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Zach Stafford Headshot

It Can Be Scary Coming Out As Black and Gay

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I don't know if you heard the news, but a few prominent folks came out of the closet, and it was all anyone could talk about. Over the past year or so, we have seen more and more celebrities come out of the closet in their own ways, and all of them have either shocked many (see Frank Ocean) or surprised none (see Anderson Cooper). What has been even more interesting than the actual coming out of said celebrities is how their respective communities have talked about these folks. Anderson Cooper's coming out was met with a mixture of annoyance, "duh"s, and happiness, because speculation had been swirling about him for years, and no one seemed too surprised when he stepped out. However, Frank Ocean gave the world a little more shock and awe, and you didn't have to dig too deeply on the Internet to see some real ugliness directed at him, which led some folks to create the website hatetweetstofrankocean.com, which documented the Twitter backlash against the black artist. What we see documented on this site, and what we see when a lot of black people come out, is the far-too-real fact that black gay people have to deal with a lot of shit.

I am not going to make the statement that blacks are more homophobic than people of other races, because I do not believe that is necessarily true, but I will say that when you are black and gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, you deal with much more complicated issues than people of other races. Regarding his sexuality, CNN's Don Lemon, in an interview with The New York Times, stated, "I'm scared. ... I'm talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for." He goes on to discuss the ways in which coming out is a very different process in the black community, one that is looked down on tremendously, and he cites religion as a factor.

And it gets even more complicated than religion; blacks still are the most unemployed group in America, with a 13.9-percent unemployment rate, and moving up, as of last month. (Yes, even job status is connected to sexuality and coming out.) If blacks are the most unemployed group in America, then they will be one of the largest demographics that face homelessness, especially black youth. Studies conducted by the National Center for Children in Poverty found that African-American young people are overrepresented in the population of runaways. The study also found that between 20 and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Many of these kids run away due to being kicked out of their homes, or leave because they don't feel comfortable in their current situations. Some may leave because of lack of money, so they come to the city to find work, which sometimes means having to engage in street work (sex work, drug sales, etc.)

I could keep going, but I think that is a good stopping point for one to get a brief understanding of the social and economic climate that many black LGBT folks are facing when thinking about coming out -- as if coming out weren't hard enough. It is scary coming out as gay when life has already given you so much to worry about, so much to think about, and so much to struggle with.

Knowing these things allows us to see that the LGBT-rights movement is about much more than marriage, DADT, and having a TV show that shows high-school students singing and sometimes kissing same-gender-identified people. When we consider the fights that our black youth are fighting daily, we can really see that gay people are just like you. Gay people, and more specifically black gay people, fight the same battles against racism. They are denied access to adequate employment like many, they can't afford health care like so many, and many have to sleep on the same streets that you walk down on your way to work. They live, they are sometimes scared, but they are ready for change. Having people like Frank Ocean come out is important in terms of visibility, but it is even more important because we are again reminded of that thing called reality. People are still out there that don't want you here, and that you've got to fight to be here.

I say: Let's fight.

"I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all."
--James Baldwin

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