It Gets Better: 3 Things I Want My Young Black LGBTQ Folks to Know

by Anna Gibson

When I first came out of the closet, I was shunned almost immediately. I attended Detroit’s Mumford High School in 2004. Back then, the kids attached a negative stereotype to each of the public schools. These associations were often exaggerated and not true, but the schools were still spoken of by their nicknames. Murray Wright was known as “Murder Wright” because of the violence that occurred there. Pershing High was said to be overrun with students who had STDs. Finally, Mumford was nicknamed “Dykeford.” It was well known that there were a ton of gay and lesbian students who attended the school. As the name implies, the stigma toward black LGBTQ youth was real and it often spilled over into violence.

There was an entire floor where gay and lesbian students would put their lockers. Straight students would actively stay away from this hallway, called “Dyke Row”, lest they be considered gay too.

I was already the least popular person in my class. When I came out, I was immediately pushed even further to the margins of my peers. I would try to sit down at tables in the lunchroom and people would immediately move away and sit somewhere else. Sometimes people would point and laugh when I walked past.

I have found that the “punishment” society can commit against Black LGBTQ youth—especially within our community—is staggering. Given that the vast majority of black people are Christian, coming out could very well lead to being rejected by your fundamentalist family, or even worse, your church. There is stigma associated with people who identify as transgender in the black community as well. Misogynoir and distorted concepts of black masculinity—often called machismo—can infringe on your safety no matter where you fall on the LGBTQ spectrum.

My experience may not be as bad as yours. Or maybe it’s worse. Whether you’re unsure about coming out or not I wanted offer a little guidance. This was something I didn’t get when I was younger, and because of this, I feel it is my duty to give back to those who come after me.

1. Find a nexus of support.

Finding a group of people around you who accept you for who you are, and offer a reprieve in times of hardship is important. There are groups available both online and offline for teenagers and adults who are seeking to make connections with others on Facebook and Twitter. Both of these sites have a number of groups for virtually any type of person. College campuses or community programs often have spaces that allow you to connect with other LGBTQ youth. If you’re in pain or deeply troubled by your experience, talk to someone, find a school counselor or therapist. Most college programs have counseling services that are free and open to students. There may even be a psychiatrist on board that can help you obtain medication if you don’t think the coping skills you’re learning in therapy or at group are enough.

If you’re an adult, there are a number of groups and associations you can be a part of that are LGBTQ friendly. To find these, you can Google these groups online, making sure to add the name of your city, and you should find some resources immediately.

2. Only come out when you feel safe.

As a young person, you may not feel safe coming out. For your safety, this could mean coming out during college or when you’ve completely cut financial ties with your parents/guardians and family. There are many Black LGBTQ youth who are being displaced because of who they are. When we look at issues of racial identity and displacement, coming out could be even more dangerous for people of color because of the reality of police brutality. It is no secret that we are the most vulnerable group when it comes to crimes of violence against us. We have to be doubly careful with whom we reveal parts of our sexual identity.

3. It gets better with time.

It doesn’t matter what your situation is. When I first came out in high school, I felt like the world was closing in on me. Yet here I am, 10 years later, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism at one of the most prestigious research universities in Detroit. Friends accept and support me in all my endeavors, whether I’m pursuing a relationship or trying to write for a literary magazine.

All in all, there will always be people around you willing to love you, build you up, and help you; they just need to be found. You’ll also have the security of your own autonomy, the fact that it’s your choice to tell anyone about any aspect of your life, but only if it makes you feel safe. It may take time, but no experience lasts forever. Eventually you’ll find your way. It doesn’t matter how you identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, the strength you’ve gained from your circumstances will make you a better person, able to tackle whatever tough challenges you face in life with greater ease.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a freelance journalist and student at Wayne State University. She’s also a passionate advocate of the marginalized. If you think she’s awesome (which you totally should) you can catch her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook where she’s hiding under the name Introspective Inquiries.

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