Is the Black-LGBT Divide Exaggerated?

Advocates challenge the perception that black people are less supportive than others.

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous (AFP)
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous (AFP)

During a media blitz for his book Transparent, gay CNN anchor Don Lemon candidly opened up about the homophobia he has experienced in the black community.

“It’s quite different for an African-American male,” he told the New York Times in May 2011. “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture.”

It wasn’t the first time that African Americans had been accused of not supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. But his comment inspired a swift deluge of criticism from black women, black LGBT folks and LGBT allies. In The Root, contributor Michael Arceneaux contested Lemon’s allegation. The backlash against Lemon challenged the perception that African Americans are more homophobic than any other group.

In January, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous addressed a crowd of around 2,000 at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force event Creating Change, the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality, in Baltimore, saying that LGBT and civil rights organizations must work together for equality.

Efforts to join forces — including the NAACP’s own LGBT Equality Task Force, launched in 2009 — already exist. But cultural barriers, as well as the negative assessment — shared by Lemon and many others — of African-American support of the LGBT community may serve as a roadblock to bringing the two groups together.

The Root talked to advocates at Creating Change to get their take on LGBT support in the black community.

“My mom would say, ‘Don’t you bring nothing else up in here,’ ” Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said about her mother’s opinions on Nipper being both black and lesbian. “[People say] being black is enough. So there is this aspect in the black community that that’s a big-enough problem, and we don’t want anything else.”

The Rev. Sam Offer, an interfaith minister and a member of the Task Force conference host committee, said that the topic of sexuality has been a taboo for many African Americans. “Within the black community, we’ve just begun to talk about sexuality,” he said. “There was no unpacking of this notion of sexuality.

“Folks are not willing to engage what it means to be black and gay,” he added.