EDITORIAL: On LGBT rights, SGL and Why It’s Not OK to Ask Us to Play Catch-Up

Found via Tumblr.

Reading the Mother Jones editorial on anti-LGBT sentiments among African-Americans, and the disgust against the article from pro-LGBT AfAm users on social media, I have been wondering about the editorial’s logistics.

Maybe the article was being targeted to a specific segment(s) of the African-American population: the black nationalists, the Pan-Africanists, the folks who are immersed in the politics and image of the “black church” and of “black music”, those who are disenchanted by the disproportionate narrative of women’s and LGBT rights/dignity/livelihoods being incredibly important while the state of predominately-African-American neighborhoods, homes, rights and bodies remain a parallel, semi-separate country.

If so, the translation of the message of admonishment to the sex/gender-conservative segments of the African-American populace has been a disaster. Despite the movements by African-Americans of influence and power to advance LGBT rights on the matter of principle, despite the participation of several African-American LGBT people in the politics and machinery of the movement for LGBT (and women’s) rights, the visibility of the sheer scale of AfAm advancement of LGBT rights and visibility in the U.S. has been on a far smaller scale than the emotive visibility of the homophobia and transphobia which emanates from any African-American person, from those who possess religious/social/political power in the community to the average person-on-the-street who may or may not have voted for Prop 8 in 2008.

But here’s the bigger issue for me, an African-American who is LGBT: when LGBT discussions, media, pleasures, delights and what-have-you are not focused on rights/dignity/power, the semblance of an LGBT community unconsciously splits into separate realities, specifically along racial lines.

I’m not just talking about the socio-economic deprivations which hit so many African-Americans, which are the reality of so many AfAms, but the representations of our celebrations, our fantasies, our imaginations, even our erotica.

The reality is so separate, so disparate that many AfAms have their own term for their identity: “Same-gender loving (SGL)“. Such a term replaces words like “gay”, “lesbian”, the clinically-oppressive “homosexual”, and even the re-appropriated “queer”. Since being promoted by activist Cleo Manago to predominately-AfAm audiences from the 1990s onward, it has plodded forward in increasing its linguistic currency.

Imagine that: a term of the English language promoted to specifically highlight the reality and fullness of the average AfAm who may feel isolated from the LGBT community and media in one’s own country. Heck, there are even SGL erotica and literature, and organizations which use the “SGL” word (by itself or alongside “LGBTQ”) to describe their initiatives for SGL people.

“SGL+T” may be a better descriptor than, say, “black gay” or “black LGBTQ” to describe the AfAm experience which doesn’t emanate from the myriad subcultures of the LGBT experience in the Western world. It may be a better descriptor for the conversations regarding our dignity within the institutions of the African diaspora and continent. It may be a better descriptor for the everyday socio-economic struggles which emanate from gender, sexual and racial binaries, and the uncommon victories over such binaries. SGL may be a better description for when we dream, fantasize, love, affirm, perform and categorize ourselves in an SGL environment, be it in religion, arts, politics, tourism, the sciences.

Perhaps if the SGL+T experience, as a distinct experience with its own history, subcultures and complications, were highlighted in and of itself instead of African-Americans being portrayed as late-coming laggardly hangers-on of the “Western” LGBT rights movement, the blinkered perception by many AfAms of non-het sexual orientations and non-cis gender identities among those of the same ancestry would become less clouded by the racial disparities of the Global North. Maybe the struggle against the pervasive forms of discrimination and inequity in public accommodations, public and private employment, housing and healthcare will be felt across both SGL and heterosexual AfAm communities as being shared and necessary.

We are beneficiaries of LGBT advancements internationally, but we are not hangers-on or laggards. We have been fighting for ourselves, our dignity, our lives for the longest time. The ongoing struggles we face with homophobia, transphobia and misogyny are just as ridiculous, life-threatening and insipid as those faced by European-American LGBTs for the entirety of their struggle. But when we go home to our families, before or after our rights are attained, we will live with ourselves in our waking lives, we will despair or fight against the bad aspects of our lives and we want to see, hear, and feel more of ourselves in our affirmations, loves and dreams.

In a world in which we happen to be born in a parallel America, why must we play catch-up? We even have to craft our own “language” just to reach to those parts of the Afro-American experience not touched by the LGBT experience, just to make a little bit more sure that #BlackLivesMatter. Otherwise, the homeless SGL+T people of color in our country are just as isolated from empowerment as the homeless SGL+T Jamaicans living in sewers in Kingston to hide from the wrath of religious bigots.

Given the inheritance of racism and homophobia/transphobia from European colonists, slaveholders and men of power over the centuries, as well as our still-inferior socio-economic position in U.S. society, how can we demand that Africans in the diaspora and continent pull ourselves out of this historic mess without addressing the mess from a language with which we can empathize for and empower ourselves?

It’s time to change the message, not from a position of “let’s catch up” but from a position of “let’s change our perspective for the better”, AKA, “we want more than what our parents were allowed”.

That means our health, our arts and literature, our tourism, our economics, our relationships, our rights, our forms of expression and empowerment. Change all of it. Make it all in your images. Demand it all for your empowerments. Use your traits to empower yourselves.

If we make these changes, but remain true to what we cannot hide as SGLT people, eventually we will get to a place beyond our current imaginations. We will open new doors, build new bridges and chart new paths for those of similar ancestry as us. I look forward to it.

Let’s do it.


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