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15 comments | Friday, May 02, 2008





It was with much hesitation that I finally opened the link to the New York Times article yesterday that had been sent to me by a number of my readers on married gay couples by Benoit Denzit-Lewis. Before I read a single word I was hoping that I would be pleasantly surprised to find the inclusion of a black gay couple, but as always it seemed like this would be too much to ask of the mainstream media and we were once again left out.

The article profiles white upper-to-middle class gay couples who have taken advantage of the right to marry in the state of Massachusetts. To Denzit Lewis' credit he swears he searched high and low to find a black gay couple but could not find a single married male couple of color in their twenties in Massachusetts to write about. "I spent a month looking, and I was only able to find one couple of color (both men are Asian). But they were in a long-distance relationship (one lived in Boston, the other in California), and I was not able to spend time with them together before my deadline",said Benoit.

Fair enough. I guess we really can't blame him for excluding us if we didn't exist in Massachusetts to begin with, right? Wrong. I just refuse to believe that every single couple that lined up to legalize their unions in Massachusetts were all of "European-descent". I'm perplexed why Denzit- Lewis didn't go beyond Massachusetts to study subjects for his piece. At least for the sake of having a fair and balanced article that represents more than the commonly seen images of white gay men. The obvious choice would have been New Jersey where civil unions are offered and where black gays and lesbians were highly visible in the fight for marriage equality.





Upon further research I came across a 2003 article Denzit-Lewis wrote about black gay men on the down low. Go figure our existence is acknowledged when addressing a phenomenon that is blamed for the destruction of the black family and an increase in HIV infections in black women.

But what I found to be rather disturbing is Denzit-Lewis' willingness to travel outside of his home in Boston to meet authentic "DL brothers" to research his story, from a bathouse in Cleveland, to the "corporate office" of a DL internet sex site, to the now closed Palace nightclub in Atlanta. Why couldn't he have done the same for the article on gay married couples?

While I don't think Denzit-Lewis is racist by any means, this is clearly another example of white gay privilege. And people wonder why magazines like CLIK and BLEU exist or why we have our own Black Gay Pride Celebrations. Sometimes you just get tired of being ignored by the gay community because of your race and shunned by the black community because of who you love.

Queerty has Denzit-Lewis' response to the reaction from his article here.

Read the article that started the controversy: Young Gay Rites

Double Lives On The Down Low-2003

15 Comments:

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Well in all fairness, Massachusetts is the only state allowing same sex couples to "marry" with marriage being the focus of his story. Black population figures in the Bay State being what they are, I don't doubt it was difficult to find Black couples who fit the bill.

Other states you mentioned only offer civil union as an option, which is not the same.

I guess since I don't think marriage rights are the single most important issue facing Black LGBT folk, I wasn't too put out by the exclusion.

Bernie
www.bejata.com

May 02, 2008 2:12 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Bernie,

Really good points. I'm aware that Massachusetts is the only state that grants marriage rights to same-sex couples. However, I don't think it would have hurt his piece to include black gay couples who entered into civil unions in New Jersey for sake of diversity. He could have even drawn the comparison of the lack of benefits civil unions offer versus marriage.

In my opinion it would have been a dose of reality into a piece that attempted to make these couples look just as "normal" and boring as any straight couple out of the 1950's.

I agree that marriage rights aren't the single most important issues facing black LGBT folks, but I think we should be careful not to undermine the importance of this issue for a large majority of us, myself included, who wish to legalize their relationships someday.

May 02, 2008 3:17 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I don't know. I kinda agree with Bernie here.

I also don't see how 'white gay' privelege plays into this. Lets say I did a piece on gay couples in Brooklyn, could I be legitimately criticized if they were all black?

Of course there are white gay couples in Brooklyn, but can't I write about what I want?

May 02, 2008 11:01 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Sorry....but I just don't by that this guy nor this article was intentional about excluding black same sex couples form it. I mean even at the height of the issue in Massachusetts and you saw all these people lining up to take advantage of it. All I saw were mainly white folks or if I ddi see a brotha he was with a white man. I'm sure the guy was hardpressed to find a black gay couple for his article. It just does not seem to be a PRIORITY for us....especially SGL men in their 20's. Let's just BE REAL about it. If this is an issue for you and you are of the same profession as it were why don't you go out and do an article which focuses on married SGL couples.

May 03, 2008 3:13 AM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Black gay spokespeople often say that same-sex marriage is not the most important issue for black gays.

