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Editor's Letter: Black and LGBT in America

Editor's Letter: Black and LGBT in America


Needed conversations about race and identity.

In late May I sat down for lunch in West Hollywood with actor-filmmaker Doug Spearman, an actor known to gay audiences for his role as professor Chance Counter on the groundbreaking series Noah's Arc. He's engaging and charming, and by the end of that first in-person meeting I felt I'd known him for much longer than I actually had.

We discussed this issue's cover package -- the nature of being black and LGBT in America in 2013, why gay so often means white to African-Americans, the various dimensions of privilege and passing, and why dialogues about racial identity happens in tiny, insular corners of our balkanized LGBT communities. As a lead character on the first regular TV series featuring all black, all gay characters, Spearman has been talking about race issues in an LGBT context and gay issues in a black context for a number of years. Now he's the director of a new comedic thriller film, Hot Guys with Guns, with a multiracial cast. The mere fact of including an interracial gay couple at the center of the action was confusing to some; Spearman wondered aloud whether black-and minority-focused LGBT film festivals would think of his film as a black film. And he said the discussion we were having was all too often the kind he has only with other black gay people.

The following week, a close friend, half of an interracial gay couple from Los Angeles now living in New Orleans, told me he was ready to leave the South. He was tired, he said, of explaining to gays, both black and white, how he could be married to a white man.

Oh, the letters I'd get if I equated being black to being gay -- I won't. But the sensation of being an outsider is a familiar one to many of us, and that outsider perspective should be the basis for common ground, even if our individual experiences vary drastically.

The gut sensation of being an outsider -- the one so many of us feel who are gender nonconforming; out, loud, and proud; or closeted and isolated -- is a useful, instructive feeling. Part of having moral imaginations must include taking that feeling and using it to imagine what it's like to be in someone else's shoes -- in this instance, someone of a different racial or ethic identity. What would it take to widen our notion of common ground?

More In This Series
Black, LGBT, American: A Search for Sanctuaries
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

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Matthew Breen