A Minority Within a Minority

Gay African Americans face discrimination from all sides

Jun 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm


incinnati is a city that's often struggled with tolerance. From the 2001 race riots to Article 12, the former ordinance in the city charter that allowed for open discrimination of LGBTQ citizens in areas like housing and employment, the city developed a reputation of being diversity challenged.

But in the last decade things have been improving. Article 12 was repealed, the city’s gay community is much more visible and Mayor Mark Mallory is the first African-American mayor to be directly elected by voters in Cincinnati’s history.

But what’s it like to be both black and gay — a minority within a minority — in a socially conservative city?

Isaiah Powell, 22, a criminal justice student at the University of Cincinnati (UC), says it can be difficult.

“I know people look down upon it,” says Powell (pictured on the left). “You’re supposed to be a man and support your family.”

Coming out to his family at 16 was harrowing, he adds. His mother discovered he was searching gay Web sites and confronted him about it. He bit the bullet and came out, prompting his mother to drag him to church and openly pray for him to change.

His mother now accepts his homosexuality, but she still jokes about not having grandchildren.

“She raised me to be a strong black man regardless of whether I’m gay or straight,” Powell says.

Lisa Marie Watkins, 22, a political science and criminal justice student at UC, is unique because she says feels accepted as both black and gay in Cincinnati.

Originally from Lima, Ohio, Watkins (pictured above on the right) moved here to attend college. She came out in her senior year of high school and now lives openly as a lesbian.

“I think a lot of people in Cincinnati are gay,” she says. “It was an easy transition. Even though some people have issue with being African American and gay, I haven’t had to face discrimination in Cincinnati.”

But Watkins also feels African Americans as a whole generally tend to view homosexuals too harshly.

“The black community is even more upset because there aren’t enough men who are breadwinners,” she says. “When they see a man going with another man, it makes it even worse.”

Watkins also said black gay visibility is lacking in the community and there aren’t enough positive role models for people to look toward.

“I rarely see black people yelling out their gayness,” Watkins adds.

“It was hard to find friends to represent the gayness like a lot of white people do.”

As with other demographic groups, some gay African-American citizens have left the city for more tolerant areas. Native Cincinnatian Ricky Huntley, 29, grew up in West Chester and now lives in Berkeley, Calif., where he is pursuing a modeling career.

Huntley says he generally felt uncomfortable being black in Cincinnati, and being gay only made it worse. He says Berkeley is a much better fit for him.

“Being a black gay man is not a big deal here,” he says. “Cincinnati is pretty small.”

Like Powell and Watkins, Huntley found a lot of homophobia within the black community, especially when he dated closeted men who wouldn’t bring him home to their families. He says many black people are afraid to come out to their families for fear of losing them.

“If your family wants to disown you, maybe they shouldn’t be in your life,” he adds.

Cincinnatian Kathy Y. Wilson, author of Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White, says that homophobia within black culture has religious roots.

“You have to look at homophobia in the black community as it relates to homophobia in the black church,” Wilson said in a 2008 interview with CityBeat.

Homosexuality in the black community is the last taboo while whites have the privilege to play out their pathologies in public, she believes. In the black church, gays are more of an “open secret” rather than being openly gay.

“The larger socialization is a trickle-down theory,” Wilson said. “The black church in the black community holds sway over what is permissible.”

But the black church isn’t the only source of discrimination against black gays in Cincinnati, many say. They still have some white people — even within the gay community — who don’t accept them.

Huntley says the white gay community was racist toward him. “‘You’re attractive, but you’re black,’ (some people told him),” he said. “I can understand people having a preference, but I can’t imagine it based on color.”

Others say that’s an issue that cuts both ways, as they’ve encountered black men who won’t date outside of their race.

Nevertheless, Powell said he, too, has felt discrimination by white gay men. Like Huntley, he also has been rejected by men not because of attractiveness but because of blackness.

“Skin color is an issue,” Powell says. “Interracial relationship? How’s that going to work out?”

Powell says he is more concerned, however, with black men discriminating against him.

Being gay in the black community challenges the very notion of masculinity in the black family, something he wants to change. He just wishes he had a role model.

“I really don’t know any gay black, older couples,” Powell said. “I don’t think I’ve seen one, at least not in Cincinnati. I know they’re out there, but they’re anonymous.

“You have to be a role model to yourself.”