I feel that these black gay "spokesmen" make this statement to separate themselves from white gays. It's a way of saying "fuck you" and your white gay movement to white gay activists. I don't think this gets us very far in the long run.

darian (and bernie): If same sex marriage is not the most important issue facing black gays, what IS?

May 03, 2008 4:45 AM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Well I must say that I don't think it was done on purpose. What I will say is that in my opinion, the white gay community as a whole don't really see the big picture. They are advertised as the majority, they are written about as the majority, and they are televised as the majority. As Tonex would say," ... Whatever you feed them is what they're gonna eat." and I'll add to that by saying what ever you eat or whatever you are consumed by, you are that.

Unfortunately the black gay community as a whole is advertised, written about , and televised mostly as if we are DL, Over the Top Queens,and or Transvestites( men dressing as women). Our committed partners are getting killed, Even in our music we are making money off of bashing and condemning black gays, when were just as gay as they are. (Hint: Uncle Donnie) So, that is how the outside sees us as well as our own.

It's time to surreptitiously and gradually make a move into mainstream with force. We need to go not to just our black magazines and t.v. programming, but into white "socially and economically accepted" areas of media and community and force out our "Positive" and "Empowering" selves by the masses into these area. "... What we feed them is what they will eat."

If you ever read the book of Nehemiah, he was a general of "misfits" but they conquered the city by creeping within the works of the city ( sewage systems underground) which kept the city with running water. We too must get in the gutters and become confidants to those who are displaying us as such. The blessed will essentially prevail.

We are the change we want to see!

May 03, 2008 2:15 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

If you could legally marry your same-sex partner and you did marry him, your homosexual relationship would have the SAME legal/social status as your married heterosexual counterpart. This is what the homophobes don't want to happen.

If you don't think same-sex marriage is important, you don't think gay people are equal to straight people.

How can a conscious gay person not think that same-sex marriage is vitally important to gay people regardless of race, class, economic status, etc.?

In the fight to make homosexuality "equal" to heterosexuality what could be more important than same-sex marriage?

May 04, 2008 9:13 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I'm not knocking people's right to marry, but there are many other issues far more pressing to Black gay folks than marital rights.

Let's start with HIV/AIDS, which still effects us in far greater proportion to either the White gay community or our percentage of the population as a whole. Directly related to that is access to affordable health care. Black people in general constitute a higher percentage of Americans living without health benefits. Black LGBT, being even less affluent than our straight breathren, are adversely effected by a basic inability to have medical needs addressed.

Homelessness, particularly among LGBT youth is a serious issue. The vast majority of gay teens kicked out of their homes and living on the street are Black or Latin.

Economic disparity in the form of employment opportunities and lower income levels are a serious problem for Black gays and lesbians. The popular perception that gays are all affluent with lots of disposable income, is largely a myth that if it has any validity, applies to a small percentage of
White gay men (like those mentioned in that Times article). In reality, even large numbers of White gay men don't fit this profile.

Need I go on? We could get the right to marry tomorrow and it would only really impact those who are planning to do so. Yet large numbers of us would still be dealing with the issues I mentioned above.

Bernie
www.bejata.com

May 05, 2008 12:14 AM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Bernie,

You make some very salient points in both posts. Now I'll add my two cents.

-----------------------------------
Hmmm so the writer caught heat from whom exactly?

I'm inclined to agree that same-sex marriage really isn't the most important issue facing Black LGBT people. Racism within the gay community is probably the most important for me, but only second to HIV/AIDS.

As far as this reporter not being able to find black gay couples for his story, how did he find the DL men for his article in 2003? Isn't it a bit unbelievable that he could find a plethora of undercover brothas to write about, but NO OUT GAY BLACK MEN? In the Northeast? Now that I find THAT pretty laughable.

Getting back to gay marriage though; if white activist had included black folks at the table BEFORE GAY MARRIAGE BECAME SUCH A HOT-BUTTON ISSUE you would probably have seen more Black LGBT involvement.

The white gay community and the organizations by which it is supported, have failed to bring all gay stakeholders to the table to talk about ALL ISSUES not just the ones that impact one segment of the gay community. When blacks and other LGBT people of color have attempted to engage the white gay community to add our voice to the mainstream, we were shut out. Things have improved over time, but not by any great deal.

White gays may accept our gayness, but they are often at odds with our blackness (Shirley Q Liquor, anyone?).

May 05, 2008 9:30 AM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I agree Son of Destiny,

We are the change we seek. The old schools ways of protest, I believe, are just that -- old school. And in this particular instance, I zero reason for even one feather to feel ruffled.

