By: Terrence Chappell
I’ve grown well aware of who I am and other people’s responses to that; whether I’m a gay man, a black man or a gay, black man. I’m even aware of myself as a Southsider, which brings its share of perceptions, misconceptions and sheer stupidity at times. As editor-at-large of ChicagoPride.com, one of the city’s leading LGBT entertainment and news websites, my job is to cover and encourage readers to check out places, events and people of interest outside of typical, mainstream LGBT neighborhood and nightlife destinations. From charity galas Downtown and on the Gold Coast, private, live DJ sets in Wicker Park, and brand launch cocktail parties to fashion designers’ holiday parties in NYC and NYC fashion week, I’ve been given the privilege to cover and party with an array of people and events. I don’t wear my identity on my shoulder, nor do I care to treat it as an intrinsic badge of honor for those to bow down to; however it is who I am. Therefore, it does travel with me. Out of all my travels, I have never quite witnessed nor experienced such segregation, negativity, toxic energy, and manifestations of low self-esteem as I have in Boystown. There’s no secret that race relations are strained in the LGBT community. So, you can call it racism or discrimination, but at the end of the day it’s just hate. I mean, an asshole is an asshole.
My story of growing up in the city as a gay, black man is a bit different. I was never bullied as a kid. I enjoyed high school, adored college and have always managed to find a sense of community among my friends and family. My parents raised me around an assortment of people of varying classes, races, religions and political affiliations. I was cool with the kids in my hood, hung out with the suburban kids from my high school and would make weekend trips to the Northside to party with kids whose parents were friends with my family. So, I’ve been the token. Hell, I was even the token in the neighborhood I grew up in because I attended private school. I’ve never quite fit in, and I’m okay with that, but still managed to find a sense of community in whatever environment I was in at the moment. Needless to say, I have yet to find a sense of community in Boystown and it’s directly linked to my race.
I don’t have a natural deviation or hate for Boystown. I’m not anti-Boystown. I actually love to indulge in a little Sunday funday in Boystown. My problem is with some of the people and their backwoods views the neighborhood attracts. Racial discrimination in social settings can be a difficult thing to gauge or prove. That person could just be having a bad day or perhaps they just have a rude disposition. Not to mention, the days of whites-only are over, but in some ways are subliminal. However, I have overheard racist conversations; have been addressed in derogatory ways and even have had to work with people who don’t know they might be a little racist.
“We are clearly the superior race,” said a white man as he walks into a popular Boystown establishment.
“You’re from the scary Southside,” said a white man to me.
“I’m so happy we left Minibar. They were having a party for black gay pride,” said a white man to his friend.
“You’re a nigger,” said a white man to me out of anger.
All of the above have either been said to me or I have overheard in Boystown. I’m not quick to call a person a racist, but the above comments don’t help one’s case. I could care less about the Abercrombie & Fitch types that treat their chosen nightlife venue like a popular high school girl takes to her table in the cafeteria. All the douchey profiles on gay social networking websites don’t register on my radar. But I can’t ignore and brush off the above comments and similar ones. Such comments are not only flagrantly offensive but completely ruin a sense of community for LGBT members of color, which after so many occurrences could create a whites-only atmosphere in what’s suppose to be a welcoming neighborhood for all members of the LGBT community regardless of their race. I’m not saying that other places and neighborhoods are Utopia, but I have never experienced or witnessed such raw bigotry in any of the events, people or places that I have covered for my job. I work for an LGBT-focused website, and I don’t feel all that comfortable in Boystown because I’m black. Because of that, it makes it difficult to relate and identify with the LGBT community. I realize that the LGBT community is so much more than Boystown, but such bigoted views are found across the board. So, honestly, partly because of such expressed views, I identify much more as a black man than as a gay man. Obviously, socially this is detrimental for the LGBT community. Politically, it’s just as detrimental.
I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there, and they’re out there — and I think they’re scum, — are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color. -Dan Savage
I admire and love Savage’s work. However, I disagree with the above statement. Why should the black community leverage their resources, power and people to support a community that discriminates against gay, black men? I can’t help but to think in some ways the black community is being used. Okay, so socially we’re unwelcomed, but the minute you need our votes, we should band together as one community. You can’t have it both ways. Just like marriage equality is a hot cause, race relations in the LGBT community should be on the same level. I realize you can’t write into law for people to change their views or to be nice. However, we simply cannot move forward politically as an LGBT community when other LGBT members of color aren’t even acknowledged, discriminated against or even targeted.
I don’t expect this letter to trigger a widespread change in the LGBT community in regards to race relations. I’m not holding my breathe for that Kumbaya moment. Even through hateful comments and situations of racial discrimination, either socially or more institutionally, I still have faith in the LGBT community. I’m an optimist, and I’m confident that there are more leaders, allies, LGBT community members and organizations that have and will continue to act as watchdogs for their minority counterparts. I absolutely love my work with ChicagoPride.com and have found a sense of community in my work with the website. I look forward to acting as a vehicle for the change I want to see in the LGBT community. We are a resilient and strong community that has thrived and flourished through the ugliest and worst. We are way too good for something so silly as racism to tear us a part. I still do challenge people to call others out when they witness such bigotry. This is not an okay thing to have in what is supposed to be a welcoming community; remember the LGBT community is still a minority one. And to those that perpetuate such bigotry, well, natural selection will take its toll.