Robin Roberts Loosens Grip on Black Homophobia

While I will continue to argue that the African American community doesn’t have a patent on homophobia, it certainly has a problem with it.

Black homophobia still has a deadly hold on African American life. And while I would like to say its oppressive grip only impacts gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people of African descent, in truth, black homophobia maims the entire community.

For example, to date more than a quarter of a million African Americans have died of AIDS — both straight and gay.

There are many persistent social and economic factors contributing to the high rates of the epidemic in the African American community — racism, poverty, health care disparity, violence, to name just a few — but the biggest attitudinal factor still contributing to the epidemic and showing no sign of abating is homophobia.

The community’s expression of its intolerance of GLBT people is easily seen along gender lines. For instance, sisters mouth off about us while brothers get both — verbally and physically — violent with us.

“My son better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I’ll pull out a knife and stab that little n-gger to death,” Tracy Morgan, comedian and former actor on NBC’s 30 Rock, told his audience at the Ryman Auditorium in 2011.

So, whenever there’s an opportunity to applaud and/or celebrate a person’s coming out moment — especially when it’s from a high-profile black celebrity, athlete or mega star—it helps loosens black homophobia’s persistent sharp teeth buried in our collective flesh and hold on the community.

And we had one such moment with one of America’s beloved newscasters. Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts recently came out, using a Facebook post to publicly announce what we all already knew.

The Obamas — both Barack and Michelle — congratulated Roberts with Michelle gleefully tweeting, “I am so happy for you and Amber! You continue to make us all proud.”

While many Americans across the country felt the way the Obamas did about Roberts’ admission, there were others who felt that a personal congratulation to Roberts, especially coming from President Obama, was not warranted and highlighted “divisiveness” rather than inclusion.

“That message of inclusion is missing in this country, as demonstrated by the President’s odd decision to make a news event out of a person being gay. Such solicitous affection is creepy and divisive. It’s like gushing over someone with a deformity. Most people don’t want to be patronized; they just want to be treated like everyone else,” Wendy Murphy wrote in a Patriot Ledger op-ed titled, “It’s Fine To Be Gay, But Is It GREAT?”

Murphy, an ex-prosecutor and an adjunct professor at New England Law, is a local legal pundit celeb. She’s also white and heterosexual, and has at least one GLBT friend or acquaintance (I know this because Murphy told me before we suited up to appear on Boston’s local TV show, Greater Boston, to discuss her opposing views that perhaps she should have first run by someone gay).

“If the President and his wife want to use their bully pulpit to influence social norms, they should be congratulating people not because they’re gay, but because they did something meaningful for society, without regard for personal risk or gain. Robin Roberts may well deserve that kind of attention, but we’ll never know because the Obamas were thinking more about politics than humanity when Roberts got a presidential salute,” Murphy continued.

Oddly, Murphy isn’t alone with this view. There were also many GLBT’s who felt similar to Murphy, especially with us now in an era of acceptance of GLBT people in news broadcasting like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, former weather anchor on ABC’s Good Morning America Sam Champion, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her colleague Thomas Roberts, to name a few.

Murphy, like so many others, are befuddled about the President’s brouhaha with Roberts’ coming out disclosure, since he has used his bully pulpit for that very purpose by legislating on behalf of GLBT civil rights—like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and the repeal of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), to name a few.

Roberts has overcome a lot — in 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 2012 with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease of the bone marrow. And now black homophobia’s grip on her.

What Murphy and others also miss in their condemnation of the Obamas’ perceived gratuitous applaud of Roberts’ coming out announcement is how the intersectionality of white queer racism, elitism and sexism not only framed the legislations Obama signed on behalf of GLBT civil rights, but how it also shaped which GLBT demographic group would most benefit. Consequently, this is another factor feeding and fueling black homophobia that doesn’t exempt Roberts because of her statute or interracial relationship.

Sue O’Connell, a white lesbian and editor and publisher of BayWindows gets it why Roberts’ coming out moment warranted high praise. In her spot on op-ed, “The Harsh Lesson of Robin Roberts’ Coming Out,” O’Connell says, “Challenges of class — of race and gender — are deeply entrenched obstacles to living an open life. Each coming out process is unique, yet African Americans face a path entwined with family, religion, racism and more. Robin Roberts should be congratulated, again, for her bravery. Let’s not let our growing marriage equality success blind us to the very real challenges many still find to living an open and honest life.”

It’s my hope that Murphy not only reads her own op-ed but also takes a look at O’Connell’s.

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