Archive for homophobia
Today is World AIDS Day, when people around the globe stop to reflect on those lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is almost in its third decade. While many people may associate the disease with white, gay men because they were one of the groups initially infected and affected by HIV and among the most political vocal about it, the fact is the epidemic has changed. Within the U.S., if you examine the epidemic across racial and ethnic groups, you will see that HIV/AIDS is not a disease that exclusively, or even primarily, affects whites. Blacks and Latinos are increasingly affected by the disease, as this graph based on 2007 CDC statistics illustrates:
The changing nature of the epidemic is even more striking when you include gender.Today, black women are the group with the highest rates of new HIV/AIDS infections. According to CDC:
- African American women account for a majority of new AIDS cases (66% in 2006); white women and Latina women account for 17% and 16% of new AIDS cases, respectively.
- African American women account for the largest share of new HIV infections among women (61% in 2006), an incidence rate nearly 15 times the rate among white women. (For more detailed look at statistics about the epidemic’s impact on African Americans, see: “Black Americans and HIV/AIDS” compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, opens PDF.)
During the first decade of the epidemic, most social science research focused on changing individual behavior (e.g., wearing condoms, using clean needles) as the primary intervention strategy to prevent HIV infection, these efforts often failed in the face of complex settings of social inequality. For example, telling a woman that her partner should wear a condom becomes a risky proposition if she is economically dependent on that man for survival and he sees the request to wear a condom as an affront of some kind. Thus, researchers and community activists interested in stopping the spread of the disease began to look at the dynamics of sexuality within a broader social and cultural factors.
Just as an increasing amount of research demonstrates that mothers who experience racism are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies, the experience of racism and sexism are part of the social and cultural factors affecting HIV/AIDS rates among African American women. One way to measure this combined racism and sexism, is to look at what national leaders have to say about the HIV/AIDS epidemic among black women. In 2004, when journalist and vice-presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill raised this important issue in the form of a question to then-candidates John Edwards and Dick Cheney, neither one could stammer out a coherent answer. It was clear that the alarming rates of HIV/AIDS among black women were simply not a concern for powerful political leaders (who also happened to be white men).
Some of the most exciting research that attempts to address this inequality is the pioneering intervention studies conducted by Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente of Emory University who, drawing on Connell’s gender and power theory, began to think differently about HIV prevention for young, black women. Wingood and DiClemente developed an intervention study for African American adolescent girls that used workshops that emphasized ethnic and gender pride along with the usual HIV-prevention information. Basically, the researchers included a consciousness-raising group about race and gender along with the usual health education information. These positive messages about racial and gender pride are important for enabling and empowering young, black women who encounter a layered burden of racism, sexism and often, poverty.
However, not all black women who are HIV-infected are poor, as several activists remind us. Marvelyn Brown, for example, diagnosed at age 19 with HIV/AIDS has become an outspoken proponent and visible spokesperson for HIV-prevention among young, black women. The author of Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive, Brown has won several awards for her activism. Rae Lewis-Thornton, diagnosed at age 23, was featured on the cover of Essence magazine in 1994 and described as, “I’m young, I’m educated, I’m drug-free, and I’m dying of AIDS.” It’s been fifteen years and, fortunately, Lewis-Thornton is still very much alive and an tireless activist. Yet, she struggles with the legacy of her diagnosis (powerful video interview with Lewis-Thornton here). And, young black women who are allies, are harnessing the power of new media to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, such as Karyn and Luvvie of the Red Pump Project.
The growing epidemic among black women in the U.S. reflects a global trend. The World Health Organization’s estimate (via AIDS.org) is that there are over three million women with HIV in the world, most of them in Africa. In fact, one in 50 women in sub-Saharan Africa is infected with HIV. AIDS is the leading cause of death for women ages 20-40 in major
cities in the Americas, Western Europe, and Africa. The fact that this disease is shape-shifting into one what disproportionately affects black women both here in the U.S. and globally raises important questions about whether or not we will, collectively, be able to put aside our racism (and sexism) to address this epidemic.
As you go to a service, attend a vigil, or just hold a good thought or observe a moment of silence on this World AIDS Day, reflect also on the ways that racism shapes the epidemic and who we lose because of it. If you care about racial and gender equality, you need to start paying attention to HIV/AIDS. IF you’re concerned about HIV/AIDS, you need to start learning about racism and sexism.
For more on the public health crisis affecting black women, you can watch this video (approximately 27 minutes) which features a discussion with C. Virginia Fields, President of National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Monica Sweeney, MD, Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Marvelyn Brown.
A series of recent hate crimes in the news make the case for the importance of understanding the intersections of racism with other forms of hatred based on identity.
