Sexism and homophobia in communities of color are often highlighted by the 'liberal' media. For example, the supposed misogyny and homophobia of Black public figures such as Louis Farrakhan and assorted rap artistes have often been brought to public attention. Although these allegations are not always without basis, the steady repetition of stories alleging Black (or other non-white) bigotry, unaccompanied by a proportional focus on similar bigotry in other communities, gives rise to the impression that Blacks (or other non-whites) in general are more homophobic or misogynistic than White Americans. The real-life encounters of individuals, however, suggest a far more complex picture. C., an Asian lesbian residing in the U.S., shares her personal experiences as a queer person interacting with African Americans:
I've encountered many more non-homophobic black individuals than non-homophobic white individuals,despite the fact that whites outnumber blacks 10 to 1 in the city where I live. As for the non-homophobic blacks, not only were they not prejudiced against glbt, they also had a very good gaydar - all of them picked up on the fact I am gay without me having to tell them, and I don't advertise my sexuality at all. For example, there was a black-owned coffeeshop I visited less than 10 times, and the owner was able to sense I was gay very early on. He used gender-neutral language ('partner' instead of 'boyfriend') when asking about my family. I was single and didn't appear in public with a 'girlfriend', so there was no obvious reason for him to assume I am lesbian, except that I'm quite tomboyish.
To give another example, a married heterosexual black female acquaintance also took care to use 'partner' instead of 'boyfriend' when making small talk about my social life. She and I had no personal dealings other than meeting very occasionally at an exercise class. We never ventured beyond superficial conversation but she was able to tune in to the gay 'vibe'. On another occasion, I met a friend's African American roommate and the roommate's parents for the first time at the friend's wedding. When the time came for the bride to throw the bouquet, the roommate's elderly mom gave me a knowing look and said, "Now you wouldn't be interested in that, would you?" One of my previous managers, who is African-born (not an American), also clued in to my sexual orientation without being told - when I mentioned a female friend was moving in with me, he asked if she was my 'partner'. She wasn't, but I was impressed by his awareness.
On the other hand, I am yet to meet a non-homophobic white heterosexual with a working gaydar (I'm sure such people are out there - I just haven't met them yet) When white heterosexuals realize I am gay, their reaction is often disbelief or surprise, and sometimes even denial. These are not people who are bigoted against gays - they just couldn't accept the idea of an Asian woman whose sexuality wasn't available to white men. Such a reaction is not surprising, considering that Asian women appear in American media primarily as the love interests of white men. I felt that the non-homophobic blacks saw beyond my 'race' and 'gender' - they saw me as an individual with unique preferences and choices. But I never had the same level of intuitive understanding from whites, all of whom assumed I was straight until proven otherwise.
The Asian American community, like the African American community, is also at times singled out by 'mainstream' media as being more homophobic and misogynistic than the 'default' social group (i.e. European Americans). Novels about Asian American women fleeing misogynistic Asian families to refuge in European or Euro-American society are popular with 'enlightened' white readers seeking to 'learn' about 'other cultures'. GLBT media also follows the mainstream trend with a series of movies that invariably feature a closeted gay Asian American who is partnered with an 'out' European American. Such films tend to focus heavily on the Asian American's struggle with his homophobic family, and never mention the European American's family dynamics. For all we know, the European American gay man's family might be even more homophobic than the Asian American family. S., an Asian American bisexual woman, shares her views on alleged Asian homophobia:
I date mostly women now, though I have dated both Asian and white men in the past. I didn't come out as bisexual until I was in college. All of my Asian male friends accepted me right off the bat. Asian male acquaintances I met at work and through friends also accepted the fact I date women without any fuss. White men, however, had a different reaction. They insisted that it was 'just a phase' and that I just 'haven't met the right guy yet'. And what's more, many of them actually believe they were the 'right guy' who could 'change my mind'. In contrast, the Asian guys I met were just matter-of-fact about encountering an Asian woman who happened to be lesbian or bisexual.
The experiences of C. and S. are just the experiences of individuals, and cannot be used to measure the general level of homophobia in European American, African American and Asian American communities (as if such a thing can even be measured). However, they provide a picture of African American and Asian American attitudes that is different from what 'mainstream' media usually chooses to reveal. But to be fair to the regular media, we did come to know of glbt-supportive African American and Asian American public figures through our regular news channels. Examples are:
Dennis Rodman, who does not identify as gay or bisexual, but insists on respect for glbt folks. [See DENNIS RODMAN: BASKETBALL GREAT BREAKS FREE OF GENDER RESTRICTIONS]
Gary Locke, the Washington governor who vetoed a marriage bill designed to pre-empt gay marriage. The governor spoke in support of gay and lesbian citizens, "I did not want contributing members of our society vilified or used for false fears and scapegoating." [See Washington State Bans Gay Marriage]
Ron Sims, the King County Executive who encouraged gay couples in King County, Washington, to sue him for the right to marry. Sims' maneuver led to a King County Superior Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in 2004. [See MSNBC article Washington judge OKs same-sex marriage]
Kevin Chang, the Hawaii judge who ruled in favor of the right for same-sex couples to legally marry. [See CNN article Hawaiian judge upholds same-sex marriages ]
Willie Brown, the San Francisco mayor who fulfilled his campaign promise by presiding over 150 marriages between same sex couples in 1996 even though California did not recognize such marriages. [See CNN article San Francisco hosts gay 'marriage']
If only people are just as aware of folks like these as they are aware of the homophobes. Jenn Bowman of the Queer People of Color Liberation Project said in a 2006 interview with ColorsNW Magazine "There is a huge misconception that communities of color are more homophobic, I think that isn't necessarily true."