In the black community, homosexuality is a very controversial subject. So much so that the thought of having a relaxed and meaningful conversation with a gay person is as unthinkable as shaking hands with the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
Writes Shelby Sankore: in Players magazine: "Homosexuality of any kind seems to find less acceptance among Afro-Americans than other groups in this country." This negative attitude is largely based on a host of myths and stereotypes that have been perpetuated for decades.
Because of this attitude, the gay black youths I spoke with have not revealed their gayness to their families. (I've been told of cases where kids have been thrown out of the house after announcing to their parents their feelings for members of their own sex.)
A 20-year-old male college student told me, "I've never mentioned it to my mother because I have an uncle who's gay and my mother doesn't like him at all. She's turned off by it. But I don't fear being thrown out. She's very attached to me. That's why I know she would never throw me out. She would worry too much. But she would make my life miserable if I were to tell her."
This article is intended to encourage, in the words of Dr. June Dobbs Butts, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Howard University College of Medicine, the emergence in the black community of "men and women who respect one another for the ways in which we are alike as well as the ways in which we are different. Only then will we understand that our sexual similarities outweigh our sexual differences." (The emphasis is hers) For the record, Dr. Butts identifies herself as heterosexual.
Above all else, gays are part of the human family. Whether we agree with their lifestyle is unimportant. We should concern ourselves with the content of the person's character, not what he or she does in the bedroom--and with whom.
To paraphrase a National Gay Task Force pamphlet, if the person is loving and responsible today, he'll be that way tomorrow. His gayness changes nothing, except perhaps our attitude toward him.
I'm not saying I have no misgivings about some aspects of the gay lifestyle. I do. But so do the young gays I spoke with. For example, they disapprove of those gays who are into sado-machischism. They disapprove of man/boy relationships. One of them is totally opposed to cruising and prefers "a monogamous relationship. One to one."
The point is, we should be willing to allow people the freedom to choose how they will live their lives--without fear of slurs, violence, and discrimination. So long as they are forcing their lifestyle on others, why should we care?
It should be acknowledged that none of us can say for certain whether we would ever engage in a homosexual affair, just as none of us could say for certain whether we would resort to cannibalism if we found ourselves stranded in some frozen wasteland with no other food source.
Says Truman Capote, "People are whatever they are under different circumstances, under whatever particular pressures there are."
Dr. Dorothy Harris of Penn State echoes Capote's sentiments: "Circumstances and basic human need have a lot to do with your behavior at a particular time."
It is estimated that gays represent anywhere from 10 to 13 percent of the population. No one can be sure since there are gay people who have escaped detection by masquerading as straight people. But what if we discovered that a close friend was gay. In what ways would this alter the friendship? Would it make Jenny or Joe any less the person we've come to know and trust? Think about it.
And while you're thinking, consider this thought from Dr. Butts: "...Our minds cannot function when we are gripped by fear." Once we overcome this fear and see others as people first--be they homosexual , heterosexual, bisexual, or celibate--it will go a long way toward breaking down barriers to communication.
This article was originally published in the Oregon Journal in Portland (August 15, 1981).
Note: It was syndicated nationally by the Los Angeles Times to replace Andrew Young's column. Young had to give up his column when he ran for mayor of Atlanta. The L.A. Times editor was initially reluctant (homophobic?) to send this column out because Andrew Young never wrote about homosexuality in the black community in any of his columns.