Ed Buck And The Black Queer Lives That Don't Matter

How many more black queer lives must be lost before a stop is put to this?

The saying goes “history often repeats itself” but for those who are black and Queer, that history is often violent and unprotected.

A déjà vu moment for the LGBTQ community happened last week when reports surfaced of another black gay man dying in the home of wealthy Democratic donor Ed Buck. New and disturbingly fresh to some, the story isn’t only stranger than fiction but proves gay black men are fetishized in plain sight.

Let’s back up a bit. On July 27, 2017, police were called to the home of Buck in West Hollywood, Calif., where the body of 26-year-old Gemmel Moore was found unresponsive. The Los Angeles coroner's office would initially rule Gemmel’s death an overdose of crystal methamphetamine—a growing problem within the LGBTQ community. However, there was an immediate outcry from the black queer community, as the narrative between Moore and Buck raised more questions than answers.

Today would've been Gemmel's 28h birthday. Instead of celebrations and Instagram posts from friends, Gemmel's legacy in the public sphere is that of a sex worker—a stirring attempt to discredit his worth while subtly blaming the victim for his own death. We have seen this occur many times when discussing the LGBTQ sex worker community. Transgender women are also painted as such in stories to devalue their worth. Far too often, sex workers endure victim blaming and shaming. A societal standard that contributes to the notion that sex workers are partly liable in their own deaths because of “risk” involved with the industry, intersected with mainstream views about sex work, not fitting standards or respectability.

Questions began to arise about why Buck, a 65-year-old white man, and social-political butterfly to Democratic party members like Hillary Clinton would have someone 39 years his junior in his home doing drugs. As more reporting by activist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick and others continued, a tale of privilege, wealth, and sexual exploitation became the new narrative of story many simply tried to bury.

Reports were coming out from other young black queer men who had dealings with Buck, many of them detailing his drugging of them with meth by needle—a technique called “pointing.” Entries from Gemmel's journal were also published by Cannick, revealing just how much pain and madness he was subjected to, including Buck, reportedly getting the 26-year-old hooked on drugs for sexual pleasure.

It is not easy to live at the intersection of being Black and Queer. It’s a double marginalization where we often find ourselves devoid of allies. On one side we have our own community which like all others, deals with homophobia. That homophobia often times bleeds into social justice work around black queer people. People who feel race should come first and be the only concern.

Black queer people are often fighting for others who would never fight for them. We have been conditioned by white supremacy to fall prey to respectability politics that makes us see anything other than cishet as an attack against our own community.

Despite the painful evidence, media began doing what it does with most black victims—painting them as the deviant and the abuser as the one being victimized. Gemmel was painted as a drug-addicted sex worker, an attempt at dehumanizing his value.

The views of sex work in the United States intersected with Gemmel being from a marginalized community was a tactic that saw many blaming the victim, rather than the manipulative predatory Buck, who was being protected by his wealth, whiteness, and proximity to those in power.

Following the LA coroner’s report, social media outrage eventually forced the LA Sheriff’s department to give the full investigation into the matter that it deserved. Unfortunately, after several months of getting statements and going over the evidence, the LA prosecutor's office refused to indict Buck, leaving the family and black LGBTQ community feeling hopeless that Gemmel would ever get justice.

However, last week news broke that a second black gay man by the name of Timothy Dean was found dead in the home of ...Ed Buck. This time around, media coverage was immediate as multiple major outlets covered the story about the 55-year-old victim, a significant change from the first death. With circumstances surrounding the incident much like the first time, the story was hard to ignore with national coverage happening almost immediately. Responders arrived at Buck's home to find Dean unresponsive by an apparent overdose.

Immediately, Buck’s lawyers issued a statement removing him of all culpability and once again blaming the victim for his own death. “From what I know, it was an old friend who died of an accidental overdose, and unfortunately, we believe that the substance was ingested at some place other than the apartment,” said Seymour Amster, Buck’s attorney. “The person came over intoxicated.”

With this being the second occurrence of death at his home, investigators were more eager to look into the situation—as was the media who showed up to the home of Buck that evening looking for comment. What most were greeted by was outraged citizens, many of whom were from the black queer community that has remained steadfast since last year.

