Gays on television today is nothing new.
And we can thank Ellen DeGeneresâ€™s watershed moment in April 1997 when she came out on her sitcom “Ellen.”
Todayâ€™s openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) television personalities are Neil Patrick Harris, Jane Lynch, Rachel Maddow, and Rosie Oâ€™Donnell, to name just a few.
And these personalities have helped pave the way in terms of our acceptance in society and in terms of our civil rights issues.
In Matthew Gilbertâ€™s “Boston Globe” article last month titled “In With the Out Crowd,” he points out there is a growing indifference in now seeing openly LGBTQ actors, talking heads, and media personalities. In the article Neil Patrick Harris stated, “I must say the indifference that most people expressed was the greatest reaction of all — and a reflection of a nicely evolving culture.”
But as this culture evolves, sadly, there are only two openly LGBTQ African Americans media personalities I can think of — CNNâ€™s Don Lemon, and comedian Wanda Sykes.
This paucity of black public LGBTQ figures not only maintains the lie that we donâ€™t exist, but it has also allowed the African American community to retreat into a closet producing black homophobic horror flicks.
Being a couch potato last month during the Halloween weekend, I watched two — “Cover” and “Blind Faith.”
By the mid-2000s a sex scare hit the African American heterosexual womenâ€™s population when information emerged about some of our brothers who were living life “on the down low” — or “on the DL.” Many films, television shows, books, public discussions and churches criminalized black men “on the down low” for their “oversexed homo drive” killing straight sisters. “Cover” is a recycled quasi-Hitchcockian psychological drama exposing how being gay puts a strain on the entire family. “Cover” opens with Valerie Mass (Aujanue Ellis) being questioned on murder charges for killing a popular R&B singer who we later find out is DL, HIV-positive, and has inflected his wife with the virus.
When asked why he tackled this topic, Bill Duke, producer and director of the film told “Blackfilm.com” that “AIDS is a very, very, very vicious disease, particularly in the black community. Black women are the number one victims of AIDS in our country right now. Itâ€™s like an epidemic proportion and surely after I got involved in the project, my goddaughter came to the family and told us that she was HIV positive and sheâ€™s been married for 12 years. So, thatâ€™s the betrayal weâ€™re talking about.”
“Blind Faith” is a father-son tragedy that take pace in 1957 Jim Crow America and questions black masculinity. Charles (Charles S. Dutton), the father, is the NYPDâ€™s first African-American sergeant, and he plans a police exam for his oldest son, Charlie (Garland Whitt), who is gay and would rather study art. Charlie is accused of strangling a white boy to death and will be electrocuted, but the fatherâ€™s homophobia prevents him from being there for his son.
Enoch Page of Amherst, Massachusetts depicted the film as “a brilliant study of black masculinity, whiteness, and homophobia.”
I was drained after I finished seeing these films.
Just as the films with black gay themes are problematic, so, too, are some of the well-known black actors who portray LGBTQ characters, making it difficult for African American viewers to see and to actualize LGBTQ Americans of African descent in a healthy and wholesome light.
For example, in Spike Leeâ€™s 1996 film “Get on the Bus,” Isaiah Washington and Harry J. Lennix played a black gay couple (Kyle and Randall, respectively) in the midst of a breakup that gets played out in high homophobic drama in the cramped quarters of a group of African-American men taking a cross-country bus trip from Los Angeles to our nationâ€™s capital in order to participate in Minister Louis Farrakhanâ€™s historic Million Man March.
Playing the role of a black gay Republican Gulf War veteran, Washington imparts to the group the violent acts of homophobia and racism he incurred on an ongoing basis from his fellow comrades, like being purposely shot at by his own platoon because of both his sexual orientation and race.
But in 2007 Washington made a public apology to the LGBTQ community for the derogatory comments he deliberately and repeatedly made about his gay costar T. R. Knightâ€™s sexuality.
Another example, is the black communityâ€™s dogged obsession of who is and isnâ€™t LGBTQ. Part of what fuels the on-going flurry of queries concerning Queen Latifahâ€™s sexual orientation was her spot-on portrayal of a butch lesbian in the 1996 movie “Set it Off.” Earlier this summer Latifahâ€™s character on the show “Single Ladies” — which she executive produces — was accidentally outed, and worked out in a positive way for the character. Viewers and the blogosphere began to speculate that Latifah was channeling her personal life through her small-screen character.
In 1993, the multi-talented Will Smith played a gay character in ‘Six Degrees of Separation.” And for many in the African American community it was the first time a well-respected actor portrayed a gay character. But Smith portrayed a young mentally unbalanced gay con artist feigning an identity as Sidney Poiterâ€™s son.
With a stready stream of negative black LGBTQ films, being both black and LGBTQ our lives will never be viewed as anything but a horror flick.