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LGBT Tolerance in the Black Community: Have We Turned our Backs?

When my mom first told me she was a lesbian, I was 16 years old and in my Junior year of high school. I remember she asked my older sister and me to come into the living room because she wanted to talk. She looked so serious and slightly concerned that my best guess was that she was pregnant. Clearly, I was off the mark. When she hesitantly told us her news, I think part of her was expecting us to be upset, despite knowing she raised us to react better than that. Perhaps she recognized there’s a difference between teaching your kids to be tolerant and actually being the person they need to “tolerate”.

I can remember how relieved she was that we were okay with her lifestyle choice. It seemed so natural for to me to accept it, I was surprised she expected less than that from me. But reflecting on the struggles she has endured since coming out, I can’t blame her for her concerns.

As a black woman, my mom expected more understanding from her family. In her opinion, they should have been more sensitive to her hardships because of the prejudices they face being black. This logic makes sense to me as well. Being black, we understand what it feels like to be looked at a certain way, are expected to act a certain way, and know how it feels to be treated differently than others. This shared experience in the black community is what holds us together strongly. We are able to learn and be inspired by others in the community who overcome prejudices in the world and pass on their stories for generations. We harness an unmatched strength that allows us to see the world and ourselves in what DuBois calls a double consciousness.

It is with this sense of the strong bond in the black community that my mom hoped to receive some level of understanding from her family. She wasn’t asking them to hang rainbow flags from the fronts of their houses, march with her in the pride parade, or suddenly become pro gay marriage. All she wanted was understanding – some acknowledgment that times will be tough but they will be there to support her.

It was as if  her family and the black community that held her hand when she faced 42 years of racism was now turning their backs on her; it was as if that bond that was broken, and acceptance only went as far as race, leaving sexual orientation by the wayside.

Since coming out, my mom has built a lasting circle of friends who can share her experiences of being “out” in today’s society. She and her friends get together often and have created a new kind of family in which they cook for each other, hang out on weekends and have get togethers every so often. This new family she created for love and support makes me smile as I know she can be 100% herself around these friends without fear of judgment. I hope one day her blood family will see that their experiences and trials in life aren’t so different after all.

In writing this, I ask for the humanity and acceptance that characterizes our strong black community to open its arms to other groups who face similar struggles. Even when it can feel like we have it the worst off or that others can’t compare to what we face, we have to step back and remember we are all in this game of life together and turning our backs on other groups won’t make our own situations any better.