Black Parents, Gay Sons and Redefining Masculinity

Research confirms what we already know: The pathway to wholeness and self-acceptance for gay African-American youths begins with support from parents.

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Herein lies the separate-and-unequal footing upon which these youths begin their journeys.

LaSala found that young black boys—both gay and straight—feel tremendous pressure to grow up and become strong black men who are “armored to battle racism and social barriers with a veneer of hypermasculinity.” That masculinity, he says, is characterized by toughness, control, poise, emotional stoicism and a hyperheterosexuality—always eager to prove one’s manhood through female conquests and outward expressions of strength.

For gay African-American boys still suffocating in the closet, those expectations are particularly acute. Simply by virtue of who they are, they feel they’re rejecting “black masculinity”—and thereby betraying the already victimized and denigrated image of black men in American society.

In his research with black families, LaSala found that African-American fathers were less willing to discuss these issues; and black gay boys often admitted to feelings of guilt as their male cousins and brothers were placed in difficult positions of having to defend them against their peers and within their communities.

When the first openly gay NFL draft pick Michael Sam came out earlier this year, these same familial concerns played out on a national stage between him and his father. “I’m old school,” his father told the New York Times in response to his son coming out. “I’m a man-and-a-woman type of guy.” Yet despite struggling with the issue, Sam Sr. explained that he loves his son and wants him to succeed.

“As a black man, we have so many hurdles to cross,” he said. “This is just one he has to cross.”

Following the Times interview, Sam’s father told a local Texas paper, “My son did the right thing, and I am not against him at all. Once he gets on the field and hits [someone] once, they won’t think he’s gay.”

His response echoes the feelings of many African-American fathers, who fear for what the added burdens of blackness and gayness will mean in a world that is unkind to both.

But his latter comments also underscore the hypermasculine ideal expected of black men and boys—and the fallacy that being gay is the very antithesis of that ideal.

Christianity in African-American culture and its role in defining strict social and gender norms have been well researched. Too many parents frequently still use fundamentalist religious views as the standard to evaluate sexual orientation, and as such see their gay sons and daughters as out of favor with God at best, and damned to hell at worst.