When I was presented with the opportunity to write about being a person of color who was young and gay, back in 2016, I was ecstatic, but I knew I had the responsibility to illustrate what the experience was really like. This meant including the challenges along with the triumphs we faced.
A common misconception people have about young gay people of color is that they must always first identify as being a person of color. First and foremost, there is no first. All three identities influence equally and simultaneously. Personally, I found this to be true in my life experience and, after speaking to those currently living the experience, this mantra still stands.
But I did not come to this realization easily. As a young adult over a decade ago, I was constantly stuck in this battle with myself: knowing I was gay at a very young age, while going through the constant struggles of being a young person of color in America. It was a challenge trying to find my identity as a person of color as well as my place in the local young adult and gay communities, sometimes feeling like I sat at the outskirts of both.
The fact that the people of color have been subjected to racism, classism, and oppression and members of the LGBTQ community regularly experience bigotry and homophobia only proves that gay people of color face multiple challenges.
Today, no longer considered young, I live my life free to be myself. So, to me, being both a person of color and gay now means being strong, compassionate, loving, creative, beautiful, and unapologetic. Those of a certain age, like me, grew up in a different time and have had a chance to become comfortable in our skin. But is this true for the young gay folks of color today? If no, are there institutions to help, like social service agencies or groups out there, leading the charge for change?
“I think social service agencies have to learn to lean into the fact that black people, black women, and young queer folks have a lot of good ideas about how to improve their communities,” says Marcel Hughes on his experience living as a young gay person of color in Cincinnati.
“We are the experts in our own lives,” he continues. “Service providers should learn how to appropriately elicit that expertise. There is often discomfort in talking about gender, orientation, and race as risk factors. Agencies need to be more brave about these difficult conversations and take steps to make sure their employees reflect the populations they are trying to serve.”
Marcel works as a case manager with Caracole, Inc. in Northside. Operating in Cincinnati since the late 1980s, Caracole, Inc. serves more than 1,500 clients living with HIV/AIDS through testing, case management, and housing services. Marcel works with team of social workers to address how to effectively reach young gay men of color.
Marcel goes on to say that from his work, he has realized there are not enough health-focused research initiatives that center on black queer identities.
“Alongside stigma, marginalization, and mistrust from historical discrimination, I believe shame is a unique barrier that keeps some gay black men from utilizing health care services,” he says. “Other barriers are medical providers not effectively building trust or affirming identity. Specifically, black gay men would benefit from sharing their experiences in the health care setting with their providers which could benefit their care, community engagement, and retention.”
Cincinnati is also trending on inclusion with the incorporation of Black Pride celebrations. In recent years, the rise of Black Pride celebrations in town has made it more acceptable to be out and proud as a young person of color. Just last year, it was well incorporated with Cincinnati’s annual Pride celebration thanks to a series of events like Black Alphabet Film Festival, Black Tea Dance, and a large presence in the annual Pride Parade.
“Up until recently, I felt there was a silence around black queerness in general in Cincinnati,” says Marcel. “I think since the founding of Cincinnati Black Pride, we’ve seen an explosion of involvement in the community.”
Another burgeoning safe space for young gay people of color can be found in the Black Bear Brother, a group of body-positive gay men of color creating a safe space in a world that sometimes does not feel so safe.
“The Black Bear Brotherhood was actually started from a former Facebook group [which] simply called for gay black men of size to fellowship, support, and congregate in a safe place,” says Anthony Jackson, one of the group’s organizers. “As we grew, we found that younger black men needed this same support.”
The group has a weekly meet-up on Thursday nights from 9p.m.–midnight at Arts’ on the Ave located at 2141 Central Ave.
It is important to remember that, at the end of the day, these young people are our future, and how they are treated and nurtured by society, despite their color or sexual orientation, will dictate how they grow and mature.
I would suggest following the advice I gave a good friend of mine when she came to me about 15 years ago, worried that her bi-racial pre-teen son may be gay. She asked me what she should do if he came out to her. I turned to her and gave her the most honest answer I could think of and said, “Just love him and he’ll be just fine.”
“Like many queer kids in this country, I’ve experienced bullying, fear, doubt, shame, and family struggles,” says Marcel. “On the other hand, I’ve also been able to develop new friends and family, while creating opportunities from my experience as a black gay male. To be honest I don’t think my survival and relative success is a special outcome. Young queer black kids in Cincinnati are waking up every day and choosing resilience and survival. For black people and queer people, resilience is an ancestral habit.”