I originally wrote this piece in early 2013. It was rejected by the publication to which I submitted it. Reflecting on Michael Sam's 2016 comments about racism in the gay community, I thought that was the time to finally dust it off and publish it here. From my perspective, not much has changed. Not incidentally, I do not exclude myself from any of this. I can do better.
With Very Heavy Quotes
"Would you be friends with a racist?"
That was the question posed by a friend at dinner the night before we visited the White House together. The chance to sip egg nog and shake hands with the first black President had brought us to Washington DC and together for a meal that night. But inclusion was not the drink of choice.
My friend had been raving about his hatred for gay Republicans. He would never be friends with one of them. Ever. I told him I didn't base my friendships on religion or politics or anything other than how good, and how fun, the person was.
His ultimate challenge was to ask if I'd be friends with a racist.
"It depends on how that racism manifests itself," I said.
What? How could you say that? How could you ever consider being friends with someone who discriminates against people because of their skin color? That's disgusting!
He was so high on his horse, I thought he was going to throw his martini in my face.
During appetizers, he had mentioned an annual holiday party he and his partner would be hosting later that weekend with about 60 friends.
"How many of those 60 guests are black?" I asked him.
His face turned whiter than it already was.
"That's not racism," he protested. "Racism is the people who hate the President because he's black or use ‘the N word'." A guest list to a party isn't racism, he said.
But ‘tis, Blanche, ‘tis.
I was reminded of this over and over throughout the holidays. One particular evening we attended two (rather gay) house parties. All told we saw over 100 people that night. Some were female, but most were male. Ages ranged from early 20s to 50s. I talked to Jews, Christians and atheists. They were white, Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern.
Not a single one was black. Not one.
These same people who have virtually no black friends flew to battleground states to campaign for Barack Obama. They don't miss an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. They love the black actors on TV and the artists on the court and on stage at the Staples Center.
Yet when it comes to the people they spend their time with, the people they invite into their homes, none (or very, very few) are black. They're Asian, Hispanic, white and Indian, but not black.
These are not people who hate or dislike black people. They would never engage in explicit racism by calling someone "The N Word" or degrading someone openly for their skin color (unless they were far too pasty for the beach).
But there is a tacit racism that thrives in many corners of our (heavy quotes) "gay community." And nobody's talking about it. Heck, most people don't even see it.
Those of us in New York and Los Angeles, DC and San Francisco have grown accustomed to pointing at everywhere else and saying, "They're the problem. That's where the racism is in this country." You can understand why: Folks in "flyover country" often make it easy. States like Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri top lists of post-election racist tweets. This explicit racism is damaging, to be sure.
But what affects a black gay man in Los Angeles more: Some redneck in Birmingham taking to Facebook to call the President a "The N Word," or being socially ignored by members of the (more heavy quotes) "gay community" in his own city?
Why do white gay men in a love affair with a black president have so few black people in their lives? Part of it is the reason these same folks have so few overweight people at their parties: Sexual attraction.
Many gay men associate exclusively with those they find attractive. If you're tall, white, fit and young, you have no shortage of social engagements. If you're short, black and overweight, the invitations to parties in the Hollywood Hills simply aren't flooding through your inbox. Because most gay men are white, and because most of those men are largely attracted to other white men, the black members of our (even heavier quotes) "community" get pushed to the side. It may not be pretty to read, but it's the truth, and it's part of what's behind the dynamic.
While it might be easy to dismiss this as a problem of the stereotypically vapid, looks-obsessed Angelenos that folks in other cities like to dance in their heads, did you know that a black person has never been named the head of a major national LGBT organization (that doesn't specifically deal with race)? Not GLAAD, not HRC, not GLSEN, not Lambda Legal, not the Trevor Project...not one. Ever. Marjorie Hill is executive director of New York City's GMHC. That's as close as we get. (UPDATE: This has since changed, as Aisha Moodie-Mills is now head of the Victory Fund).
This problem is not just thriving in a city on the West Coast: It's everywhere.
I'm no exception to this. Our house parties may be proudly multi-racial, but I can't help but see race from time to time. I do what I can to not let it affect me, and it affects me in only rare moments. When it does, I catch it and take a different course. It's not often, but, sadly, it's there.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the corner of the "gay community" I've found the least tacit racism is sports. In sports, it doesn't matter what you look like, it only matters how fast you run, how well you hit the ball, or how often you make the catch. For the same reason straight athletes will accept a gay teammate, white gay athletes welcome anyone who can play and play well.
So, would I be friends with a racist? I already am. And so are you. If we weren't, we would have no friends. It's in every one of us, whether we want to admit it or not. And while we may not like to hear it, it's called "racism."
Individually, we've got to stop letting it affect how we function in our private lives; Together, we've got to stop it from, in part, defining our "community" the way it presently does.
Until we do that, we'll never be able to get rid of the heavy quotes.