Gregg Homme
    First Published: October 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
As Peter Tatchell causes riots at this year's MOBOs after reggae stars known for anti-gay lyrics were nominated for awards and the Terence Higgins Trust gets set to launch a Black Gay Equality Campaign, OutUK's Adrian Gillan examines the extent of homophobia within black music and culture and asks whether the white gay scene can be just as racist.

Simon Nelson, Terrence Higgins Trust

And so it is, with the health issue somewhere in the background, that the Terrence Higgins Trust is set to launch their Black Gay Equality Campaign at this year's Black Gay Community Awards at Bootylicious@Crash in London on Friday 8th November - to challenge black prejudices about gay people and to ultimately put across the message that it's OK to be black and gay or bisexual.
"Getting black people to talk about gay issues from a black perspective is crucial if we are to challenge and ultimately change attitudes," says Simon Nelson, THT Black Gay Men's Development Officer and organiser of the Equality Campaign.
With this particular campaign, the THT is not pushing the health message up front. And it is neither targeting those black gay men who have assimilated onto the gay scene, nor those large numbers of straight Black Africans and Afro-Caribbeans at risk from HIV (in 2001, 50% of new HIV infections in the UK were among heterosexuals, and 71% of those were Black Africans).

Rather - through posters and postcards in public places - it is trying to help the numerous black gay or bisexual men whose closeting puts them at risk, by making them feel better about themselves, and indirectly - though Nelson says it will take centuries to undo the work of the Church - by reducing the black community's general homophobia.

"The annual Black Gay Community Awards acknowledges the existence of black gay people and recognises the struggle being black and gay represents in our society," says Nelson. "The Terrence Higgins Trust will use the Awards this year to launch our Black Gay Equality Campaign - the first mass media campaign to target black heterosexuals with a clear message that not every black person is straight. Indirectly it sends out a message that homophobia is not acceptable."

So the Awards and THT Campaign are an antidote to the MOBOs?

"I think the MOBOs and all music awards should mirror our campaign," says Nelson, "and show that no forms of hatred have a place in our society. And" - he teases - "it is a shame that it takes events like the release of homophobic lyrics by black artists before the gay press gives coverage to black issues."

But what do the black press think about gay issues I wondered?

Jesse Quinones, The Voice

"Black culture definitely has a harder time accepting homosexuality," says Jesse Quinones, journalist on The Voice, the national newspaper of the black community. "A lot of it has to do with the commonly held ideas amongst many black people of what the man's role is in society. For many the man is seen as the one that brings home the money. He is the provider, a figure of power, the one who has a seed to spread and who gives his children a second name."

"In white cultures the roles of man and woman are defined but to a much lesser degree" says Quinones. "There is more of a balance. In the black communities the roles are very clear. A lot of it can be attributed to poverty. When you are struggling for money you start to paint very clear lines as to where everyone's place is. And so if you get out of place - by announcing you are gay - it is bold."

"And for many Black Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, especially in this country," he continues, "tradition is all they have. So for a black man, or even a black woman, to announce that they are gay, for them to leave their role technically 'unfulfilled', is considered a loss, a failure and a waste."

Says Quinones, endorsing the THT's Equality Campaign approach: "I think a big issue in being black and gay is self-acceptance and expression. Because of the added difficulty in being black and gay, they find it harder to accept themselves for who they are. Many black men never accomplish this and end up in relationships, even marriages, and are never able to honour that part of themselves."

Ah, a self-loathing breeding-ground of gay hate, an external projection of inner seething.

"And for the ones that do eventually accept this side of them, many find it harder to express themselves: amongst black gay men things like holding hands or kissing in public are rarer," says Quinones who fears that - unfortunately - in many cases, that might prove prudent since black queers are the biggest victims of homophobic violence - many attacks being both racist and homophobic.

So can black queers seek sanctuary on the gay scene?

"Black gay men do encounter racism in the gay community very similar to black men in the heterosexual community," asserts Quinones of stereotypes and prejudice and a responsibility the gay scene has yet to face. "It's interesting to note that many black gay men want white partners for the same reasons that black straight men do: because they see it almost as a prize. And many gay white men - or those I've met - hold equally stereotypical views of black men: that they have huge dicks and fuck like donkeys!"

Asante UK serves the UK's black gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender community and has details of support groups. Terrence Higgins Trust's Chatblack is a useful resource too, including information about the THT's forthcoming Black Gay Equality Campaign.

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