You're Not "Conscious" If You're a Homophobe

by Anna Gibson

I’ve always considered myself “woke.” I’m an avid reader of history and because of this, I became aware of the forces that oppress black and brown people at a very young age. My parents introduced me to books like Introduction to African Civilization by John J. Jackson and From Babylon to Timbuktu by Rudolph R. Windsor when I was just ten years old. I thrived on the information I found in these books. However, at some point, I lost my way, and I can’t say that life in my teens and early 20’s was a reflection of the ideas I learned back then.

I decided to dive back into what it truly means to be conscious in the past six months. I’ve devoured books like When the World Was Black by Dr. Supreme Understanding and Maat: Guided Principles to Moral Living by KMT University Press. It’s like I’m a kid again. I can’t stop reading about my history and speaking to people of like minds who are interested in eradicating racism and all its subsequent effects on our people and our communities.

However, I was hurt by what I found in many of the major texts of the conscious community. Much of the community didn’t seem to accept me as a lesbian woman and would regulate my black womanhood to a secondary role within the movement. Many men in the “conscious” BLM community are masterful at hiding deep-seated homophobia and misogyny behind their “concern for the state of the black family,” avoidance of the “effeminization of the black man,” and protecting their “Queens” at all costs.

On the contrary, what I’ve found is that men in the BLM movement only define me as a queen when I fit into their narrow idea of femininity. They only find me respectable if I maintain a standard they can control. I’ve found myself in a number of perplexing situations. One brother practiced polygamy, but the moment one of his wives decided to get another lover she was a whore, simply for doing the same thing he did. I’ve been told I needed “correction,” as though I were a child who is disgraceful and completely out of line because I’m attracted to women. I’ve been dismissed, disregarded, and held in contempt. I’ve been judged and told I need to repent by the same individuals who claim that black and brown people need to throw off the religion of their slave masters and embrace who they truly are.

As this clip from Umar Johnson demonstrates, many of the foremost leaders of the black community would attempt to prove that we (women and the LGBTQIA community) hate the opposite sex for being who we are. Johnson often speaks about “treating” people in the LGBTQIA community as if we have a disease. He also makes hateful comments toward single black mothers, saying that they “castrate black boys and wonder why they grow into gay men.”

However, despite his rampant homophobia and misogyny he claims to love all African American people. This fear lies in the inability to understand the contributions that LGBTQIA people and black women have made to the civil rights and black power movements.

An interesting dynamic reveals the origins of misogyny and homophobia in the community. It illuminates a deep-seated fear of black men in the “conscious” community. I think Dr. Umar’s comments against single mothers and lesbians reflect a question that seems to be implied in black male anger against black women: What about me?

You see this question in many forms in the black conscious community, whether you hear about black men disparaging trans women, black men condemning lesbians, or black men hating gay men. A man is hated if he “behaves like a woman,” on one hand, but if a woman isn’t “his” it also becomes a serious problem. This is an issue of ownership and contempt, both of which serve as the foundation for misogyny, and the rejection of the LGBTQIA conscious community. This hatred is what’s REALLY meant in some of this discourse when we hear “Black women NEED black men,” and why men feel rejected enough to feel castrated when they aren’t involved.

If you need an example of this misogyny all you need to do check out articles on For Harriet’s comment threads, specifically the ones about LGBTQIA issues and love. You’ll see that while many men are completely silent about articles on the deaths of black women, they will come up at arms when conversations around LGBTQIA love and identity are centered and the discussion isn’t about them.

Dr. Umar Johnson’s misogyny and homophobia isn’t an isolated case. The issue is much bigger than him. The truth is, you can’t be concerned with the freedom of our people from oppression while excluding a large portion of our people. Black Lives Matter explicitly means that ALL black lives matter. If you throw out any portion of our people based on fear and ignorance, YOU don’t belong in the movement. For years LGBTQIA people have fought for have our freedom from the labyrinth of structural racism, and we will continue to do so because people of the Black diaspora need us.

Because of the ignorance outlined above, it’s understandable that many LGBTQIA people and women (God forbid if you’re both) may enter the Black Lives Matter movement and feel attacked on all sides. This is incredibly damaging, because quite frankly, we love our people and want to make sure they know who they are and how much of a powerful impact they can have on the world. I know how easy it is to become discouraged. You shouldn’t internalize misogyny or homophobia. Instead we should take time out to understand the common arguments against women and LGBTQIA community as well as further outline the origins of homophobia and misogyny within the movement.

People in BLM claim that the LGBTQIA conscious community are a “danger to BLM” and promote “black genocide.” On the contrary, I would posit that our unity can only be a danger the very establishment that oppresses us. The civil rights and black power movements didn’t collapse just because they gave LGBTQIA people a platform. LGBTQIA inclusion actually strengthened us. This can be proven by taking a look at some of the elders that helped place black liberation at the forefront of America’s consciousness.

Bayard Rustin was a prominent organizer that helped organize many of the events that made Dr. King’s platform possible. He was the mind behind the March on Washington and many of the sit-ins that occurred in the 1960’s civil rights movement. He wasn’t in the closet either. In an era that openly criminalized the LGBTQIA community and shunned women, he openly advocated for the rights of both. That level of fearlessness and tenacity in the face of adversity is exactly what we need in the BLM movement.

Alice Walker is another prominent writer. Her seminal work the Color Purple centered on such issues as bisexuality, domestic violence and revolution. Walker was also known for participating in the March on Washington and makes it a point to put out the inequities experienced by black community in her poetry and public speeches. Should her work be thrown away because of who she loves?

Some would claim that others would have come along and done the same thing if these powerful men and women didn’t, but this is a logical fallacy. We can’t deal with what could have been, since it didn’t happen. It can’t be denied that the elders I just mentioned—and many others—made extensive contributions to the movement, and we wouldn’t be where we are without their influence. If we’d rejected them on the basis of sexual orientation, identity, or gender, we would be missing out on a huge aspect of the liberation of our people.

Our ancestor Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, offers us insight into the primary insecurities that drive most “conscious men”. In his speech, “A Letter to the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters About The Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements,” he states:
We should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion, whatever your insecurities are. I say ‘whatever your insecurities are’ because as we very well know, sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. We want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we are afraid that we might be homosexual; and we want to hit the woman or shut her up because we are afraid that she might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start with. 
We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and feelings for all oppressed people. We must not use the racist attitude that the White racists use against our people because they are Black and poor.
Newton was one of the few people in the Black Power Movement that openly reflected on its homophobia and misogyny. He even went as far as recognizing his own bias in the same speech and recognizing that rejecting us will do more harm than good.

In short, I would urge many members of the BLM movement to take an honest appraisal as to why they feel so threatened by the LGBTQIA and feminist communities, as Newton did. You aren’t protecting the conscious community. Instead, you’re wasting valuable time and energy rejecting a part of our people who contribute gems to black liberation and perpetuating the same cycles of oppression that holds us back as a people.

To my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters, let the track records of our elders speak for themselves and empower you to further action. You have a place in the BLM movement, even if you’re ridiculed for being who you are and loving who you love. Continue to lead our people to liberation and serve as an example to our brothers and sisters in the movement. Let it be known that unity is the key to success, and division will only lead to failure in the struggle against white supremacy.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University who’s currently immersed in African Studies. You can catch up with her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook where she’s hiding in plain sight.

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