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Saturday marked the beginning of Hotter Than July 2008, a celebration of being out and proud in the black LGBT community. But the celebrations taking place all this week are only a reality for some, while others live a different truth: that many black, gay men are, or at least feel, unable to come out.
Recently, Affirmations held a showing of the “DL Chronicles,” which tells the stories of black men who live double lives – one where they’re straight and one on the “down-low,” where they cannot deny their homosexuality. Some of these men are even boyfriends and husbands to women, and their fictional stories are not unlike the reality that some black, gay men experience.
It’s an issue that affects the men afflicted by it in many ways, causing them mental anguish and stress. It can even lead to unforeseen health problems, such as HIV that goes undiagnosed and untreated. With their sexuality kept a secret, these men have nowhere to look for support or help.
They are unable to celebrate who they are – something that many in the gay community enjoy, but something no one should ever take for granted. Though today’s youth are often more willing to be open to their friends, family and society about their sexuality, many people can remember – and still experience – what it is like to have to hide who they are.
Author Terrance Dean wrote about being on the down-low in the hip-hop scene, and voices hope that if and when a hip-hop artist does come out, he will be met with the same acceptance that Dean experienced himself after coming out. Dean knows what it’s like to live on the down-low, and his story is an inspiring one to those who are still closeted.
Unfortunately, it’s a reality that many will never experience.
Yes, Hotter Than July is a celebration. But it’s also an important and highly visible sign. Events celebrating black gay pride show men who are unable to come out that there is a community for them; that there are friends who will accept them and that it’s OK to be out. More than OK – it’s something to rejoice.
It’s a function of every pride that is sometimes overlooked, but is crucial for those who have yet to come out and are living a life that is not necessarily true to who they are. But while its important for every person to see that they will be accepted for who they are, it is especially critical for this subset of black, gay men who live their lives on the down-low.
It’s wonderful that so many people are able to take part in prides, but it’s important not to forget that there are still people who can’t participate, whether it is because of their culture, their religion, their family or any other number of complicated reasons. Those of us who are able to be out and be accepted should use this privilege to show those who aren’t that if the time comes, we will be waiting with open arms.