The colors of the rainbow flag are known for the variance of sexual and gender minorities (like lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people) represented in the LGBTQ+/queer community, but the variance of race and ethnicities that intersect within this community are unreasonably forgotten. Being a white, gay man, I have high representation for my intersecting identities in film, television, and books, yet as I am also a blogger, my white privilege has become more hyper-aware as I perpetually read critiques and posts about the “lack of color” in LGBTQ+ media and lack of inclusion of people of color in LGBTQ+ spaces. At Louisiana State University, their queer students have recently and organically created a space for LGBTQ+people of color. I was shocked by the news of such an organization, but I later concluded that it was not an unreasonable idea. If one reflects on social justice history, one will remembe rthat the black feminist movement had to happen in the midst of the overall feminist movement, too. It had to happen since white supremacy’s deep roots subconsciously take hold of even social justice movements.
Acknowledging my whiteness, the experiences of my fellow queers as people of color has come to my curiosity. If I want to be more beneficial and more helpful to my community, I feel the need to find understanding and give insight to those, who come from communities of color. As brought to my attention, the intersections of queer people of color should be more celebrated and striking rather than ignored. To give exposure people of color in the LGBTQ+ community, this paper discusses the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in their communities of color, LGBTQ+ media’s race relations, and racism and whiteness in LGBTQ+ spaces. I interviewed for personal understanding and research purposes my gay male, hapa-Asian friend – Kensei, my gay, black male coworker – Jerome, and an Asian, female bisexual SELU student – Ly. For scholarly research, I pursued Dr. Jane Ward’s “White Normativity: The Cultural Dimensions of Whiteness in a Racially Diverse LGBT Organization,” Dr. Roya Rastegar’s “The De-Fusion of Good Intentions: Outfest’s Fusion Film Festival,” Rose M. Pulliam and Michelle Mott’s “allgo Speaks: Reflections on Intersectional Organizing,” Dr. Antonio Pastrana, Jr.’s “Privileging Oppression: Contradictions in Intersectional Politics,” and Dr. Sean Cahill’s “The Disproportionate Impact of Antigay Family Politics on Black and Latino Same-sex Couple Households.” These articles discuss specific points of interests – LGBTQ+ people’s experiences in communities of color , LGBTQ+ media’s race relations, and racism and whiteness in LGBTQ+ spaces.
The Asian-American experience in America is a highly ignored topic in many spaces, which even include LGBTQ+ experiences. Being an Asian-American of a queer identity, is a “shame” within most Asian-American communities says my gay, hapa-Asian friend, Kensei (2015). Kensei comes from a background raised in the Unification Church, which is described as “a modern-day cult” originating from South Korea (2015). His Japanese mother and white American father were joined in an arranged marriage under the order of the Unification Church’s “messiah,” Reverend Sun Myung Moon (Kensei 2015). Most of his peers growing up had Japanese mothers and white American fathers, too (Kensei 2015). Ly, who identifies as a Vietnamese-American bisexual woman, made the same comment about “shame,” “It’s an out of sight, out of mind kind of thing” (2015). Ly was raised Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, but her parents still hold very traditional values of Vietnamese culture. Her parents immigrated to America during the Vietnam War, and honoring one’s family is one of the very strongest values of their culture (Ly 2015). Being gay or bisexual is “not ideal, natural, or an honor” in Asian-American culture (Kensei, Ly 2015). Ly commented that her parents pressure her not to talk about her sexuality “out of shame,” but her sisters pressure her “out of fear” (2015). Being raised in the Unification Church, Kensei struggled with not only this “honor” value but comments from Rev. Moon comparing gays to “dung-eating dogs” and prophecies of “the coming judgment” on gay people (2015). Therefore, in some Asian-American spaces, queer people are not only a “shame” but a disgust (Kensei 2015).
