Michael Sam, Robin Roberts, Jason Collins, Tracy Chapman, Wanda Sykes, Don Lemon, Derrick Gordon are all high-profile gay African-American public figures and they all have white partners.
When Michael Sam shattered the glass ceiling and became the first openly gay man to get drafted in the NFL I was thrilled for him and full of pride as a gay black man. I noticed immediately though, when Michael Sam got the call from the coach of the St. Louis Rams he was in a sea of whiteness. He was the only African American in the room when he got drafted.
Would Michael Sam be celebrated as a hero to the LGBT community if he had a black boyfriend? A part of me was indeed happy that Michael Sam broke a barrier. When Michael Sam kissed his white twink boyfriend Vito Cammisano, I cringed. It took me a while to reflect on why I felt so disappointed in seeing Sam kiss his white lover. I wasn’t disgusted, I am an openly gay man and I have seen gay men kiss each other for more than a decade. I can also see the love Sam and Cammisano have for each other. However, I can’t shake the feeling that Sam — like other black gay public figures who have come out — follow the white gay standard.
There is a paucity of black gay public figures who are out and since images are important in society, the few black gay celebrities are sending the wrong message.
For people who are outsiders to black gay culture there are sociological reasons why Robin Roberts, Michael Sam, Don Lemon, Jason Collins and Derrick Gordon have white partners and it isn’t just about falling in love with another person. In the private sphere of black culture, there is a lot of homophobia that can cause a lot of psychological and emotional damage to a black gay person. The homophobia in black culture can lead a black LGBT person to harbor feelings of resentment and anger at the black community as a whole. Some black gays have a predilection to distance themselves entirely from black people in order to recover from the homophobia in the private sphere of black society.
For instance, Sam grew up in a broken home — his father deserted his family and his mother was a stereotypical pious black woman. My theory is that due to the homophobia in black culture, some black gay people just want to be accepted and I can understand that. Some black gays believe to assimilate into the white gay mainstream they can obtain social acceptance.
Everyone wants to belong, to be accepted for who you are and loved. This is the reason there is a clear pattern that when black gay public figures come out they have a predilection for white partners.
There is also a divide between black gays who are out of the closet and the black gays still closeted. Some black gays who are out and proud have a superiority complex. These out gay blacks believe they are better than blacks who are closeted because they have immersed themselves into the white gay world. Also, some black gays who are out make a conscious effect to obtain a white partner who is a symbol of moving up the social ladder.
But what deleterious subliminal messages are these black gay public figures sending to the black community?
I believe these out black gay public figures are sending mixed messages to the black community. Does a black gay person have to be with a white person in order to obtain social acceptance?
In the gay community, the standard of beauty is usually a young white male, under 40, in great shape and he is middle/upper class. This white gay male image is engendered in television shows such as HBO’s “Looking” and in gay magazines. There is also a lie that there are not out and proud black gay people. For instance, Atlanta is the gay black Mecca, despite being in the American South. It has a vibrant black gay community. D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City also have black queer communities with people out and proud. The dilemma is that although these black gay public figures are out since they tend to have white lovers there is a disconnect with black culture when they come out. When black people see high-profile public figures with white partners many blacks — gay or straight — are apathetic to them. These black gay public figures with white partners are just following the standard quo.
There simply isn’t the same political or social power seeing interracial gay public figures as couples than to see black gay or lesbian public figures as couples out and proud. It also is not empowering to see these interracial gay couples who are public figures because it is so one sided. Notice, you do not see a plethora of high-profile white gay public figures with black partners. People have a right to love whomever they desire. However, it would be foolish to ignore a clear pattern where black gay public figures come out yet are hypocritical. These black gay public figures tell society they are proud to be black and gay yet having a black gay partner by their side they are apathetic to it.
Orville Lloyd Douglas is author of the new book ‘Under My Skin’ published by Guernica Editions and available on Amazon.