June 6, 2014 at 9:00 am EST | by Orville Lloyd Douglas
Why do black gay celebs have white partners?
Michael Sam, Vito Cammisano, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Sam and Vito Commisano (Photo courtesy Cammisano’s pubic Twitter feed)

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.

  • MCA

    In all fairness, it could simply be odds. If we assume that the gay population demographics perfectly mirror the demographics of the US as a whole, 78% of the gay population would be white (2012 Census estimate). In a truly colorblind society, where race of one’s partner is random, the probability of any 7 gay people having white partners is 0.78^7, or 18%. Hardly a certainty, but no more improbable than rolling a 7 on two dice, and significantly more likely than winning two rounds of rock-paper-scissors in a row (no ties). Statistically, with the above assumptions, if mate selection is random with respect to race, less than 2% of gay couples would be two African-Americans.

    Obviously mate selection is not random, and in fact humans tend towards assortative mating (preference for those of similar traits) along many dimensions. But my point is that perhaps this is positive, and is evidence that the LGBT community is more open to mixed-race relationships.

    • TFH

      “In all fairness, it could simply be odds. If we assume that the gay population demographics perfectly mirror the demographics of the US as a whole, 78% of the gay population would be white (2012 Census estimate). In a truly colorblind society, where race of one’s partner is random, the probability of any 7 gay people having white partners is 0.78^7, or 18%. Hardly a certainty, but no more improbable than rolling a 7 on two dice, and significantly more likely than winning two rounds of rock-paper-scissors in a row (no ties). Statistically, with the above assumptions, if mate selection is random with respect to race, less than 2% of gay couples would be two African-Americans.
      “Obviously mate selection is not random, and in fact humans tend towards assortative mating (preference for those of similar traits) along many dimensions. But my point is that perhaps this is positive, and is evidence that the LGBT community is more open to mixed-race relationships.”

      ^This guy right here!

  • Peter

    I’ve been reading these reversed-racist comments and pieces since Michael Sam came out. It’s weird because I have not heard or read anything about these famous couples’ races from white people. Black people seem to enjoy denigrating these black famous people’s boyfriends and girlfriends: ”they are gold-diggers”. None seems to realize that Sam was dating this ”twink” way before he came out publicly, and Ms Roberts had been with her gf for ten years before the coming-out, so on and ON.

    I’m white, and I hear and beleive gay Blacks have it tougher in life because of the homophobia in the straight black community, and they have it still tougher because of the racism of the gay black community.

    They date and love whoever they want to. It’s their lives. Leave these people alone. Keep your cheap psychology for yourself. You can also date whoever you want to.

    • DC Native

      You sound silly!

      You said:
      ‘I’m white, and I hear and beleive gay Blacks have it tougher in life because of the homophobia in the straight black community, and they have it still tougher because of the racism of the gay black community.’

      RACISM IN THE BLACK GAY COMMUNITY?????? Ummmmm you need a little educating sweetie. Homophobia is major in all races after all you said you’re white. Haven’t you seen the anti gay laws written by WHITE lawmakers??? You know the ones that tell business owners they can refuse service to us gays????

      Maybe the anger from ‘SOME’ in the Black Community with Michael and Jason is due to the fact they complain about their family members being homophobic that isn’t the fault of us in the Black Gay community. They chose to walk away and embrace others outside the black race and you know what it’s perfectly fine with me. But please can your bull about about Blacks being prejudice it’s not just us. We have had nastiness thrown at us within the gay community for YEARS.

      Want some examples? Let use the bars as a perfect one. The Fireplace, This was originally frequented by mostly whites. They began a Thursday event where Blacks came and as more blacks began to frequent the bar, whites left then it was whites downstairs, Blacks upstairs until Whites totally stop coming.

      Another place the now defunct Omega which was once originally called ‘The Frat House’ the same thing happened there.

      Also the now defunct ‘Remington’s’ A country western bar that started having female impersonator shows on Sundays which was frequented by a mostly Black crowd. The white faithful began to erode themselves from there as well and we all know what has happen since. UNFORTUNATELY!

