When I first read a news item on Mia Love, the rising young, Mormon, black conservative state legislator in Utah, I was really just skimming through, waiting for the punch line. When the joke never materialized, I assumed black people had another traitor on their hands—a defector from the team, thrust into media spotlight to innovate newer methods of shaming the race (à la Herman Cain). A few days later, President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, and I was one of the few queer cynics to be found. Suddenly, I too found my liberal autopilot malfunctioning. Was I betraying my “team” as well? It no longer seemed like a fair question.
I don’t want to be seen as a “bad gay” for finding the President’s affirmation to be largely anticlimactic, but it simply didn’t move me. Truthfully, my beef wasn’t with the President’s glaring opportunism, nor with the ultimate uselessness of his grand announcement—I just didn’t care. Normally an avid follower of Washington’s domestic policy, I’ve been confused, and a bit ashamed, about my lack of enthusiasm for an issue that is certain to impact my life within the next few years. I’d love to feel inspired enough to run naked through the streets, banging gongs and clanging cymbals in fevered support of marriage equality, but all the energy I can muster goes toward half-hearted Facebook debates with random strangers. It appears I’ve subconsciously placed my gayness on the outer fringes of a heavily layered minority identity.
I am a black, bleeding heart liberal, yet I enjoy the privileges of upper middle class upbringing, and rarely surround myself with people accustomed to much less. I am fundamentally feminist, but sometimes confuse society’s inherently misogynistic “values” with the masculine ones I’ve grown to esteem. Over time, I have learned that it is impossible to navigate through the sprawling avenues of your identity without eventually looking like a hypocrite. I am a cliched “walking contradiction,” much like the 99% of the population who continue to wrongly assume their politics are consistent. As public opinion on same-sex marriage has slowly waxed toward majority support, while news outlets continue reminding us that black support lags far behind, my internal conflict has taken on new heights.
Although my sexuality has had a lasting influence on my politics, friendships and extracurricular activities, it is not the primary informer of my identity. My circle is more exclusively comprised of women than of queer women, and even more exclusively of people of color. My being a lesbian comes secondary to my being a woman, and though I may be at a higher risk of falling victim to a gay hate crime than a racial one, “queer” will always qualify my blackness, not the other way around. And recently, this blackness has been rolling its eyes at the comparative ease with which monied, mostly-white LGBT interest groups have succeeded in demanding the public adjust to our queerness.
The LGBT community’s relative fast track to social progress amuses me only because many of these same activists are nowhere to be found when their black allies need support. It is absurd how much quicker a wrong can be made right, when the subjects of discrimination are sprinkled equally throughout both white and minority communities. Mainstream LGBT allies are quick to point out the economic disparity between white same-sex couples and white opposite-sex couples, but will less quickly inform the public about the exponentially greater risk of physical harm, poverty and unemployment for black, queer people. I’ve never heard an ally mention that even heterosexual black couples earn less than same-sex white couples. Is it not strange that while America’s push past homophobia is evolving into a quickening inevitability, the centuries-long problems facing black Americans are still worlds away from being resolved?
This doesn’t mean I think black people should dismiss the gay rights movement for its “privilege.” At the end of the day, government-sanctioned oppression is still government-sanctioned oppression, LGBT people continue to be under alarming siege in many regions of the country, and oh yeah—I’m gay, and would love for the federal government to one day recognize my marriage. But what exactly is the point of bullying black communities into gay activism by comparing notes with the Civil Rights Movement? Pundits savor pointing out the hypocrisy of black church leadership, but it is clear that across the aisle, white LGBT leaders are not fulfilling their role as activists for universal equality, either. And you know what, none of us should have to. Assuming otherwise illustrates a complete ignorance of the complexities of human behavior, and relegates all minorities to being the sum of their denied privilege.
So no, the black community is not a monolithic, homophobic wasteland; but I wouldn’t want it to be monolithically gay-friendly, either (well, not yet). The media has subtly suggested that because of our own history, black Americans are responsible for combating every minority group’s oppression, above any of our own considerations. I suppose when you view the black community as a pathologically oppressed underclass, it is easy to imagine a ludicrous scenario where every black leader, no matter how socially conservative, is trailblazing a path to gay tolerance. But our lives involve much more than fixating on oppression; I’m thankful for that, even if it occasionally results in bad politics. I’m glad there are Mia Love’s out there whose diverse experiences allow them to bypass what used to be an automatic Democratic vote. I hope there are more conservative sideshow acts like Herman Cain—a lot of things had to have gone right in that man’s life for him to be so preposterously ignorant of the plight of poor people. I don’t revel in bad politics or intolerance, but I do celebrate when circumstances allow traditionally marginalized people to have them. Maybe our differences are less about hate and hypocrisy, and more about competing identities. When one day, politics “evolve,” we should hope it results from a cultural enlightenment…not political necessity.
– Ajené “AJ” Farrar
AJ has been working as an air traffic controller since 2009, after attending Old Dominion University and George Mason University as a journalism major. She currently lives in upstate New York.