Will We Evolve Too?

Gaining wider acceptance for LGBT rights often means supporting causes that disproportionately affect other minority communities. Can we collectively look beyond issues important to white people?

BY Ari Karpel

October 08 2012 3:00 AM ET

Noah’s Arc actor Doug Spearman

 

Doing that would take not only seeing ourselves as a broad progressive community but actually being one. Only once we stop being reactive will we truly be able to include marginalized groups of gays and lesbians and start to have what Wagner advises will be “tough conversations” on issues of race, class, and transphobia.

But making that happen would require raising the profile of certain people within the community. “In some of the mainstream gay organizations I feel as other as I do walking into the very white gay bars along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood,” Brickson Diamond says, though he is hesitant to name the groups. He has felt more welcomed in organizations that, while gay-oriented to a degree, focus on helping a broader population. “In Project Angel Food, we’re focused on a task that’s outside ourselves [in that case, feeding homebound people with serious illnesses]. At the Liberty Hill Foundation, funding LGBT work is only part of our goal.”

Diamond is not alone in his sentiments. “I feel like the movement is driven by the needs and wants of well-established white men,” says Doug Spearman, an actor and activist best known for his role as Chance on Noah’s Arc, one of the few television shows ever to depict African-American gays without indulging in easy stereotypes. “I don’t see anything in the movement that recognizes what it’s like to be black and gay in America.”

Likewise, there’s virtually nothing on TV or in movies, arenas that have helped spur significant cultural shifts in attitudes about gay Americans — at least if you believe Vice President Joe Biden, who famously declared that Will & Grace did more than anything else to educate America and break down fears of our otherness. “If you think about the black community,” Diamond says, “there have been gay, lesbian, and transgender folks hiding in plain sight for generations, and we’ve all politely agreed not to talk about it.” And that holds true on television, which has few LGBT characters, proportionately fewer black ones, and therefore virtually no gay people of color.

Though change may not be evident on TV, it does seem to be afoot in the real world. Or is it? Spearman, for one, isn’t buying that the NAACP’s support of marriage is much more than mere blind allegiance to President Obama. “Of course the NAACP is going to support the president,” he says, noting that some activists have continued to be vocally opposed, such as the Reverend Keith Ratliff Sr., who resigned as president of the Iowa-Nebraska branch of the NAACP over the issue. “But where are you seeing gays crossing the color lines?”

It’s going to take something big to get more gay men and women focused on issues of racial inequality among us. Ferrera is not terribly hopeful either. “I don’t think my generation is good at looking outside ‘what’s going to benefit me.’ I don’t think that we even show up for other people’s civil rights movements, and yet we expect them to show up for ours.”

He adds, “When I look at the national scene I’m very frustrated. We as a gay community need to be a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

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