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Op-ed: The White Party and Gay Culture Need More Color

Op-ed: The White Party and Gay Culture Need More Color


This weekend's White Party circuit event symbolizes more than hedonism, according to this writer.


Thousands upon thousands of gay men will flock to Palm Springs, Calif., this weekend for endless carousing, pulsating music, and shirtless hunks everywhere. Produced annually by promoter Jeffrey Sanker, the White Party is billed as the world's largest gay dance festival and was described by The Huffington Post as "synonymous with mainstream gay culture." The event is an international spectacle, attracting "circuit boys" from all over the globe.

The White Party is also aptly named. Each year its staff chooses dozens of ambassadors designated as Official Men of White Party and Official Go-Gos of White Party, respectfully. As in years past, those selected for 2015 were largely white. There wasn't a single dark-skinned black man, for example. There are plenty of very attractive, dark, black and Asian gays with magnificent bodies in Southern California, so "mainstream gay culture" as defined by the White Party doesn't present itself as inclusive of anyone who cannot be mistaken for Caucasian in the right lighting.

This kind of segregation and white privilege is more typical of gay rituals than straight supporters of LGBT rights may think, especially given the gay community's lip service to tolerance and equality. The hypocritical inability of gays to practice ethnic inclusion in their own establishments makes it difficult to take seriously the recent backlash against Indiana's "religious freedom" law.

On paper, I should be a loud supporter of efforts like #BoycottIndiana. I am a progressive Democrat and a member of the LGBT community. I fear religion used as a pretext to deny gays in other states from enjoying freedoms I enjoy as a resident of West Hollywood -- perhaps America's most queer-friendly municipality. And as a liberal Christian, I can assert that religious freedom laws are always too broad; if such laws must exist to shield conservative Christians, they should be narrowly written with exemptions specific to wedding vendors and strict tests for "sincerely held" religious belief. That is, these vendors demonstrate consistent application of their beliefs to all customers, not just insincerely singling out gays as a special class of "sinners" marked for discrimination.

Yet to #BoycottIndiana would be hypocritical in light of the rampant racial hostilities within the gay community itself. Ethnic minorities who move in LGBT circles too often experience gay paeans to diversity as empty words. In practice, racial exclusivity that privileges whiteness is the gay community's standard operating procedure and its dirty little secret. If straight allies knew of the widespread racism amongst gays, they'd likely stop taking gay cries for equality seriously.

People of all backgrounds experience areas of advantage and disadvantage, but I've been surprised to personally experience such a large number of prejudicial encounters with gay Caucasians. There was the time when, working for a retailer known for its use of clean cut white models, one told me I was "too all-Negro" to be considered "all-American." How about overhearing someone drunkenly remark at the White Party how "black cock looks disgusting" before stereotyping all blacks as either "flamboyant queens or ghetto thugs" and "too riddled with HIV to date, based on the odds"? If you'd expect his friends to actively disagree with him and call him out, you'd be wrong.

I often scroll through the gay gossip website WeHo Confidential to see the un-moderated use of n-bombs on the site's comment sections. I was once mistaken for a platonic friend's significant other, and my friend was promptly admonished by a rejected suitor for "choosing that black guy." Ever walk into Chi Chi LaRue's sex shop and see the black dildo named "THE THUG"?

Most of my life experiences has been positive, so these random incidents roll off my back and leave little lasting imprint on my psyche. But I'm also not naive to the awareness that my looks and body type insulate me from the worst of gay racism and thus from being deeply wounded by bigoted slights. I worry for the mental health of gays of color who are not perceived as traditionally good-looking and lack the access afforded to those considered sufficiently youthful, handsome, classically built, or wealthy. Margaret Cho has remarked that being a minority in America often feels like "dying of a thousand paper cuts." LGBT minorities are multiple-minorities by definition, and they understand Cho's metaphor more than anyone.

The prejudice they endure has been recently highlighted by the demise of two segregated gay institutions: the recently canceled HBO show Looking and recently closed Los Angeles disco Catch One. Since its 2014 premiere, Looking had faced a backlash of its own for perceived lack of diversity in casting. For the race warriors among Looking's critics, there were not enough blacks cast in major roles, not enough darker-skinned Latinos of color, and -- preposterously for a show claiming to depict contemporary gay San Francisco -- no Asians with major roles.

Or was it so preposterous? "Everyone is white," one of the show's characters lamented of a party in the final episode, indicating the writers were self-referentially aware of the unbearable whiteness of the gay lives they depicted. Fans applauded Looking for its supposed realism, and racially it did indeed reflect the WHITES ONLY billboards that many, if not most, gays erect around themselves. Far too many gays are content to live in a racially segregated bubble. Outside of that bubble, America is almost half nonwhite now and will be majority minority soon. American lives increasingly reflect this growing multiculturalism. In reflecting instead a limited ethnic reality, Looking found a limited audience. The gay community may prefer to pretend gays of color don't exist, but that won't fly when you need ratings.

Looking mirrored the equally short run of all-black gay show Noah's Arc (2005-2006). But at least Noah's Arc's casting could be explained as a natural overcorrection of the white privilege in gay culture. A decade later, it's embarrassing that gays still have not sufficiently integrated socially even as America's hetero majority has embraced marriage equality, sent a black first family to the White House, and elected record numbers of women and minorities.

Like Noah's Arc, the Catch One disco was a rejoinder to gay racism. Jewel Thais-Williams, now 76, opened Catch One in 1973 for blacks then denied entry to gay clubs in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles Timesheadline described its recent closure as "the end of an era for L.A.'s gay blacks." It's sad that a landmark like "The Catch" -- as it was known when still popular and frequented by celebrities like Madonna and Sharon Stone -- is closing. It's sadder still that a "black" gay club was ever needed due to the narrow-mindedness of a community that should know better.

But saddest of all is that while gay bars in West Hollywood no longer explicitly deny entry to minorities, they still only roll out the VIP red carpet for whites and light-skinned Latinos, implicitly signaling that others are not welcome. Bartenders and go-go dancers are the face of the establishments in which they work, and in West Hollywood during peak hours those faces are almost uniformly light- and white-skinned -- due in part to race quotas, according to a source connected to one promoter.

Dkauthorphotox400_0And it's not just gay nightlife. American modeling agency rosters, as determined by fashion industry power gays, can look like an Aryan Brotherhood. For gay and questioning youth, gay porn can normalize gay sex and condition future patterns of attraction. But even the gay porn industry is segregated. Asians of any type are rarely represented, white models will often work only with whites or Latinos, and many black performers are marginalized and fetishized as "thugs" and exotics. Is it any wonder so many gay men internalize these messages and then grow up attracted mostly to whites, connecting with blacks occasionally as sex objects to satisfy taboos but rarely viewing them as worthy of real intimacy?

Gays may #BoycottDolceandGabbana, #BoycottIndiania, and #BoycottArkansas in the name of tolerance, but don't count on gays to ever #BoycottWhiteParty. The left may accuse the right of trying to resurrect Jim Crow, but white gays have done regressives one better and quietly completed the task of white supremacy with no one watching. The gay community should remove the bigoted plank from its own eyes so we can see clearly to criticize the speck in the eyes of conservative Christians.

DK is an actor, singer, and writer. Formerly a script reader for Warner Bros. Studios and an undergraduate Warner Bros. fellow in cinema-television at the University of Southern California, DK is currently a graduate student in psychology and a graduate assistant writing reviewer at Pepperdine University. Reach him on Twitter @DudeKembro.

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