      So be careful as to whom you’re calling racists EVERYBODY has a little racism in them. Blacks are NOT THE LEADERS in this community Whites are! And this is a subject that should have been discussed years ago. However, their too afraid to discuss it!

    • stanely21

      Tell it Peter! But it isn’t “reverse” anything, it’s just racism.

  • Tyler Hill

    @Norman Dostal & Bjoern P Petersen: The blatant racism being spewed from both of you simply takes my breath away. Norman, you are aware that gay men in general view young white men as a trophy, aren’t you? As for you, Bjoern, do you wear the rainbow flag on your Klan robe? There are countless non-black gay men with no degree or job, skinny pants, marijuana AND METH habits, and exaggerated materialistic values (seeing ANY MAN as a cash cow for name brand shopping), and infidelity issues. Of course, you already know that. My question to you is this: Who is the black man that broke your heart? He did a number on you, my friend.

  • tyler hill

    you racist assholes at the blade took my shit down, but let this white racist crap stay up. i hope you all have AIDS. you deserve to die an awful death, you racist pieces of shit at blade. may your internal organs bleed your miserable lives to death.

    • jj

      It’s really hard to take you at all seriously when you spew such hate. You certainly have some valid points but you need to deal with your rage before it consumes you. No sane person would write what you wrote. Get some help.

    • Dan Stella

      Tyler Hill, you need some serious help..

  • Orville

    Orville, what a limited point of view. A white partner is a status symbol?

  • Chaz

    Seems to me most of the issues raised in this piece are for the folks within that community to raise and discuss amongst themselves first and foremost.

  • Matt

    Perhaps it has to do with the out-ness. It is easier to be out in the white community than in the black community. These examples of out black celebrities might be out because they are dating someone white who helps make it easier and more accepting to be out.

  • jj

    Orville, I appreciate that writers have to make a living stirring things up, but geez, why is it anyone’s else’s business who loves whom? Singling out Michael Sam and the other celebritiesfor who he loves is bullying behavior. We’re not going to erase racism by criticizing who other people love, and making the assumption that they chose white partners for any other reason but love is projecting yourself on them. Stop judging and spend your time doing something more productive.

  • bp294

    Frankly, I find this piece simple-minded, presumptuous and, in many ways, just plain “ghetto.” Even with the tremendous social gap that exists between the black and white gay worlds — and over time, I’ve gone from straddling the two to leaning towards the black world, although, truth be told, I’ve probably confronted more “racism” from my own race than from whites — there is simply a sophistication gap. Unless you live in a city like Atlanta, it’s hard for a black gay male to find a black partner who’s likely to be as middle class in values as himself, that is, someone who can split the atom in his racial thinking and not label this or that behavior, thinking, habit, taste as “black” or white.” Unfortunately, that lucky find is still more likely to be a white person. Many black gays are still rising out of the social apartheid of American life — and I think that’s decidedly the case for this author — and for many of us that’s not what we’re looking for as a mate in the short time we have on earth. Just saying.

  • Danny

    This article is racist to the core and it makes me very sad to see that there are some within the LGBT community that continue promoting race biting and divisions. The author seems to have a problem with interracial couples, and that is wrong. So this is proof that racism and division not only come from the white, right wing establishment: people of color can promote racism too, and this is an example.

  • This article makes no sense and is contradictory. Its reflective of the authors own insecurity. I don’t understand why someone needs to assert some blanket rule over love and race. Instead of writing negatively on interracial gay relationships how about you highlight Black Love, Get real. I guess you needed to write something to get the clicks.

  • stanely21

    Aside from this author’s obvious contempt for white folks, his entire premise that “Black men date whites” is completely incorrect. As within any racial or ethnic group the vast majority of our men date other Black men. The question we should all be asking is why aren’t we dating more outside of our race?

  • Scipio

    “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?”

    They are not tools for sending out the messages that YOU deem necessary. They are human beings, with the right to choose whom they want as partners, regardless of race. You presume that they are choosing their partners “in order to obtain social acceptance”. That sounds like your issue, not theirs.

