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By Imani Williams
It is 2007 and many people still have a hard time naming a person of African descent who is openly same gender loving. For some people the task is arduous because they find the entire topic unsettling. Many others remain unsure of the proper etiquette in naming someone who may not be totally out. Therein lies the problem. When a person is unable due to personal scrutiny or the fear of being scrutinized by others to be free about who they are from the inside out it, can cause a loss of love for oneself as well as for others who dare to be open about themselves.
Over the last few years different organizations, community groups and individuals have put in print persons of African descent who were known to be at least in some circles both black and gay. Named along with their contributions to society this country and their individual communities the list has included artists, entertainers, scholars, and all professions in between.
There are educated and religious people today who due to personal blinders are unable to phantom some of our more widely known heroes and sheros possibly being sgl. When asked to name persons on the black history list who have made significant contributions to the arts, education and civil rights movement many names arise. When you query the same people about the contributions of persons who are black and gay you may be met with silence and a raised eyebrow.
No doubt the excessive and extreme homophobia that has existed in communities of color for decades hinders the minds of many to the point that they are unable to grasp the concept that through everyday living sgl people achieved and contributed to community and the world.
Teaching is one profession that would see significant strides if homophobia was not an ever present force. Schoolteachers have long been revered in our community as holding the key to freedom for our youth. They are charged with the task of opening the discussion to explore possibilities, and to help mold young minds to the inherent belief that they can accomplish whatever they work hard for. Amid segregation, Jim Crow, integration, bussing, overcrowding, lack of resources, and anti affirmative action legislation teachers have keep the drumbeat going for our youth.
It is not an easy task to feel good about yourself without access to positive images of people that look like you. In the early 1970’s African-American students began to see images of themselves in school text books. The new books used in urban settings included stories of the Black experience at least on some level. This replaced in some areas the more typical “Leave it to Beaver” and, “See Jane and Spot” books which were pretty much void of any mention or interaction with persons of color. The whitewashed books that many of us learned to read on lacked contributions of persons of color in all aspects literature, social studies, the arts etc.
Imagine the impact on youth if sgl people and allies alike got together and went to Washington, D.C., to lobby and a mandate was issued for inclusion and representation of sgl people in K-12 textbooks, bulletin boards, showcases, and classroom discussions. Chances are high that you would have a good number of teachers, administrators, school social workers and counselors who would feel protected in coming out as part of the educational experience. They in turn would be able to serve as resources and walking history/herstory makers as they engaged their charges in discussions around civil and global issues that would empower students politically to get involved in issues knowing that they can make a difference while being comfortable in their sgl skin.
This would be possible because in your English class as you completed readings, and book reports students could talk about the literary contributions of writers like Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin, including that they were in fact strong black gay men who made their mark in uncertain times. Audre Lorde could be studied and discussed long before a person reaches the age of consent and sits in on his or her first women’s studies course at the university level. True facts wouldn’t have to be omitted during essay writing and the subsequent reading. Young scholars could recite at the beginning or at that the end of their findings that Sojourner Truth was what we would call today bi-attracted and that she spent significant time in a Free Love Commune in upstate New York. Points would not be taken off a person’s paper for making reference to such.
LGBT youth would be able to stand in class and recite poems without judgment from their peers about who they are and how unique their experience has been as they find their way and place being both a person of color and sgl. You would hear stories told by confident young people as they expressed themselves in the glory of self acceptance and the feeling that comes when the weight of self oppression is removed. Learning to love self is a history lesson we can all benefit from.