Black Folks, We've Got to Get Serious About Homophobia

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by Benie Hallel

“The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass and trees, but other people, has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs-- as who has not?-- of human love, God’s love alone is left.” - James Baldwin

A gunman opened fire in a queer Orlando nightclub on Saturday evening after reportedly becoming irate at the sight of two men kissing in Miami a few months prior. The media has, of course, sensationalized this tragedy to be an act of “Islamic terrorism,” without making much mention of the sustained, engrained homophobia embraced by American culture that feeds a beast of this sort.
The bodies that were slain in that club were not just white bodies; they were queer women and men of color who were targeted for their sexual attraction. Religion alone did not do this. We did. Every word that we have spoken in hatred and condemnation of queer folks, every time that we listened as LGBTQI identities were mocked and demeaned without saying a word, has done this.
On the Sunday following the shooting, I was driving in my Boston neighborhood when I overheard the car next to me blasting Buju Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye.” Every Caribbean kid who has ever attended a cookout or endured a mass house cleaning on a Saturday morning knows this song, and we know it well. For those who don’t know, the lyrics go something like, “boom bye bye in a batty boy head, rude boy no promote no nasty man, them haffi dead.” I wondered if the people in the car next to me had heard the news, or if they cared. I wondered why our community continues to normalize messages of hating and abusing queer identities as if there are no consequences for these words. Black people, it is time we get serious about our homophobia. It is time that we address and challenge the ways that our culture, music, and conversations serve to isolate and terrorize queer and trans folks of color. This starts with us- we have a responsibility to deconstruct our own bullshit before we can even begin to challenge it in the society around us. It isn’t funny anymore. It isn’t benign. It is deadly and our brothers and sisters continue to pay with their lives.

I am a West Indian born immigrant and the daughter of a christian pastor. We immigrated to the U.S. from Dominica when I was five years old. For me, and many West Indians, black Americans, and christians alike, homophobia is cultural. I was taught very early on that same-sex attraction was a sin, and that participants would be condemned to death and hell fire if they neglected to repent for their lust. No mention was ever made of love. For a long time, I believed my parents and I believed the Bible. I mean, it’s right there in the text. Admitting that homosexuals are not mortally doomed to the flames of hell meant facing the possibility that parts, or all, of the Bible may be an inaccurate- that they are the result of subjective human bias, and not of transcendent wisdom and love. This is a conversation that most christians are not ready to have.

At the risk of sounding like a cliche coming of age novel, I began to change my opinions on homosexual partnerships when I began making gay friends. A critical step in this process was a close friendship that I formed with an openly gay male during middle and high school. We had many things in common and were able to speak openly about our attractions and romantic relationships. I like to say that this was the beginning of a budding awareness, but in retrospect, there was always a part of me (and all of us, I think) that knew better. The supposed homophobia that I had previously embraced collapsed way too quickly to have ever been real. Within seconds of forming a bond with this person, I thought “okay, there is nothing wrong with him.” It was a light-switch turned on, an understanding that attraction is attraction, feelings are feelings, love is love, and his were all very real and very valid.

The deconstruction of my homophobic feeling did not happen all at once, and learning to be aware of gay consciousness and prioritize their struggle is a process that is still ongoing for me.
It took time. It took a lot of listening to queer voices, reading queer perspectives, and seeking the Creator to provide answers that never explicitly came (I am aware that all of you may not value a spiritual connection with a deity- I am speaking only of my own journey). As a former christian and the daughter of a pastor, reconciling my acceptance of and love for queer identities with my belief in the Bible and christian dogma was difficult. God never gave me an answer on whether homosexuality was “right or wrong,” but I believe that She transformed my heart to walk a continuous path of loving better, more freely, and without judgement.

Love is a word that our society throws around loosely. Let me be perfectly clear as to what I mean by love; when you love a population that is oppressed, targeted, and terrorized, you love by accepting them. You love by reminding them that they are whole, okay, and that there is nothing wrong with them. You love by using your privilege as a heterosexual, cis gendered person to make space for them. As in usual tragedy form, I see a lot of people “praying for Orlando.” I urge you also to pray for yourselves, your families, your friends, and your communities. I urge you to ask whichever God you believe in to touch your heart and reveal all fear and loathing of difference that lies there. I am praying for a love that will swing wide the gates of hatred, connecting us to a world where LGBTQI identities are safe, seen, and valued just as they are.

Blessed are the sissies
Blessed are the boi dykes
Blessed are the people of color my beloved kith and kin
Blessed are the trans
Blessed are the high femmes
Blessed are the sex workers
Blessed are the authentic
Blessed are the dis-identifiers
Blesses are the gender illusionists
Blessed are the non-normative
Blessed are the genderqueers
Blessed are the kinksters
Blessed are the disabled
Blessed are the hot fat girls
Blessed are the weirdo-queers
Blessed is the spectrum
Blessed is consent
Blessed is respect
Blessed are the beloved who I didn’t describe, I couldn’t describe, will learn to describe and respect and love

- Mark Aguhar, “Litanies to My Heavenly Brown Body”

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Benie Hallel is a Master's student in English Literature at Carnegie Mellon where she studies postcolonial literature and intersectional identities. She is a freelance journalist, radical black feminist and superhero.

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