I'm From Driftwood is a 501(c)(3) non-profit forum for true lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) stories. The first full week in February, to commemorate Black History Month, every story will be from a member of the black LGBTQ community. These stories will reinforce the fact that there are black people in the LGBTQ people, and that there are also LGBTQ people in the black community.
Stephen Winter is from Chicago, Ill. When I asked Stephen to share a story about being a black gay man, he needed to spend a good amount of time mulling over his answer:
It was a journey within myself that I went through this week, when I was trying to figure out, as someone who is perceived as gay and perceived as black... without pissing myself off, because I don't want to be the black guy. On a regular week, I'm Stephen Winter, art guy, film person. This week, I was Stephen-Winter-does-not-want-to-be-a-black-gay-guy first. Still, one that has relations with men and dudes, still wants to proudly operate under a society where cops think I'm black, but [I] did not want to respond in a way that would help perpetuate what I think is a status quo that we really need to move beyond.
Stephen's father was from Hungary, a Jew-turned-Catholic who fled the country to escape the Nazis. His mother was from Jamaica. Both of them went to Chicago in the '40s, where they met.
What they did say to me, very clearly, was, "Your mother is considered black, and your father is considered white. But we're not. I'm Jamaican, I'm Czechoslovakian. You're our child. You're American, and you are wonderful. And so you shall be."
Out in the world, however, Stephen experienced a different reality:
It soon became clear that race is a construct, but what you are is what cops think you are. The blacker you are, the blacker you shall be treated, and the whiter you look, the whiter you shall be treated. My parents made it clear that out in the world, I would be treated like what I was considered, but inside, I shall be me. First, an American, first generation. The pride and joy of two worlds of families both escaping things, and bringing something else to bear.
He grew up in Chicago, for the most part, and pretty early on identified as queer. When he left his teenage world and became an adult, it became clear to him that he was gay. He emphatically critiqued what the state of this world seemed to be to him:
In that context, "gay" meant "white," and everybody else was kind of visiting. If it was a sitcom, the opening would be like, "Welcome to the Gay World! Here are your main characters, and the special guests! The black guy! The Asian person! The drag queen!
In his view, the "G" part of LGBT was insistent on continuing this tradition into the century, which caused problems for Stephen. When trying to enter a gay bar for the first time in Chicago, with three other men of equal underage status (all of European descent), he faced blatant racism:
They were let into the club, and I was asked for three forms of picture ID.
Even if Stephen hadn't been underage, asking black people for more forms of ID was commonplace in Chicago at the time:
They just didn't want black people in that club. And even if you had three forms of ID, there was always something else going on. Folks protested against this. But that was my first experience at the gay bar, at age 17.
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