While dealing with racism from other people, including those in the LGBTQ+ community, most Asian-Americans must deal with homophobia and transphobia from their own ethnic community similar to LGBTQ+ black Americans. My coworker and friend Jerome, who identifies as a gay, black man, says that the black community is “the hardest community on gays,” especially Christian-based, black communities (2015). Knowing he was gay at the age of six, Jerome felt the need to stay strictly “in the closet” for quite a while and called homophobia in the community “systemic” (2015). He also believes that the black community is the “most vocally homophobic,” which makes him call for more acceptance from black friends and family to LGBTQ+ blacks (Jerome 2015). Jerome states on acceptance, “I want people to realize I’m the same Jerome they grew up with” (2015). The homophobia spoken of in the black community is also a consequence of antigay politics by whites from the Christian Right originating from the 1980s (Cahill 2008). Dr. Sean Cahill points toward the influential campaign of the Christian Right that casted the gay community as “only white” and “infringing upon the civil rights of black Americans” (2008). The campaign grew stronger as black religious leaders started to campaign in solidarity in this antigay movement (Cahill 2008). For example, in 2004, Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition campaigned against nondiscrimination laws for sexual minorities because it would “grant homosexuals more rights than other citizens, thus causing us (blacks) to lose some of our rights” (Cahill 2008). This confusing antigay movement infuriated the black community against the LGBTQ+ community because of the white Christian Right (Cahill 2008). Cahill (2008:220) further notes on this intersection of racism and homophobia:
The cruel irony is that the antigay policies of the Christian right pose a disproportionate threat to Black and Latino same-sex couple families. This is because Black and Latino same-sex couples are twice as likely as White same-sex couples to be raising children (particularly Black and Latino lesbian couples), and because they earn less are less likely to own a home they live in.
The tactics of the antigay movement have been deceptively appealing with stereotypically white, economically privileged representations like Will & Grace and Modern Family, while black and Latin American same-sex couples are almost double in likeliness than white same-sex couples to pursue parenting (Cahill 2008). There are over a thousand rights that come with marriage and in some states those are completely lost for same-sex couples, including parenting, which seriously puts black LGBTQ+ communities at risk (Cahill 2008). According to U.S. data in 2000, “Black, Latino, and Asian American same-sex couple households may benefit more, on average, than White gay couples from the ability to marry,” and he later goes onto add, “This is because of racial differences in parenting rates, income and wealth, citizenship status, and public sector employment” (Cahill 2008). These intersections of oppression from racism, homophobia, and lower-class struggle comes to endanger the black LGBTQ+ experience because of ricochet attacks within the black community (Cahill 2008).
LGBTQ+ people are hard to identify with in mainstream media between very few leading roles and very stereotypical roles, but thankfully, there is LGBTQ+ media to experiment with living as an LGBTQ+ person. LGBTQ+ media is problematic, too, yet there is such a space for LGBTQ+ experience but not very little for those who are people of color. The white hegemony of the mainstream media is not dammed to keep from seeping into LGBTQ+ media as well. Gay, hapa-Asian-American Kensei (2015) commented to me in interview, “I’ve seen like 15 LGBTQ+ movies but no people of color? I’ve seen white Brazilians, but have I seen any people of color?” Ly (2015) agrees personally that LGBTQ+ media needs to “shed more light because some deal with it more harshly because of being of color” (2015). Jerome (2015) has been annoyed personally by the portrayal of black characters in mainstream and LGBTQ+ media for creating only a stereotypical black man, who is “unrealistic,” “seemingly weak and too feminine,” and having only professions “like being a hairdresser.” The oppression on people of color should be more liberated with LGBTQ+ media, but instead, the existence of LGBTQ+ people is either ignored or stereotyped.
Dr. Roya Rastegar (2009) researches for social minorities but also organizes for queer people of color film festivals. In her organizing, she notes discussions at Outfest’s Fusion Film Festival and issues of queer people of color media (Rastegar 2009). In organizing this festival for queer people of color, she notes, “White people are expected to both support and stand up to the responsibility of educating themselves, but at the same time not take up too much space” (Rastegar 2009). Noah’s Arc (2005), a gay, black sitcom written, directed, and produced by Patrik Ian Polk, was claimed by its creator as a “triumph and a letdown” with the fight for a DVD release and a second season yet still a measure for success in queer people of color media (Rastegar 2009). Rastegar (2009) details this claim as to answer the question at a discussion panel of how queer people of color media “looks,” but also she notes Stephen Macias’s work as a senior executive at Regent Entertainment. Rastegar (2009:484-5) notes his quote on the broadcasting of queer people of color media:
It’s a difficult proposition when you’re out there trying to buy something for Regent or here! because we have to buy with the idea of putting it on our network and many of the cable companies in the US are – forget about homophobic, they’re racist! So dealing with gay content of color with a cable distributor in Raleigh, North Carolina, means you walk in with two strikes and you’re out.