Dozens of activists and community members protested in front of the home of Buck following the second death. During the rally, several citizens spoke out including Cannick. She challenged several city council members who showed up to the rally about how disengaged and harmful they had been the first time this happened, and how their support now was questionable at best. This is an important sentiment in the story because much of Buck’s protection came in the form of those he donated too, on both a micro and macro level.

When the first death occurred in his home in 2017, politicians refused to release statements about the situation. There were some rumblings from GOP members, but only because he was a donor to the Democratic Party, not because of who the victim was—partly why the buzz died down as media coverage went away.

For his political allies, there was too much at stake. With President Donald Trump creating more turmoil between the major political parties and the #MeToo movement surrounding the behaviors targeting those in Hollywood, there seemed to be limited space to care for black life–an aspect we’re used to these days.

On a micro level, these same city council members who accepted funds from Buck in the past were silent in the first death. Not wanting to ruffle feathers with the wealthy donor, choosing allegiance to secure funding over the life of Gemmel Moore. But now, the political climate has changed. In November of 2018, the Democratic Party took back the House of Representatives, all about removing any shielding Buck may have from the party. Once word broke of a second death, those who were silent are now issuing statements and sending money back that was donated by Buck.

Black lives, in general, are not protected in media nor community. White people are more concerned about preserving power and privilege then every affording us equity and justice. This sentiment bleeds into the white queer community, which has also helped to oppress black queer people.

Most recently, comedian Ellen DeGeneres spoke up on behalf of a community she did not belong to offer forgiveness to Kevin Hart for his comments about the gay community. However, when it is someone from her own community causing harm to black queer people, (ie: Buck) she like many other white queer people are nowhere to be found. It only adds to people who love to partake in our culture while turning a blind eye or aiding in our oppression.

This is a challenge to all communities witnessing the atrocities that black queer people are facing in this country. Your silence has become complicity in our death. It should not have taken for a second dead body to be found at the home of Ed Buck for people to join in solidarity with us. We have experienced this type of violence against our community for far too long with no justice in our plight.

Ed Buck is using his wealth, class, and power to manipulate black queer men who are vulnerable. Men who are sex workers or struggling to make a livable wage to sustain their own existence. Men who are already caught up in the meth epidemic and fall prey to sexual exploitation in return from drugs. How many more lives must be lost before a stop is put to this?

In the coming days, it will be more important than ever that media coverage does not let up and continues to press the LA Sheriff’s Office to not commit the same mistake twice. If black lives truly matter, then we must be more vocal and fervent in our fight when they fall among the most marginalized. This is a continuing story, one that we will not only cover but see through till the end—an end that looks like justice for Gemmel Moore, Timothy Dean, and the black queer lives that continue to go unprotected.

George M Johnson is a journalist and activist living in Brooklyn NY with features in over 40 publications including Vibe, Essence, VICE, and Buzzfeed. His debut YA memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is scheduled to be released January 2020 through FSG.

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Spike Lee attends the 24th annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 13, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.
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Spike Lee’s 'BlacKKKlansman' Oscar Nods Show Power In Sticking To Your Guns

The nominations for the 91st Academy Awards have been announced, and per usual there were some things of note. How did Toni Collette not get nominated for her performance in Hereditary? Does the Academy hate Mister Rogers? Who are these people that think Vice is good? Each of these is worth exploring separately, but another big takeaway is that both Black Panther and BlacKKKlansman are nominated for Best Picture.

Black Panther was not only the highest grossing domestic release of 2018 (just the third film in history to gross $700 million), but it was critically acclaimed as well, currently holding a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Its nomination for Best Picture makes it the first superhero movie to receive that honor. The fact that a $200 million blockbuster that thematically wrestles with pan-African identity could even be nominated is worth a celebration in itself. That doesn’t even cover the other six nominations the film earned. Funny enough, people may be able to thank Black Panther’s big screen arrival to the man who first put any mention of the character on the big screen. That, of course, is BlacKKKlansman director Spike Lee.

For the first time in his career, Spike Lee is nominated for Best Director. The honor is significant in that he’s no stranger to Academy recognition. His seminal film Do The Right Thing (1989) earned him his very first nomination in the category of Best Original Screenplay. Almost a decade later, 4 Little Girls (1997), the film about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, would earn him a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

At his best, Spike Lee has captured, perhaps better than any other black filmmaker, the cultural momentum of African American life.

