While I will continue to argue that the African American community doesn’t have a patent on homophobia, it does, however, have a problem with it. Black homophobia still has a deadly hold on African American life. And while I would like to say its oppressive grip only impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people of African descent, in truth, Black homophobia maims the entire community.
For example, to date more than a quarter of a million African Americans have died of AIDS — both straight and gay. There are many persistent social and economic factors contributing to the high rates of the epidemic in the African American community —racism, poverty, healthcare disparity, violence, to name just a few — but the biggest attitudinal factor still contributing to the epidemic and showing no sign of abating is homophobia.
Black high-profile celebs’ public coming out events correct and heal — if only a moment — a community’s irrational and persistent fear, shame, taboo, and ignorance about the wide spectrum of human sexuality, even found among people of African descent. And we had one such moment with one of America’s beloved newscasters.
Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts just recently came out of her ”open” closet, using a Facebook post to publicly announce what we all knew. The Obamas — both Barack and Michelle — congratulated Roberts with Michelle gleefully tweeting ”I am so happy for you and Amber! You continue to make us all proud.”
While many Americans across the country felt the way the Obamas did about Roberts admission, some, however, felt a personal congratulation to Roberts coming especially from President Obama was not warranted and highlighted ”divisiveness” rather than inclusion.
”That message of inclusion is missing in this country, as demonstrated by the president’s odd decision to make a news event out of a person being gay. Such solicitous affection is creepy and divisive. It’s like gushing over someone with a deformity. Most people don’t want to be patronized; they just want to be treated like everyone else,” Wendy Murphy wrote in a Patriot Ledger op-ed titled ”It’s fine to be gay, but is it GREAT?”
Let’s not forget Roberts got the coveted interview when the White House specifically chose her for President Obama’s May 2012 coming-out interview announcing his unequivocal support for marriage equality. Roberts has overcome a lot. In 2007 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 2012 with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease of the bone marrow, and now she struggles against Black homophobia’s grip on her.
What Murphy and others also miss in their condemnation of the Obamas’s perceived gratuitous applaud of Roberts’ coming-out announcement is how the intersectionality of White queer racism, elitism and sexism not only framed the legislations Obama signed on behalf of LGBTQ civil rights, but how it also shaped which LGBTQ demographic group would most benefit. Consequently, this is another factor feeding and fueling Black homophobia that doesn’t exempt Roberts because of her statute or interracial relationship.
Sue O’Connell, a White lesbian and editor and publisher of BayWindows gets it why Roberts’ coming out moment warranted high praise. In her spot-on op-ed “The harsh lesson of Robin Roberts’ coming out” O’Connell understands how the intersectionality of not only White queer racism, elitism and sexism play in Roberts difficult struggle to come out, but how the complexities of African American community, religion and culture also make Roberts’ coming out moment an Herculean feat most definitely worthy of personal shout-outs from the Obamas.
”Challenges of class — of race and gender — are deeply entrenched obstacles to living an open life. Each coming out process is unique, yet African Americans face a path entwined with family, religion, racism and more. Robin Roberts should be congratulated, again, for her bravery. Let’s not let our growing marriage equality success blind us to the very real challenges many still find to living an open and honest life.”
It’s my hope that Murphy not only reads her op-ed but also take a look at O’Connell’s.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.