My Gay Brother's Keeper

04/11/2014 02:47 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

I was inspired when President Obama announced My Brother's Keeper, a new initiative to create opportunity for boys and young men of color -- made even more moving by the President's reference to his own experiences as a Black man. As the White House and the country's leading foundations take important steps to address the challenges faced by our sons and brothers of color, I hope they will consider the reality that some of our sons and brothers are gay, bisexual, or transgender.

President Obama and several leading philanthropy executives are rightly concerned that many of our young men and boys of color are being pushed out of school, out of jobs, and into the criminal justice system. Young men and boys of color who are also gay, bisexual or transgender face similar challenges:

For a boy or young man of color already struggling with limited economic resources and the daily realities of racism, imagine how difficult it is to also struggle with the realization that one's sexual orientation or gender identity or expression do not conform to the norm. Imagine how few options that boy has if his own family rejects him.

In the face of such adversity, I have personally witnessed many of my fellow gay, bisexual, and gender-nonconforming men of color respond with courage and resilience. They have weathered harassment and bullying, and overcome addiction and disease. They have dared to express themselves for who they are. We need to build systems that support and reinforce these strengths so that more gay, bi, and trans men of color can succeed in a world that too often rejects them.

The challenges that confront gay, bisexual, and transgender males of color are daunting and specific, and therefore require solutions that are bold and precise. As depicted in Funders for LGBTQ Issues' new infographic, foundation support targeting GBT males of color is minimal, and the bulk of it comes from HIV/AIDS-focused funders. Funders committed to addressing criminal justice, economically disadvantaged populations, the academic achievement gap, and health disparities need to think strategically about the ways that gay, bi, and trans males of color are disproportionately affected by these issues. In particular, GBT males of color should be intentionally and proactively included in the efforts of foundations and policymakers to improve the lives of boys and young men of color.

This intentionality is important not only to assure that initiatives like My Brother's Keeper effectively include and reach GBT men of color. It is important because homophobia and gender expectations affect all men of color.

A recent psychology study out of NYU followed a diverse group of boys throughout adolescence, focusing on the boys' friendships. In the early years of their adolescence, the Latino boys in particular spoke with remarkable passion about the importance of their close friends. One said, "[My best friend and I] love each other... you have this thing that is deep, so deep... you can't explain it."

But as they continued into the later years of high school, many of the same Latino boys had difficulty answering the same questions about their friendships, saying things like, "That question sounded homo" and using the phrase "no homo" repeatedly. Some of the boys explicitly said they felt unable to have close friends as they once had.

The ambient homophobia that still pervades many high schools not only demeans young gay men; it also socializes young straight men, telling them that it's "homo" to have close friendships, that it's "gay" to be creative, that only "sissies" express their feelings. I believe these messages have an especially intense effect on our young men and boys of color, whose masculinity is already stigmatized. The marginalization of males of color is rooted in homophobia, transphobia, and sexism just as much as it is in racism. If we make our schools and other institutions more supportive of gay, bi, and trans boys of color, then those environments will also become places where all males of color are more likely to reach their full potential.

Here are just a few ways that funders, government agencies, and policymakers can begin working to address the needs of GBT males of color:

  • Support organizations and programs specifically serving GBT males of color, such as homeless shelters, youth organizing efforts for safer schools and juvenile justice reform, health clinics, and HIV/AIDS organizations.
  • Support pilot programs and research to develop effective models for advancing economic opportunity among gay, bi, and trans men of color.
  • Encourage service providers working with boys and young men of color to be intentional and proactive about inclusiveness around sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
  • Convene and connect funders and nonprofit leaders working with both LGBT communities and men and boys of color for mutual learning and collaboration.
With smart investments, we can dramatically improve the lived experience of gay, bi, and trans men of color, and teach all young men and boys that their dreams need not be limited by their assigned gender, and that there is nothing so courageous as being yourself.