I always knew something was different about me. What was it? I couldn’t say anything because who would understand. Little did I know growing up that there were other gay men of African descent experiencing the same thing I was years ago: feelings of loneliness, non-acceptance, and non-existence.
Phil Smaba wrote an article titled, “Growing up, it felt like I was too gay to be black and too black to be gay” where he shares his coming out story and experience growing up black and gay. Smaba’s recent article spoke similarly to the thoughts and feelings I had in growing up. It took me over a decade to reconcile, accept, and love who I was as a black gay man. Part of this process included seeing more representation in the media of guys like me, and Jussie Smollett was one of those icons.
Identifying with Jussie
Smollett plays the character Jamal on Fox’s Empire, and his story navigates the difficult terrain of a black gay man in a prominently black culture. Smollett’s role as Jamal brought a representation to mainstream media that, for the first time, connected closely with me. It wasn’t with just the character — but Smollett as well.
On January 30th, two days before the beginning of Black History Month, I was sitting at my office desk when I read the news about Smollett being attacked overnight. A slew of emotions came over me and lasted throughout the rest of the day. What was reported to be a blatant act of racism and violence against an LGBT+ person shocked and numbed me. Processing through the alleged attack evoked anger as I thought: You attack Jussie, you attack me! Anger shortly thereafter transitioned to sadness and fear.
Sitting in my car in the parking lot that night, another thought rushed through my head: If I get out of this car, the same thing that happened to Jussie can happen to me. What felt like paralysis gripped me. I had never felt more unsafe than I did in that moment — and my apartment was only feet away. It wasn’t until I got inside and locked the door that any weight of fear was lifted.
What felt like paralysis gripped me. I had never felt more unsafe than I did in that moment — and my apartment was only feet away.
I couldn’t help but think about the black gay people who may have been similarly impacted. I decided to respond to this attack by publicly coming out for the first time. My intention was to bring visibility and hope to those voiceless yet affected.
My Thoughts as the Story Changed
Three weeks later, Smollett was indicted by a grand jury for fabricating the attack. To say I was upset was an understatement. So many questions flew through my mind: Why would he take vast amounts of resources and manpower away from actual, ongoing investigations to further his personal agenda of notoriety? Why would he use prominent symbols of racism and hateful language for more money? Why would he attempt to exploit his marginalization? Why would he stage this attack and make fools out of so many people who believed him?
Even a staged attack does not negate the feelings and emotions of sadness, anger, and fear that many black LGBTQ+ people feel. It does not negate the fact that hate crimes and violence against LGBTQ+ people do happen. It does not negate the fact that there are LGBTQ+ black people out there who are impacted and affected by daily acts of microaggression, marginalization, and hate. These acts affect many people — inside and outside the American church. No one — and especially Christians — should ever believe that hate and violence against black LGBTQ+ people do not exist.
No one — and especially Christians — should ever believe that hate and violence against black LGBTQ+ people do not exist.
Caring for Black LGBTQ+ People
So what can we as the church do to care for black LGBTQ+ people in our congregations and communities? There are two major steps of action we can take:
1. Reach out to the family, friends and colleagues you know who may have been impacted and ask, “Are you okay?”
Black LGBTQ+ people continue to be affected by discrimination and hate crimes. Many will still fear that if they are mistreated, no one will believe them. Listen to and believe them. When we take the humble position of Christ kneeling down and meeting the hurt for where they are, then we can begin to see real healing for others. Even if you are not a black or gay person, your intentionality, attention, and presence are noticed.
2. Educate yourself on hate crimes.
Real hate crimes against black LGBTQ+ people still happen. According to the FBI, over 8,500 Americans were targeted in hate crimes in 2017, up from 7,400 the prior year. In 77% of these cases, a person was targeted because of their race, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity.1
The burden should be on us to try to understand the cultural, historical, and experiential context of our neighbor.
The burden should be on us to try to understand the cultural, historical, and experiential context of our neighbor. To get started, become familiar with statistics from some leading organizations. The FBI produces annual reports on hate crime statistics (read the latest report here). The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also recently put together a thorough report on Black & African American LGBTQ+ Youth that would also serve as a great resource. Finally, you can also become familiar with the unfortunate stories of more notable hate crimes such as the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown Jr.
Last week, Ray Low provided an introduction to our Race & Sexuality series (read here). Next week, Henry will be sharing about his own experience as a black LGBTQ+ young person. Follow Lead Them Home via Facebook, Instagram, or email to stay up-to-date on news, blog posts, and other updates.
- Race & Sexuality | Part 1: Caring for Black LGBTQ+ Young People (Thomas’ Story) - February 26, 2019