BlacKKKlansman tells the real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) — the first African-American to join the Colorado Springs Police Department—who infiltrates the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a white man. Upon the film's release, it received critical acclaim and was widely seen as a return to form for Lee.

Lee’s career dates back to the 1986 release of his debut film She’s Gotta Have It (which has since been adapted into a Netflix original series) and was followed by School Daze in ‘88. Both films were well received, but it was his 1989 film Do The Right Thing that elevated Lee’s status as a director. On the surface, it mainly focuses on a day in the life of a pizza delivery man named Mookie (played by Lee), but it’s pulsing with commentary about racial tensions between Brooklyn residents as well as those between African-Americans and the police. That social commentary, along with the distinct look and feel of the neighborhood where it’s set, the colorful characters, and the emotionally charged finale, are just a handful of characteristics that have become synonymous with Lee’s work. The film received critical acclaim and has since been added to the National Film Registry. Although it earned Lee his first Academy Award nomination, he would ultimately lose to Tom Schulman for Dead Poets Society.

At his best, Lee has captured, perhaps better than any other black filmmaker, the cultural momentum of African-American life. He’s remained vocal about the importance of African-American history, with films such as Malcolm X and Miracle At St. Anna. He’s offered his take on current issues that are unique to black life (the aforementioned School Daze, Jungle Fever, Chi-Raq). He’s also never shied away from being a proud New Yorker, as several of his films are set in his native Brooklyn (Crooklyn, He Got Game, Red Hook Summer). What makes Lee such an interesting figure in the world of modern film is that he’s clearly an admirer and student of classic cinema, but has consistently tried to offer an outsider’s perspective. A common criticism of his work is that he often gets in his own way with bloated plots and story beats that don’t always fit, or that his message sometimes comes across as preachy. While his dedication is admirable, one starts to wonder if the scarcity of black filmmakers working for major studios, let alone being recognized by the Academy, drives his tendency to overindulge. How many other filmmakers of color are working as consistently as him, with the freedom to tackle so many of these issues? There are points in his career (2004's She Hate Me) where it seems like he really just wants the void to be filled with anything he can throw at it, rather than run the risk of it disappearing altogether.

And that brings us back to BlacKKKlansman, and how incredible it is that the Academy is finally giving recognition to Lee’s work as a director. Among its six nominations, Lee has three (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture).

Along with the aforementioned nominations for his films, Denzel Washington earned a Best Actor nomination in 1993 for playing Malcolm X in Lee’s film of the same name. He lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, and Lee has remained vocal in his criticism of that decision. More recently, he was one of several black celebrities who boycotted the awards in 2016 amid the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. His relationship with the Academy has had some tense moments, so for him to finally receive these nominations, for a film that doesn’t stray far from what he’s been doing for most of his career, almost makes this a feel-good story.

BlacKKKlansman feels like a natural extension of Lee’s most recognizable work. The film isn’t set in Brooklyn, but it does feature an everyman protagonist who must learn that he doesn’t have all the answers. And through that protagonist, Lee gives himself the right balance to deliver the messages he wants. Whether it’s dealing with the relationship between African Americans and law enforcement, militant approaches to social justice, America’s history of lynching, the effects of white supremacy on non-black minorities, or white supremacy’s larger social influence, Lee is able to tackle race in a way that serves as both a genuine history lesson and a lens through which people ought to examine the current political and social climate. The relationships between Ron Stallworth and the other characters help Lee communicate a multilayered commentary on race. The audience doesn’t just see how Ron approaches the topic as it relates to the Klan, but he also has to figure out how to work with his fellow police officers, as he is the first and only black man on the force. The film almost takes on too much weight in giving him a love interest (Laura Harrier), but because she’s an activist, Ron is forced to consider that even within the black community, people have varying ideas on how to achieve justice. Each of these dynamics serves a specific role that allows for Ron to grow throughout the film.