- A gay African American sailor is killed at Camp Pendelton. The murder of August Provost, the gay African American sailor killed at Camp Pendelton, is being heralded by the gay blogosphere as an anti-gay hate crime. As such, Provost’s murder is taken as political fodder in the battle to repeal the unjust “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy implemented by Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, few in the gay blogosphere seem to be deploying an analysis which also takes Provost’s racial identity into account in this account. This is a missed opportunity, in my view, to build coalition across communities.
- A white San Diego man arrested in a series of attacks on Asian women. Thomas Parker, was arrested after a woman — who happened to be a marathon runner — fought off an attack in her garage and chased him down the street. She flagged down others driving nearby and an off-duty Border Patrol agent stopped at a traffic light joined in the chase and arrested Parker. According to police, Parker was linked through DNA and other evidence to a series six of similar home-invasion robberies and sexual assaults targeting Asian-American women over the past year. AngryAsianMan reports that Parker committed suicide before he could be brought to trial. Despite what appears to be a clear pattern of targeting Asian-American women, there’s little outcry from the public – and no action from police – to suggest that this was considered a ‘hate crime.’
- On July 13, the trial will begin in the murder of LaTeisha Green, a transgendered African American woman. LaTeisha Green was killed in November, 2008, and the trial of her alleged assailant, Dwight DeLee, was originally set to begin in June of this year. Yet, there’s been virtually no mainstream media attention on this hate crime. As TransGriot notes: “I guess if the victim is a Black transwoman, nobody gives a shit, especially if the trial is falling just before the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion that peeps who share Lateisha’s ethnic heritage helped jump off.” There’s still speculation about whether or not the prosecution will use a “trans panic” defense in the trial, but it’s clear that LaTeisha was killed for who she was.
As research has shown, hate crimes are worse crimes by definition because of that focus on identity. Each one of these crimes is a horrible tragedy in which a family somewhere has to plan a funeral for a loved one that was killed simply for who they were. And, to better understand them, we have to comprehend the ways that racism intersects with other forms of oppression.
Today is gay pride in New York City and it marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. What comes to mind when you think of gay pride? If you’re like most people, it’s an image of white, gay men. Just as in the dominant straight culture, image-making in the gay subculture has been dominated by white men who have constructed their own images. The reality is that there were Black and Latina women at the Stonewall on June 28, 1969, although you rarely hear about them. One of those people was Sylvia Rivera, a transgendered Latina (image of Sylvia Rivera, Fall, 1970 from NYPL Digital Gallery). Rivera, who identified as a “street transvestite” in the days before the neologism “transgendered,” was always clear about the connection between homophobia from straight society and the racism and class privilege within the gay community. See her, for example, this video interview.
When Sylvia Rivera passed away in 2002, her dying wish was that her community of faith, Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY), reach out to homeless LGBTQ youth. Today, MCCNY Charities maintains an overnight shelter, 365 days a year, for homeless queer youth in New York City. The shelter is called Sylvia’s Place and is part of Homeless Youth Services at MCCNY.
Since January of this year, photographer Josh Lehrer as been chronicling the lives of some of the transgendered teenagers that call Sylvia’s Place home. In a project he calls “Becoming Visible,” a series of 80 16-by-20-inch cyanotype portraits of these young people. Some of the photos are featured on The New York Times’ photography blog, Lens, and it’s worth your time to click through and look at the slide show. Are these the people you think of when you think of gay pride? Perhaps not until now.
We like to accent here resources for dealing with various forms of racism, sexism, and heterosexism ( photo credit: uwdigitalcollections). Leslie Aguilar has put together an important website and book that suggests various strategies for dealing with stereotyped and prejudiced commentaries and performances that you may encounter in your daily rounds.
The suggestions include responding to racist and other stereotyped comments from acquaintances or others with a simple reaction like, “ouch, that hurts” or “ouch, that stereotype hurts.” I have suggested similar modest counters such as, “what does that mean?” or “what did you mean by that?” Or “can you explain that joke to me?”
Such counters are important for several reasons, including the act of calling out the racist, sexist, or homophobic remark for what it is–that is noting the stereotyped image, notion, or emotion in such a remark and not letting it pass by unremarked upon. By calling it out, you often keep more such remarks from coming. Calling it out also may allow a further discussion about why that remark or joke hurt, and who was hurt. We need to build such actions into regular Stereotyping 101 and Racism 101 courses at all levels of U.S. schooling.
Try out his video preview here.
The Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services has just released a new report most comprehensive study of youth homelessness in New York City in decades was released recently, providing what some say is the first realistic account of one of the city’s most vulnerable and misunderstood populations. This is a subject near to my heart since I do a lot of volunteer work (and, in true sociological fashion, a research project) with these folks. The reason I mention this report here is that it’s both fascinating from a sociological standpoint, and deeply disturbing from a racial justice perspective. From a sociological research perspective, it’s a huge methodological challenge to even count homeless youth because they aren’t easily identifiable (on purpose) and they don’t conform to the prevailing cultural image of what a homeless person looks like. Here’s a relevant excerpt pulled from City Limits:
“One of the things young people are very good at is fitting in. It’s much harder to identify youth homeless on the street,” said Hirsch. She recalled one young homeless person who used to get dressed up to sleep on the subway, so as not to let on that he was homeless.
And, from a racial justice perspective, it’s telling that homeless kids are from “marginalized populations,” again from City Limits:
“One of the report’s most striking findings, say youth service professionals, is the significant overrepresentation of certain marginalized populations among the ranks of homeless youth in the city—particularly those who identify themselves either as black, or as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), or those who have experience in the foster care and criminal justice systems. Almost half of respondents identified as black and close to a third identified as homosexual or bisexual. More than a quarter reported time spent in foster care, jail or prison. ….Additionally, half of the young people interviewed for the report did not have a high school diploma or GED.”
There are a number of things to note here. Perhaps the first and most obvious is the total, systemic failure here of multiple institutions (economic, religious, familial, political, educational, criminal justice). To continue stating the obvious, these institutional failures have the strongest impact on those in society who are the weakest and most vulnerable – young people. In addition, there are lots of ways overlapping systems of oppression are at work here, including racism and homophobia. Unfortunately, the way this report is written it makes it sound like “black” and “LGBT” are separate categories – as if these kids are either black or LGBT – and as I and Adia have written about here before – this kind of “either/or” thinking doesn’t help clarify but rather clouds our understanding of the way oppression works. For my experience working with homeless kids who identify as LGBT here in New York City, they are overwhelming Black and Latino. Often times what this means is that these are kids who are not only pushed to the margins of society because of race and poverty, but they’ve also quite literally been pushed out of their families’ homes and onto the streets because of gender/sexuality, that is, because they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual or they are gender-non-conforming in one way or another.
In my view, religious institutions have a special burden to bear in perpetuating these overlapping and interlocking systems of oppression. It’s frequently the case that parents who have pushed their children out of the home and onto the streets refer to religious edicts or “God’s will” when doing so, citing highly-regarded religious leaders (even those formerly in the Hitler youth). Government institutions add to this burden as they refuse to fund places that house homeless LGBT-identified youth, citing the “lack of gender segregated facilities” as a reason. In a facility that houses Black and Latino youth, pushed out of their homes, pushed out of the traditional shelter system (where they often encounter violence based on gender-identity and/or homophobia), and frequently pushed out of foster care for not conforming to gender norms, it’s hard to know what meaningful purpose is served by offering a ‘gender segregated’ facility. (And, indeed, it would be hard to know how to enforce such segregation for people who embody a more complex gender identity than a simply binary of “either/or,” male/female.) So, it’s organizations like MCCNY, part of the world’s largest queer-organization (yes, a religious organization) and one of the rare racially-integrated social institutions in the U.S., that take up the slack here by opening their basement to allow a few kids each night to get off the streets and sleep inside, have a hot shower, and a meal. (Pictured here: an illustration of the disparity between the number of homeless LGBT kids each night in NYC and the number of available beds, photo credit: Jessie Daniels).
The further irony is that the racism, class-based elitism and well-founded anti-religious sentiment among most affluent and white gays and lesbians, makes private fund-raising for homeless LGBT kids that’s housed in a church a decidedly uphill struggle. Thus, kids of color who identify as LGBT face multiple vulnerabilities that are rooted in interlocking systems of oppression. The combination of racism and homophobia pushes many of these kids into further vulnerability for health risks and violent attacks, as this article explains:
“A nationwide study of homophobia in schools found that the majority of GLBTQ youth of color had experienced victimization in school because of either race or sexual identity in the last year, while half reported being victimized because of both race and sexual identity. More than a third of GLBTQ youth of color had experienced physical violence because of their orientation.”
The fact is that racism, poverty and homophobia are damaging. And, these damaging consequences are all the more telling in the lives of homeless youth in New York City.
There’s a wonderful documentary about civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, called “Brother, Outsider.” Rustin, of course, was one of the main organizers of the famous March on Washington where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” What’s mysteriously less well-known is that Rustin was also gay and this was widely known and mostly accepted by those in the civil rights movement, including Dr. King.