The AIDS issue, why people are continually being unsafe, cyber-sex addiction, racism inside the gay community, internalized homophobia and racism in our own community -- these are are matters to care about.

And like Son of Destiny said, getting in deep with those who seemily don't have our best interests at heart is the only way we'll see true change.

As for Shirley Q ... that's a whole 'nother matter. I've taken a ton of heat for defending Ms. Liquor's right to exist and his fans (myself included) right to enjoy him. Suffice it to say, maybe it is a little internalized racial BS inside me that finds it funny. Maybe his white gay fans are secretly raving racists. Maybe its funny because we all (black people) have at least one family member just like Ms. Liquor (don't lie).

Or maybe its much ado about nothing. Whatever. We truly have much bigger fish to fry.

May 05, 2008 5:00 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Taylor,

Shirley has every right to exists and if you're internalized self hatred compels you to find him funny, fine.

I just find it hard to see white gays wanting equality when they can tolerate a character like Shirley Q. If it were Isaiah Washington performing sterotypical skits about whites gays could you imagine what would have happened?

My biggest problem wioth SQL is the negative stereotypical portrayal of black women... but I don't limit it to SQL. I have problems with Eddie, Tyler, and Jamie Fox as well.

I know it wasn't part of the topic, but I wanted to respond.

May 05, 2008 8:33 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

"We could get the right to marry tomorrow and it would only really impact those who are planning to do so".

The fact that gays are not allowed to legally marry their significant others in 49 of the 50 states, stigmatizes all gays whether they want to marry someone of the same sex or not. It says that marriage is too "sanctified" for us. This contributes to the atitude many straights have of us (and that many of us have of ourselves), that we are abominations.

If we are not "fit" to marry our partners, what else are we not fit to do. Maybe we're not fit to adopt children. Maybe we're not fit to kiss or hold hands with our partners in public. Maybe we're not fit to live.

HIV/AIDS, homelessness and disparity in income are all legitimate concerns, however, there are many organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS and homelessness.

No one is asking AIDS organizations to address other issues. Why are gay rights organizations expected to deal with everything under the sun in addition to gay/marriage rights? Do reasonable people expect this of other organizations?

Environmental groups deal with environmental issues. Animal rights groups deal with animal rights issues. And so on. Most people don't expect anything else. Why are gay organizations expected to be different?

I am a black gay man and same sex marriage rights are very important to me even though I am currently single and have no plans to marry anyone. If marriage rights are not important to you, that's your business but do not assume that you speak for all or most black gay people.

May 05, 2008 10:21 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Amen brotha!!! You took the words right out of my mouth.

Darian

May 05, 2008 10:25 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

"If marriage rights are not important to you, that's your business but do not assume that you speak for all or most black gay people."

I never did. I was asked what could be more important than gay marriage and I innumerated a short list.

There are a whole bunch of us Black gay folks, barely holding it together. I repeat, we could get the right to marry tomorrow, that still wouldn't vastly improve our lives one bit.

May 08, 2008 7:33 PM

 
<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

"There are a whole bunch of us Black gay folks, barely holding it together. I repeat, we could get the right to marry tomorrow, that still wouldn't vastly improve our lives one bit".

I've heard other black gay people say the same thing. You're basically saying, however, that the gay rights/marriage rights movement BELONGS exclusively to white gay men/women OF MEANS because most black gays are too busy barely making a living to be part of it. If that's what you think, so be it.

These same black gay people, therefore, should not complain about the gay/lesbian rights movement being so "white". Because it will always be white unless we become a part of it. Which, according to you, won't happen because we're too busy barely making ends meet.

Most of the white gay men I know are not wealthy (or anything close). I know white gay men who clean houses (including mine) for a living. In fact, I have more money/assets than some of the white gay men I know and I'm not saying I have that much. All of the white gay men I know (whatever their station in life), however, are deeply interested in and committed to gay/AIDS causes. That's why they have a gay community and a gay movement and we don't. We make excuses ("I'm just out here trying to survive") for why we can't do this or that.

When the civil rights movement people of the 1950s and 1960s were fighting to get the right to vote for black people in the south, there were black people who felt that making a living was far more important (not to mention they could get killed) than voting rights. But the civil rights activists kept at it until voting rights for blacks were won and now voting in the south by blacks is considered an ESSENTIAL part of our being Americans.

So it will be with marriage rights. The fight for marriage rights will go forward with or without black gays (probably without for the most part). But when marriage rights are finally won, we will take advantage of it (those of us who want to) just like everyone else.

May 11, 2008 9:26 AM

 

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