We Are "Dysfunctional"
(on gay racsim among gays themselves)
By: Ann C.
The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community is one of the most diverse populations because homosexuality transcends ethnicities. It exists in every culture, and has been documented in ancient societies. Lesbians and gays have been victimized through hate crimes, and discriminatory policies that often deny homosexuals the basic civil liberties awarded to heterosexuals. Organizations, such as the American PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and the Lebanese Helem, speak out against hate and violence towards members of the gay population. Despite the experience of homophobia, the gay community is not immune to racism and other forms of bigotry.
Lesbians and gays of color often suffer from invisibility in the community, and many do not attend lesbian and gay events because they feel they are not welcome. One Eurasian lesbian shares her experience:
“I went to a lesbian bar with a white ex-girlfriend, and straightaway some white women started a table conversation about me, supposedly not directed at me, but deliberately loud enough so I could hear. They said, "She can't be a lesbian; she's Asian!" (ColorQWolrd)
While this blatant display of racism may not be the typical experience, it illustrates that racism and invisibility is an issue faced by non-white lesbians and gays. Another example is the experience of a black woman who was celebrating the birth of her child:
“[My friend's partner] had a baby and [my friend] sent pictures of the family to the gay-lesbian-bisexual-Tran-gendered email list community we were a part of. (Now [my friend] is African and Native American and is very, very dark indeed, but her partner who is African and European, appears European, and so did the infant at birth)
Not a single person responded with any congratulations. Oh well, I thought, maybe they congratulated her in private, like I did. Then a week later, an European/European American lesbian couple also had a baby. They too sent their pictures to the mailing list, and within 10 minutes the mail was sent, a barrage of congratulatory emails was flying from the gays and lesbians on the list.” (ColorQWorld)
The lack of support provided by other members of the LGBT mailing list is disturbing and illustrates that racism is subtle and deeply imbedded in the minds of even those who experience discrimination.
In addition to racism, classism, is common in the LGBT community. Classism is the judgment of persons based on their social or economic status. Generally speaking, people form relationships and spend the most time with people who are in their same social or economic class. This is true for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. A common stereotype of gay men is that they are all wealthy, educated and belonging to the upper or middle class. As a stereotype, this automatically forces invisibility on gay men who belong to the working class. In an article investigating the presence of classism in LGBT circles, Nick Sellers asserts that “visibility is a class privilege (1995). He goes on to say that financial security and educational opportunities create a shield of protection to middle and upper class gays that is not awarded to gays of the working class (Sellers 1995). Often times those of the working class have a harder time finding allies which makes it more difficult to lead an openly gay life.
The experience of working class gays, however, is not limited to stereotypes that exist outside of the gay community. The term “rough exchange” is used in the gay community to refer to a man of middle or upper class who has a sexual experience with a man of a lower class (Sellers 1995). The term suggests that men who sleep with men from a lower social class are not doing so out of love and respect, but rather for a (excuse our language), quick f*ck.
Despite the inherent diversity that exists in the gay community, the LGBT population is not immune to the racism and prejudice that exists in mainstream society. The experience of non-white lesbians and gays illustrates that discrimination penetrates even a community that is united under a common experience. The LGBT community often refers to other lesbians and gays as family, but until all lesbians and gays feel that they receive the same support regardless of ethnic background or economic status, this family remains “dysfunctional!”.