This captures the exact struggle for representation of people of color in LGBTQ+ media and expresses the reality of intersections for LGBTQ+ people of color. The discriminations against LGBTQ+ people of color is very well highlighted in also their lack of representation. Going back to the topic of stereotypical characters of LGBTQ+ people of color in the media, Cherein Dabis is noted for her comments on being a coproducer and writer for The L Word (Rastegar 2009). She speaks of strategizing with writers of the show in perpetually putting effort into “getting away from the stereotype” yet “the execution later falling apart” (Rastegar 2009). Stuart Hall (1982), writer of “The Rediscovery of ‘Ideology’: Return of the Repressed in Media Studies” advises on representation involving the “active work of selecting and presenting, of structuring and shaping: not merely the transmitting of an already existing meaning, but the more active labor of ‘making things mean.'” Rastegar (2009) notes that the artists involved are accountable to establishing “making things mean” (Hall 1982). Currently, there is a lot of complaining from queer artists of color for this less “edgy” and risk-taking time period in film, which is unlike decades ago, and with these risks, social transformation and provocation can happen (Rastegar 2009).
As stated earlier, LGBTQ+ media’s stereotypes and lack of representation speak of the racism that has seeped into the culture of the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBTQ+ community is known for being “accepting” and “tolerant” by the public, but there is a prevalent amount of racism, ethnocentrism, and white supremacy within the LGBTQ+ community and its spaces. Ly (2015) stated that at a lesbian bar in southern Louisiana once she was asked “What are you doing here?” by a white lesbian. In gay male culture, the racism toward gay men of color seems to be even stronger. Jerome (2015) stated that on dating apps that detect other gay men in the area like Grindr some will have on their profile “No Blacks Allowed.” Kensei (2015) listed several problems within the gay male community. Not only are Asian-Americans fetishized but even half-Asian-Americans have a different way of being fetishized (Kensei 2015). Kensei (2015) has had odd experiences with his racial identity with being compared to twinkies (being half-white and half-Asian) and being called the “cute, gay half-Asian” or “my cute, gay half-Asian friend.” He also experiences discrimination on gay social networks with profiles stating “No Asians allowed,” too (Kensei 2015). The LGBTQ+ community has problematic thoughts on people of color, especially within the gay male community, that need to deconstructed of their discrimination and fetishization.
Dr. Antonio Pastrana, Jr. (2010) conducted research on intersectional politics in settings where people of color were in leadership positions in LGBTQ+ spaces. His research reflects on feelings and thoughts of individuals being leaders of LGBTQ+ spaces as a racial minority (Pastrana 2010). Some individuals like Clarice and Loretta are noted to feel empowered for “being a face,” “a voice,” and “an addition to diversity” in such spaces, which can speak of some experiences seeing their minority status in a positive light (Pastrana 2010). Surina, who is a lesbian of Pakastani descent, gives a deeper note on her experience to Pastrana (2010:58):
I’m South Asian, which is in itself a huge Diaspora and what does that mean? So the specifics of my daily experience inform the work that I do in terms of how I move in this world as an American on some level – an American-identified immigrant, with particular class history, with a particular military lineage to my family. So there’s the cultural, religious, and economic parts of me – all of those are parts of me. And it has informed the work I do on a positive level. It allows me to understand that things are complicated and complex and things don’t fit neatly into small packages, or big packages, and that it’s really important to have to be able to articulate people’s different experiences. To honor them and be strategic at the same time – it’s like learning from our own experiences and trying to bring out the nuances at the same time.
Surina uses her cultural heritage to empower her but identify her own surrounding as a leader, which is another example of some experiences by LGBTQ+ leaders of a racial minority (Pastrana 2010). Ray is noted for having a common fear as an LGBTQ+ person of color stating, “Finding allies (within my racial group) is often fraught with issues of trust and insecurity. I wonder if people think that my sexual orientation issues will overshadow or jeopardize my relationships with my family and community” (Pastrana 2010). Like the former statement, my interviewee Kensei (2015) said similarly that LGBTQ+ people, who come out of the Unification Church must find community because they will be shunned. The LGBTQ+ leaders of racial minorities can surely privilege in such roles, but their leadership roles may make tasks anxiety-inducing (Pastrana 2015).