The invisibility of Rustin’s life is relevant, even crucial, for young black and brown gay men today, as Kai Wright poignantly demonstrates in his new book Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York (Beacon Press 2008). The young men in Wright’s book are coming up on the streets and are struggling to find “space” – both literal and metaphorical – to survive with little or no awareness that they are trodding a path similar to Rustin’s. There are plenty of adults who think in that terms like “Black” or “Brown” do not overlap with LGBTQ identity, and that has profound consequences for young peoples’ lives. On the streets of New York each night, there are thousands of homeless teens, and according to one recent report, approximately 40% of those kids identify as queer. What’s less widely reported is that fully two-thirds of the estimated 3,500 to 7,000 LGBTQ homeless youth in New York are African American or Latino. The combination of racism, homophobia, and street life leaves these kids vulnerable to a host of abuse, including being subjected to harassment, threats, and violence in homeless shelters that are geared toward a general homeless population. And, despite clear evidence that these kids is not adequately or safely served by general homeless programs, only 25 emergency shelter beds are dedicated specifically for LGBTQ youth in New York City. As Audre Lorde, Black feminist lesbian poet, and essayist (Sister Outsider), wrote: “Without community, there is no liberation.” With only a few days left in this Black History Month, we would do well to recall Audre Lorde’s and Bayard Rustin’s legacies and find a way to include these young people in our ‘beloved community. ‘
While this presidential campaign promises to be the most interesting in a number of years because of the hope of a “first” (first woman, first black) victory, and the end to the Bush regime, the news about politics-as-usual strategies of the campaigns offers somewhat disappointing evidence to dampen that hope. Bob Johnson, writing at Daily Kos, has an excellent post dissecting the Clinton campaign’s rather Machiavellian strategy to make race “THE issue” in the campaign. And, Pam lays bare the racism in NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s comment about “shuckin’ and jivin’,” in reference to Barack Obama’s performance at a press conference.
Of course, Clinton’s campaign gets accused of “playing the gender card” for showing emotion in a public appearance. Yet, there’s very little of her campaign rhetoric that seriously tries to draw attention to the overwhelming maleness of the power structure in this country, and God forbid anyone should use the word “patriarchy” to describe how the system works. I mean, that’s so 1983, right?
Yet, what enthusiasm I had for Obama’s candidacy suffered pretty serious damage with the whole McClurkin debacle back in November. So, you want to be a “uniter” Sen. Obama? How about calling up someone like Billy Porter, an out, proud, black gospel and Broadway performer to tour evangelical churches rather than someone who panders to homophobia?
What’s really so very retro- about both Hillary’s and Barack’s campaign’s are the old-school way of thinking about race / gender / sexuality as existing in separate containers, separate silos, if you will. And that kind of thinking doesn’t work in the real world of lived experience and it doesn’t work in terms of thinking sociologically about the world.
In terms of lived experience, Jen over at Feministing, points out how thinking of “Obama = race” and “Clinton = gender” effectively excludes her experience as a black woman. And, just to do the extended race/gender math here, Obama is still a (straight) man and Clinton is still heterosexual and white. No one lives their lives as the embodiment of just one of these identity categories, as convenient as that might be for the mass media production of story lines.
And, in terms of thinking about these categories sociologically, the discipline of sociology has, until very recently, been part of the problem. Traditionally, sociology as a discipline has been interested in class, race, gender and sexuality within separate and sequential silos of knowledge. The study of class and political economy can be traced to the origins of the discipline with Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Almost as early, but rarely acknowledged, is the sociological research on race by pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois. Much later to the sociological table was research about gender, such as Arlene Daniels (1975) and sexuality, such as Laud Humphreys (1975). The Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s for racial equality and women’s rights (and to some extent gay and lesbian rights movements) provided scholar-activists with the prerequisites for transforming the academy, and sociologists involved in these social movements worked to create new academic institutions, journals, courses and entire bodies of knowledge. Similarly, social movements of the early 1990s organized in response to the AIDS crisis, such as ACT UP and Queer Nation, galvanized the gay and lesbian social movement to recognize and be more inclusive of bisexual, transgender and queer people. Once again, scholar-activists involved in these social movements challenged the dominant discourses of sociology, in particular, feminist sociology.
It has only been in the last twenty years that pioneers in sociology like Patricia Hill Collins, Bonnie Thornton Dill, Margaret Andersen and others have started asking difficult questions about precisely how race, class, gender and sexuality are interwoven. Of course, some may argue that it’s necessary to pull out one dimension of oppression and domination to analyze, and that may well be necessary at strategic points in time. However, I don’t see that kind of strategic necessity being deployed in the current political campaign. Instead, what I see is a devolution into decades-old discredited debates about hierarchies of oppression, about “who has it worse” the blacks, or the women, or the gays? None of this is useful or edifying, and informed citizenry should demand better from their so-called leaders.