I took a few days to sit down and write this after all the uproar over the proposed law in Arizona that would have made anti-gay discrimination legal under the guise of religious freedom. As an openly gay and openly trans* person of color, I hear from so many folks about how homophobic my people are. Many are white folks who want to show me their support because they know how hard it is to be black and gay. I even hear many folks of color tell me about how much more homophobic black and Latino folks are, but is that all really true? When we hear people of color being described as more homophobic/biphobic/transphobic, one question we should be asking ourselves is how we are measuring that. I have often noticed that the yardstick is usually 1) how people publicly vocalize disapproval, and 2) physical violence. I'd like to address both of these here, as I think they are two very important and limited models of what is potentially homophobia/biphobia/transphobia.
As someone who has had the pleasure of working on LGBTQIA issues around the country, I can tell you that everywhere you go in this massive country of ours is different -- not always the attitudes, but how people choose to respond. There have been times that I was working in spaces that were angry and I was asked to speak as an LGBTQIA person. However, the general responses I have gotten in most places have been based on the cultural expectations of that community. In many white, middle- to upper-class areas, I may have a crowd seething about LGBTQIA people, but those same folks would wait until after a presentation to approach me directly about their anger. Compare that to many black and Latino communities that have very rich call-and-response cultures. The attitudes in all those communities could be similar, but the quickness with which I receive feedback is very different. To many folks in mainstream, white America, that quickness also means a larger source of hatred, while in actuality it is part of a larger social context of culture.
Let's look at this next piece: physical violence. Anyone who has done their homework in regard to hate crimes against LGBTQIA folks knows that people of color are more likely to be victims than their white counterparts. That part is a fact. However, people of color are more likely to be victims of violence in general. And that has so many factors and moving parts around access to resources, jobs, education, health care, etc. We do not stop being victims of racism simply because we also identify as queer. We just have more systems to dismantle (and they just become more toxic).
What we should be talking about is where the institutionalized violence against LGBTQIA people comes from -- something that never goes into the discussion when those who are oppressed are not able to do the measuring. As two of the newest examples in mainstream media can teach us, in both the case of Arizona's S.B. 1062 and the visible harassment of LGBTQIA folks in Russia, the answer is that often it is the folks in charge of legal systems that create systemic violence against LGBTQIA folks. So who proposed this law in Arizona? Because black and Latino folks are allegedly so homophobic, I must imagine that it must have been our doing. In Russia? Is it possible that a majority-white country would pass homophobic laws when we know that of course people of color are the most homophobic? Hmm, strange.
The reality is that when it comes to institutionalized oppression in the U.S. and much of the globe, a majority of the folks at the helm are still white. When sodomy laws were legal in this country, who implemented them? Even though S.B. 1062 was vetoed (only a fool would pass that law in this economy), what was the racial background of the folks who created and supported it? They were overwhelmingly white folks. Knowing these things consciously, would we go out and ask, "Why are white people so homophobic?" Most of us wouldn't, because to be white in the U.S. is to be the default American identity. We can accept that not all white folks share the same attitudes or values. What we can ask. though, is how racism plays into the way we choose to ignore or highlight some forms of homophobia/biphobia/transphobia. Ignoring institutionalized homophobia/biphobia/transphobia means we are also ignoring the very systems that also perpetuate the classism, racism and lack of access to resources that causes the violence we are using as a measuring tool. We ignore the root causes and blame the poorest, the least represented in our government, and the most represented in our jail cells. And this is a very dangerous practice.
So to current and potential allies of the LGBTQIA community, I want us to be clear on a few things. Homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia do not exist in a vacuum. It is not just about what words we use to humiliate someone or call them out of their name. It is also the practice of participating in the systemic violence against others and acting as if the system doesn't matter (because naming our own willing participation in oppression is too difficult to discuss). Regardless of color, sexuality, gender, class, or ableness, we all have the ability to oppress. Writing off people of color as being more homophobic than their white counterparts means we never actually get to analyze the full scope of discrimination impacting LGBTQIA people as well as people of color. Let's find a more honest practice, shall we?