    People are very often attracted to people who are a different physical type or ethnicity; “out black gay public figures” have no obligation to you to act otherwise.

  • Orville Lloyd Douglas wrote: “People have a right to love whomever they desire.”

    This I agree with.

    “However, it would be foolish to ignore a clear pattern where black gay public figures come out yet are hypocritical.”

    This is false. Someone’s choice in a partner has nothing to do with hypocrisy. Just because you have a problem with it does not justify throwing that label around. Regardless of anything else, it is completely out of bounds to criticize other people’s choice of partners. We must begin with respect for each other. In this case, Michael Sam was not a celebrity when he became involved with Vito Cammisano. I don’t know the demographics at Mizzou, but it may have been in part a result of more of the available men having been white.

    Another point: if you want respect, you should give respect. Can we please try to resist the use of “twink” as a dismissive term? Cammisano was a fellow athlete at Mizzou (a swimmer), with his own story and hopes and dreams, and does not deserve to be reduced to that label. I know someone (an older white man) who dates cute young white guys and refers to them as twinks. He is not looking for a husband. He appears happy with his life, so there is no point in feeling pity for him; nor do I wish to be presumptuous. A certain humility is in order given that we do not know one another’s struggles. But most of us seek more in our personal lives than just an attractive person with whom to pass the time.

    The writer raises some valid concerns, and they bear discussing; but they can be raised without passing judgment on other people’s choice of lovers. Incidentally, to throw something else into the mix: I have seen polls that show many black women oppose gay marriage because they feel there are few enough marriageable black men without some of them being taken off the market by another man, especially a white man. This reflects a denial of people’s gayness that reinforces social pressures for gay men to have fake girlfriends, as Derrick Gordon discussed. The last thing any sane and humane person should want is for gay people to pretend to be straight.

    When I met my own partner of nearly 13 years, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was not looking for a date nor expecting to meet my future husband. I certainly was not attempting to set a standard for others to follow. Patrick and I simply made a connection, and it turned out to be an enduring one despite many hurdles. We love one another. Issues of self-esteem and rejection by one’s community need to be dealt with, but not by treating people as pawns in a political or social program. We can work toward a day when no gay people feel rejected or devalued by the community in which they grew up, without presuming to judge their individual choices.

  • BeBop

    Why should it even matter! Love is love! Too many people pay too much attention to race & Ethnicity. Let just love & uplift each other. The world would be a better place for all. It starts with you, me & you & you & you

  • Bob Davis

    I know a lot of mixed race couples strait and gay. A buddy of mine is a gay white man and has been with his black lover for years, another buddy of mine is a strait white man and been with his black girlfriend for years another buddy of mine is a white girl who dates mostly men of Indian decent (the from India not from the United States). While I’m not a psychologist, nor do I think the person that wrote this article is a psychologist or apt to even speak his opinion with any validity more than any other cultured person on this planet. I think some of this idea boils down to people wanting to be with a person less familiar and just that someone different than what they’re used to and race is an easy thing to pick out. This article definitely comes across as extremely prejudice and while the writer may think he has ‘good-intentions’ he’s shaming and looking down on a man who did break barriers, he’s shaming a man while at the same time implying that shaming people for their race or sexuality is wrong, based solely on his opinion. He’s hiding under the fact that he’s a gay black man who wrote this article and using it to hate on another gay black man. Who gives a shit if his lover was purple, while it’s an interesting point to raise, using the phrase ‘I cringed when he kissed the white twink’ is strait-up racist. I have friends that say it sickens them when they see a black man and a white woman. That’s also racist. But I know several black woman that date predominately white men, and always it’s a personal choice. If some of these people pick their lovers for PR reasons (as is the case with a lot of celebrity that in fact is true and a good question the article is I think trying to ask) than shame on them for doing that. But other than that one very specific reason, who cares, white, black, hispanic, chinese, mutant, purple, seriously unless it’s a kid than who cares who someone loves. It’s disrespectful, rude, and wrong to judge people’s relationships from a distance unless you think it’s abusive. And if the writer of this article thinks he’s in an abusive relationship than this article certainly isn’t the write way to tell him. Eventually their will be a gay black celebrity with a gay black lover, and a gay Chinese celebrity with his gay Chinese lover and no one will care. And that’ll be a great day. Cause I con’t care but I’m sick of racism being disguised as concern. That pardon the expression, concerns me. Society is moving to far ahead in equal rights to be derailed by self loathing and micromanaging hate.