Diversity tactics have become government policy in the past half-century, yet even as diverse a workplace can get, the tactics can still enable a white normative structure in organization (Ward 2008). Jane Ward (2008) depicts the white normativity of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center that overshadows the fifty-two percent staff of color. This white normative concept speaks of white ideology that conducts particular embedded norms on communication and behavior in a hierarchy of dominance (Ward 2008). “The Center’s” white normativity was very well shown in its ‘diversity culture,” which spoke of ideas, knowledge claims, modes of affect, vocabularies, and approaches in the ethic of the workplace (Ward 2008). In efforts to expand diversity, members of the committee for these efforts differed by race on how to approach the issue (Ward 2008). White members suggested ideas that would “give face” to the organization, including working in neighborhoods of color and partnering with other LGBT organizations of color, but the members of color repeated the phrase “just do it” or “just make it inclusive” (Ward 2008). The ideas from the members of color seemed impractical by white members and were even ignored at times, while the voice with real conception of diversity should have been understood with privilege (Ward 2008). The members of color on the committee argued that the Center should already be or already is “an organization of color” (Ward 2008). Whiteness even in minority majority setting has a rude depth that needs deconstructing in these especially LGBTQ+ spaces.
There are exemplary LGBTQ+ spaces that are antiracist and successfully intersectional in work ethic. The organization – allgo – is a queer people of color organization based in Austin, Texas that is nationwide (Pulliam and Mott 2010). Michelle Mott (2010) is a queer white ally and intern of the organization, and Rose M. Pulliam (2010) is a black, queer woman codirector of allgo. Allgo has a vision that Pulliam and Mott (2010:444-45) quote:
Working at allgo requires daily walking with and existing under the cloak of racism, classism, homophobia, and sexism. Creative models are needed to exist beneath, resist, and dismantle these interwoven cloaks of oppression. Just as the oppressions are interwoven, the philosophical approaches that allgo uses in opposition to them are interconnected. Among them are the sounds of problematizing patriarchy, advocating egalitarian relationships, supporting creative engagement, redesigning gender relations, pursuing empowerment, building community, privileging voices, respecting the diversity of personal experience, and challenging traditional pedagogical notions.
Allgo is a collective that works for an egalitarian ethic between all members as having equal value (Pulliam and Mott 2010). Mott (2010) notes that as a queer white ally she has grown to learn connections and community about race and queerness in a healthy setting, especially with beforehand having disconnections with racial injustice. Allgo is led completely by people of color at the moment because those, who were selected, were adequate for the job (Pulliam 2010). There have been straight and white allies on the board, so it is not about race or sexuality but qualification (Pulliam 2010). Pulliam (2010) notes that even with the title as “codirector” she does have power in decision-making, but she consults everyone involved with equal value most of the time. Allgo gives light and hope to racially equal LGBTQ+ spaces without white normativity and racism.
Should not all whites (queers and straights) be shocked by such depicted racism and white supremacy within the LGBTQ+ community? Is it really an accepting and tolerant environment? These examples of racism and white supremacy give insight to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of color, but it also gives alternatives to such problems and disconnections. LGBTQ+ media is reinforced by its audience and reflects a lot of the realities of whiteness in the LGBTQ+ community, but white LGBTQ+ people can involve themselves in changing those realities with newer and more inclusive ethics and communication with LGBTQ+ people of color (Ward 2008). The whiteness exemplified in LGBTQ+ spaces can be deconstructed with egalitarian efforts like allgo and understanding from first-hand experiences like Ly, Jerome, and Kensei (Pulliam and Mott 2010; 2015). The intersectional oppressions on LGBTQ+ people of color can be eased with better inclusion and acceptance by their white peers. The LGBTQ+ community should find alternative and creative ways to celebrate and love people of color.
Cahill, Sean. 2008. “The Disproportionate Impact of Antigay Family Politics on Black and Latino Same-sex Couple Households.” Journal of African American Studies 13: 219-250.
Hall, Stuart. 1982. “The Rediscovery of ‘Ideology’: Return of the Repressed in Media Studies.” Pp. 56-9 in Culture, Society, and the Media, edited by Michael Gurevitch, Tony Bennett, James Curran, and Janet Wollacott. London: Meuthen.
Pastrana, Antonio, JR. 2010. “Privileging Oppression: Contradictions in Intersectional Politics.” Western Journal of Black Studies 34 (1): 53-63.
Pulliam, Rose M., and Michelle Mott. 2010. “allgo Speaks: Reflections on Intersectional Organizing.” Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work 25 (4): 444-50.
Rastegar, Roya. 2009. “The De-Fusion of Good Intentions: Outfest’s Fusion Film Festival.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 15 (3): 481-97.
Ward, Jane. 2008. “White Normativity: The Cultural Dimensions of Whiteness in a Racially Diverse LGBT Organization.” Sociological Perspectives 51 (3): 563-86.