James BaldwinAllan Warren

A black gay person who is a sexual conundrum to society is already, long before the question of sexuality comes into it, menaced and marked because he’s black or she’s black. The sexual question comes after the question of colour; it’s simply one more aspect of the danger in which all black people live.” James Baldwin, interviewed by Richard Goldstein in 1984.

My ‘coming out’ story is bitter but sweet. I was forcibly and dramatically ‘outed’ to my mother the day after my father’s funeral. Between the moment I realised I was about to be exposed, and the moment “Jason is a homosexual!” was exclaimed, was a mental odyssey through the snapshots of the queer life I’d so far lived in secret. From the nights I claimed I was going to XOYO but was going to Heaven, to sending thirst traps to crushes on Snapchat, to watching queer couples on Youtube in an incognito browser.

My mother’s instant reaction was a demand for prayer and conversion. To my surprise, this was dropped within an hour. I was embraced and told that I am loved, and that I will always be loved. My mother was upset because she knew that the plight of a black person in a white supremacist world was hard enough and, wanting the best for her child, was wary of the further difficulties which come with being gay.

“Whenever my white friends compelled me to “be honest” with my parents, I would always dismiss it as a fast-track to homelessness”

I think most people of colour remember being told the necessity of working ‘twice as hard’ for ‘half’ of the advantages that white people receive. Children of colour may sometimes internalise a respectability politic as armour against racial oppression. Yet for those of us who are both racialised and queer this is made more complicated as we face rejection at home, as well as racism and queerphobia. I always wonder if I would have come out to my mother on my own terms. Whenever my white friends compelled me to 'be honest' with my parents, I would always dismiss it as a fast-track to homelessness. After all, LGBT+ people comprise 24 per cent of the youth homelessness population. But what I have realised is that, although stereotypes suggest otherwise, black families aren’t necessarily any more homophobic than white families.

My activist conscience reminds me that my parents grew up in Nigeria, a country still operating under British-implemented colonial laws which denounced sodomy as ‘against the order of nature.’ The systemic erasure of queerness in complex and diverse West African cultures is one of the understated robberies of colonialism. Sexual and gendered diversity was politicised and moralised, resulting in a view that being black or African and being queer are separate modes of existence. They’re not. My middle name ‘Osamede’ reminds me of that: like most Edo names, it is gender neutral, pointing to a time before heteronormativity and cisnormativity.

Queerness is not at conflict with being black or African, but rather native to it. My blackness and queerness are inseparable, yet black queerness remains a negotiated identity. My reference to Baldwin details one of his only public statements about sexuality. In his activism he was compelled to minimise his queerness. On the Dick Cavett Show in 1968, when speaking about his mistrust for White America, Baldwin, a gay man, highlighted the danger of “risking myself, my wife, my woman… my children.” It is a fact, often overlooked, that for Baldwin’s activism to be seen as valuable to the movement he was forced to appeal to cis-heteronormative, patriarchal ideals about family.

In the same way, Bayard Rustin, Dr Martin Luther King’s gay right-hand man, wrote in an essay in 1987 that his sexuality was, “not a problem for Dr. King but a problem for the movement.” Today, even though the Black Lives Matter movement was started by queer black women, to centre queerness within racial justice narratives is often painted as divisive and selfish.

Yet there is an identical narrative within LGBT+ activism. There are attempts to commit queer people of colour to silence whenever issues surrounding racism and racial hierarchy are voiced, for the sake of the ‘greater good’ of dismantling homophobia and heteronormativity and transphobia and cisnormativity. Where does it leave queer people of colour, when we are simultaneously told to leave our race at home if we want to fight for LGBT+ rights, and to abnegate our queerness so as not to be divisive in racial equality movements?

This is my motivation for writing a column which focuses on queer black experiences. Centring the experiences of queer people of colour, both in activism and culture, affirms that our queerness and our racial identity are inseparable. It demands the challenging of hierarchies established within minority groups, and marks our refusal to be erased in history. It is necessary and revolutionary.

I always return to Baldwin’s interview with Goldstein to remind myself that in the face of racism, queerphobia and erasure – queer people of colour continue to exist. This resilience and survival is a form of ordinary magic within extraordinary people. I’ve made it my mission for the summer to queerify and black-out my surroundings, so I am going to be engaging with Audre Lorde as an unapologetic black feminist, reading Langston Hughes’s poetry and reinvigorating my love affair with Frank Ocean. And I am hoping this column is my contribution, however small, to the influence and activation of queer people of colour to be resolute in their identities and vocal in their opinions