  • El Dorado

    The author says that Black dating White makes them feel more accepted. By whom exactly? Whites are not necessarily anymore accepting of such relationships than Blacks are or heteros are of same sex relationships. In fact, you’ll find many that find bi-racial dating distasteful to them and when they see their friends even consider dating outside their race, they are quick to stick their nose into it and discourage their friend from doing so! Hey, if your not into an ethnic or racial type, well, everyone has different tastes like preferring tall to short or hairless to hairy. You can’t help who you are attracted to and shouldn’t have to apologize if you’re not attracted to someone who is a different race or be pressured into being with them.

    However, in some cases someone maybe attracted to someone of another race but is discouraged by his friends from pursuing it not hiding their dislike for it in their faces, giving you dirty looks. They would rather their friend be alone even though they have someone and forsake a potentially great match simply because the guy their friend is looking at is a different race. Essentially ruining someone else’s happiness due to their own bigotry. But if the guy isn’t strong enough to follow his heart rather than be told how to feel, then that’s his loss.

    As a Latino, I experienced this in Texas when I showed a non-latino white guy an interest. I could see his friends look at me with distaste at a Country and Western Bar full of gay white men. I was not made to feel welcome and even though I tried to be friendly and smile got dirty looks in return. I could see them discouraging the guy I wanted from me and guess what, he ended up going home alone that night. I have since pledged never to go to Texas again!

  • DerekTO

    There are many valid points in the comments above so I won’t rehash a lot of the stuff I agree with, but just want to ask a question of Mr. Douglas: you keep refering to how black gay celebrities “pick” white partners or “choose” white partners, as if they selected their partners specifically *after* they were famous. Do you have back up info for this? Have you compiled tabs on who was with their white partner before they were a celebrity and who started dating their white partner after fame arrived? That part of the premise alone seems strange.

  • Terry Sidney

    This conversation is charged on so many levels. There are so many different ways and views to look at this situation that it’s almost impossible to point to one reason why celebrity Black gays are choosing White partners. I say if these couples are comfortable, and happy in their relationships more power to them! There is not one of us who doesn’t have some upbringing issues about culture, race, religion and/or sex that influences our choices about the people we choose to love. Life is complicated enough, worry about your own choices in life and let other people deal with theirs.

    • El Dorado

      Why do you assume all the White guys are the bottoms and all the Black guys are the tops. Isn’t that a racist stereotype in itself?

  • Others have covered most of what I would wish to say about this opinion piece. But I wish to add my voice to the chorus. This is pure dreck. Fancy words vomiting one man’s clear racism and displeasure with himself. It’s sad that the Blade ran it.

  • IJelly

    Dear Michael Sam,

    You’ve had all eyes on you for months and not only have you handled it with dignity, you also managed to not let the scrutiny straight-jacket you into being someone you’re not. When the big moment came, you had the courage to be honest and share an incredible moment with the person you love. In the process, you made one of the most iconic moments in gay history. So whatever happens with the Rams, know that you’ve already made us proud. Just keep loving who you love and don’t let the shit get you down.

    And go out there and knock over some quarterbacks.

    All the best,
    A big gay fan

  • e jerry powell

    … 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.

    As if that’s possible. As often as not, among gay men, it’s just as likely that “accept/ance” in the white gay community is more a matter of either consensual objectification or fetishistic tokenism. As the late Corwing Hawkins (a/k/a drag queen/stand up comedian Amazing Grace) put it to me when I was still in my early twenties, “all white gay men see is a big black dick.”

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2016. All rights reserved.
Washington Blade Newsletter

Signup!

Get our top stories emailed to you every Thursday and specials offers from our partners.