Black, LGBT, American

A search for sanctuaries.



More In This Series
Don Lemon: A Sense of Otherness
Wanda Sykes: On Being Real
Laverne Cox: Threat or Threatened
Twiggy Garcon: Ballroom at 14
Doug Spearman: Breaking the Code
Janora McDuffie: My Obligation
Aaron Walton: Angelic Troublemakers
Editor's Letter: Black and LGBT in America


On May 17, Mark Carson, a 32-year-old black gay man in New York City, was murdered in gay-friendly Greenwich Village by homophobes wielding a 38-caliber revolver. I did not know Carson, but I feel I have encountered him on countless occasions. I encounter him when I speak with the young, mostly black and brown people we serve at the Hetrick-Martin Institute where I work. I encounter him when I look in the mirror. My life, like his, like that of many of the kids I work with, has been shaped by the multiple identities that mark me. I am black, but rendered invisible within most mainstream LGBT movements. I am gay and have been ostracized by the homophobia of other black people. I am male and realize that my privileges are not granted to black lesbian and trans women. Like Carson, my personal experiences are often missing from narratives of gay progress.

Hundreds attended a march on May 20 in Carson's memory. While I was moved by the solidarity, I knew that if Carson hadn't been gay, 1,500 (mostly white) LGBT-supporting people would not have been out on the street protesting a black man's murder. I don't even know if I would have been standing at a busy intersection in Greenwich Village, where a makeshift memorial now stands. I stood in front of the memorial and remembered my own experience on the same block several months ago. I remembered the fact that in most gay spaces my blackness is pronounced, in some black spaces my queerness is animated, and in both spaces I have experienced a lack of safety.

Black in a Gay Space
There was nothing remarkable about the cramped bar and grill where I often partied on Thursday nights. It was decorated with the kind of faux-leather lounge couches and tiny cocktail tables that look better at night under the glare of tinted lights. It was an unspectacular space, except that on Thursday nights it teemed with a crowd of mostly black gay men downing cocktails, chatting, and flirting with each other over a hot mix of hip-hop beats in the heart of mostly white and queer-friendly Greenwich Village.

The red-lit lounge was, appropriately enough, named Desire. And, despite its short distance from the iconic Stonewall Bar, the weekly event there was one of the few spaces that attracted black gay men in a city with few social outlets that cater to black and brown queer and trans people. Desire attracted me, a 37-year-old black gay Brooklynite who often feels underrepresented in New York's gay bars. I was ecstatic to have another weekday party option.

But the last time I attended Desire's Thursday night mixer, in March, was the last time anyone attended it; that night it was shut down by a horde of New York City police officers. They were all white, an important detail in a bar full of black gay men. In such a place, a dozen white cops are bound to inspire an array of responses, including fear. Gay or straight, we're all too well-versed in how the justice system encounters us.

My stomach clenched at the sight of the NYPD storming through the entrance that night, but I have become jaded by my frequent encounters with the law. The memory of a black police officer in Camden, N.J., who many years ago mistook me for a "lookout boy" — the boy whose job it was to holler "Po-Po" as a signal to the neighborhood dealers that a cop car was approaching — still angers me. The officer grabbed me without warning, twisted my arms behind my back, pushed me into the back seat of his police cruiser, and sped off without reading me my Miranda rights. I was an honors student, more interested in the dealers than the deals.

Those of us gathered in Desire that Thursday night weren't doing anything wrong, but before long, the music stopped and conversations turned to whispers. We were commanded to leave while several cops patrolled the area outside. They had followed a black trans woman from another location — watched as they apprehended and arrested her a few feet from the bar. The melee was messy enough to bring more cops and an ambulance.

Asking a gay man to leave a party at the very moment it is getting good is inviting trouble. Privileged with a clean record, my friend and I weren't afraid to demand a reason for our expulsion. One of the officers shoved my friend by the arm in response, so we asked for badge numbers. A few of the cops quickly covered them up.

A precarious situation was in the making. We knew it and left, watching in disgust as the lounge finally cleared out. I felt anger and I felt shame, because I realized that once again, this black queer had been denied an opportunity to be present in the queerest space in all of New York City.