Black, LGBT, American

A search for sanctuaries.



At left: Jason Collins

Lack of Space
Why the telling of these particular and personal stories in response to the larger question of what it might mean to be black and gay in an American moment of supposed progress? My narrative is just one of a number of stories of black LGBT life in America, after all.

On April 29, Jason Collins made history when he publicly disclosed that he was a black gay man, the first active male professional athlete in a major North American team sport to come out. Several days before Collins' announcement, Brittney Griner, the three-time All-American women's college basketball player and the Phoenix Mercury's first overall pick in the 2013 draft, disclosed that she was a lesbian. Griner is also black. Collins' and Griner' announcements occurred a year after black musician Frank Ocean's public release of a letter detailing his love for another man. Ocean, like comedian Wanda Sykes, who disclosed her sexual identity in 2008, received words of support from black celebrities like Beyoncé Jay-Z, and Russell Simmons. In 2011, Janet Mock, the former staff editor of People magazine's website, came out as transgender in an article published in Marie Claire.

In the wake of Ocean, Lewis, and Griner, many people are asking if the tides have changed for those who are black and queer in today's seemingly progressive America. But one must ask: Which type of black queer person figures as the central character in this narrative of progress? Whose narrative matters? And who is afforded safe space to exist as black and queer?

The structural forces that impede or advance our lives will always shape the many ways that one exists as black or gay — whether he (or she) is praised by the president, shot to death by a stranger, lauded by celebrities, or doused with a gallon of kerosene. There is no single way to be black and gay in America, but it is clear that there are too few spaces for most black gay men to exist safely. And if that is true, there are even fewer sanctuaries for black queer youth, lesbians, and trans people to exist in their entirety as well.