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Zach Stafford

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The Faces Missing from 'The Gay Rights Movement'

Posted: 01/25/2012 6:29 pm

I am a gay, multiracial male who grew up in Tennessee. When I was little I felt like an outsider, like many gay folks, but my "outsider" position was not just because I was gay; it was much more complicated. I was one of the only people of color in my school, and I was the most effeminate little boy there, as well, which pegged me immediately as a "faggot." I also was pudgy, not very athletic, and liked video games too much, but those are all minor aspects of why I didn't fit in. Needless to say, no one around me was like me, the puggy, effeminate, brown boy living in the South -- and that was lonely.

As I grew up and got to high school, a few gay kids did start coming out, and I did make some gay friends, but these kids, due to being in a white suburb, were all white. So my race and my gayness then began to work together, making me feel different, making me feel hopeless, making me unable to consider that it could get better. When I watched some of my favorite gay-friendly TV shows, like Will & Grace, I would see gay folks having fun, being gay, and enjoying life in a city, most of the time. This gave me my first insight into what being gay was, and my first suspicion that gay was not like me -- it was wealthy, it was white, and it didn't bother to have people who looked like me for me to look up to, or even begin to understand what my experience was like as a gay person of color.

After graduating from high school, moving to Chicago, and reaching drinking age, I went to the famous Boystown neighborhood and soaked in the abundance of gay bars, restaurants, centers, and anything you can imagine. However, I felt out of place, like I didn't belong; I remember looking around and noticing that most of the men looked like Abercrombie models, or at least tried to look like them, and were mainly white.

I got very little attention there, and the little attention I got was due to my exoticism, because when one is brown, that could mean one is Brazilian, Egyptian, Puerto Rican... the list goes on. Gay had a look, and I wasn't that look.

So as I watched the YouTube Video "The Gay Rights Movement," which has recently gone viral, I got progressively sadder as the video played through footage of what the gay community seems to consider milestones. Lots of familiar faces rolled by, and happy emotions did rise inside me, but I still felt hints of sadness, a sadness that was familiar, that wasn't new, and I knew exactly what it was: I, and a lot of other people within the gay community, were not there. It's not like we weren't ever there; there have been tons of queer folks of color who have done amazing things in America.

For instance, the video shows Martin Luther King Jr., but not his advisor and one of the main powers behind him, Bayard Rustin, a gay black man. The video shows Ellen Degeneres over and over talking about suicides, but not another famous lesbian who is black, Wanda Sykes. It shows coverage of the suicides of gay male youths, but not the countless suicides of transgender people, which happen yearly and go quite unnoticed, just like the faces of trans people in the video.

It doesn't show a lot.

This lack is understandable sometimes (in the case of the "Gay Rights Movement" video, one explanation may be limited time), but enough is enough. I am getting very tired of not seeing my face, or many other people's faces, in documentaries and news coverage of the gay rights movement. Many of us seem to forget the enormous numbers of of trans people, lesbians, people of color, and even allies who have been instrumental in the progress this video is showing.

It's time for us to stop saying that the gay rights movement is the new civil rights movement, because my civil rights movement hasn't stopped: as a person of color, for me it's still going. It is time to build coalitions with one another. It is time to have other voices heard, and it is time to show in the faces and actions of our community the same diversity that is reflected in our rainbow flag.

It's is time to change, and change starts with making something different. Perhaps let's start with trying to make some things a little different for that one little brown gay boy in a Tennessee school. Even though he may be the only one there, he would appreciate it a lot.

 

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