Yes, non-whites too, can be gay!" but is racism in the glbt community dead? Let's take a look at the following individual experiences from the 90s.

An Afro-Native American lesbian, 30s:

When I heard a gay man make an automatic association between black men and high crime neighborhoods, I just had to jump in... I'm quite disappointed with some people in the gay community.

A European American lesbian, 20s:

I went to a camp out organized by the local lesbian resource center. I noticed there were no women of color there, so I asked the other white lesbians why this was so. Everyone I asked reacted in an angry and offended tone. They said, "That's because there are just not many women of color in this area." From what I've seen, this is not true. Maybe women of color just don't feel welcome at these events.

An Asian social worker:

I used to do education and outreach with sex workers in Southeast Asia. There were quite a few white lesbians working in the same international non-profit organization. They were so into that exotic Asian woman thing. These women would actually get involved sexually with the Asian sex workers they were supposed to help and even start living together... I didn't think that was professional.

A mixed (non-white) Asian lesbian:

I was on a lesbian/bisexual panel at my college. The panelists had a meeting with the student residence officers (hired college staff). At the meeting we had to state our motivation for being on the panel. I said that people of color were under-represented at glbt meetings and that my purpose was to provide the presence of someone of color. The residence life officer, a butch white lesbian, gave me what could only be described as a hatred look. Later she started talking about presenting a united front to the straight community.

I also had the impression that most white dykes at the college initially assumed I was NOT a lesbian. I was androgynous-looking and definitely not femme. Similar-looking white women were always assumed to be lesbian even if they were not. The funny thing is, a lot of these white women were definitely not lesbians/bisexuals in high school, but when they went to college, they thought it was the cool thing to do, so they cut their hair short and played rugby or whatever. I, on the other hand, had identified as a dyke since I was in high school. I was not recognized as lesbian simply because I am Asian while all those fake white lesbians get the recognition. There were many queers of color at my school, but none of them hung out with the Lesbian/Bisexual Alliance unless they were dating someone white.

Granted, in-your-face bigotry is now seldom seen in the largely PC and semi-sensitive gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender community, but ignorance and subtle discrimination still exists. Activist Alicia Banks astutely dissects the sexual-racial politics of Gay America in her article On Racist Gays.

It is no shame to admit bigotry exists. We can only by address our assumptions and prejudices by facing up to them. Denial will not move us forward.