Commentary aside, the film scored well with critics and audiences because it allows the audience to have fun at the expense of people who often get the last laugh. Make no mistake, the Klan looks terrible here. Not just in the inherent evil that they stand for, but in perhaps being some of the dumbest individuals Lee has ever featured in any of his films. These are the things that make the heavy subject matter palatable. The very idea that Ron’s partner Flip (Adam Driver) is a Jewish man that has to pose as an aspiring KKK member, is one giant joke in itself. There is no coincidence that David Duke, former grandmaster of the KKK and one of the film’s antagonists, leads chants of “America first.” Lee undercuts that humor periodically through the film, most notably in a finale that draws a direct line between the KKK and the 2017 Charlottesville rally (that David Duke attended) which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

Perhaps the most noteworthy bits about Lee being nominated this year is that the person who brought the project to him, Jordan Peele (also nominated for Best Picture as a producer on BlacKKKlansman), is the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. That film, about a black man who goes to meet his white girlfriend’s family, makes race the key ingredient in its plot and its broader commentary, much like a majority of Spike Lee’s work. It's also similar to another film that is nominated for Best Picture this year, Marvel’s Black Panther, which oddly enough brings the character’s journey to the big screen full circle.

Spike Lee's relationship with the Academy has had some tense moments, so for him to finally receive these nominations, for a film that doesn’t stray far from what he’s been doing for most of his career, makes this a feel-good story.

Perhaps we should thank Spike Lee for that.

In the screenplay that earned him his first Academy Award nomination, Do The Right Thing, there is a scene in which the character Junebug is trying to organize a boycott of Sal’s Pizza. After asking some people in the neighborhood, he’s mostly met with no's. One of the reasons offered? Black Panther. “Black Panther eats pizza. We eat pizza,” says Punchy (Leonard Thomas) as he holds up a single issue of, you guessed it, the Black Panther comic book. This mention probably didn’t pique general audience interest quite like Chadwick Boseman’s debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War as the first live-action appearance of the character, but the idea of manifesting these things into existence isn’t complete nonsense.

As it stands, neither Black Panther nor BlacKKKlansman is favored to win Best Picture, but a strong argument could be made about Spike’s chances to take home the Oscar for Best Director, which would make him the first black recipient of that award.

The first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and the chance of us seeing the first black winner for Best Director? Punchy from Do The Right Thing had the right idea.

Black Panther blazes a trail in cinematic history. Spike Lee blazes one, too.

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Op-Ed: 15 Years After Super Bowl XXXVIII’s “Nipplegate,” Janet Jackson Still Won

Fifteen years ago, on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004, the Carolina Panthers faced the New England Patriots for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas. Outside of the game, the entertainment lineup was superb. Due to the game taking place one year after the shuttle Columbia disaster, multi-platinum singer and actor Josh Groban started the pre-game show by performing “You Raise Me Up” in tribute to the crew who lost their lives. Miss Third Ward Houston native Beyoncé then sang a rousing rendition of the national anthem, and Aerosmith took the stage to perform “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and “Dream On.”

The first half came and went, and then it was time for the part of the Super Bowl that everyone loves: the halftime show, which was produced by MTV and CBS Sports. Jessica Simpson, Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson were all set to perform during the show centered around the Choose or Lose campaign, which was started by MTV in 1992 to encourage their audience to register to vote.

After doing a solo performance of “Rhythm Nation,” Janet Jackson was joined on stage by Timberlake for a duet of his song “Rock Your Body.” As expected for a song with that title, the duo performed a few suggestive moves much to the audience’s delight. Then, it was time for the song to end, and no one was ready for what came next. With the final line “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” Justin pulled a part of Janet’s outfit that revealed her right breast which was decorated with a nipple shield. CBS cut away from the stage, and the massive fallout began.

 

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Happy Holidays u guys 🤗 I hope u have a great New Year. 💜

A post shared by Janet Jackson (@janetjackson) on Dec 31, 2018 at 9:12am PST

Through her representatives, Jackson issued a statement on Monday following the game. The next day, she issued a video apology for her part in the incident. "The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals," Jackson said. "MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL."

MTV followed with a statement that evening, saying, "MTV was as surprised and shocked as anyone last night. Janet Jackson acknowledged that we had no prior knowledge of her plans. We will continue to investigate the circumstances. Our goal with the Super Bowl Halftime show was to produce an entertaining stage experience with a positive message about empowerment and voting. We are disappointed that this message has been overshadowed by the unfortunate incident. MTV apologizes again to anyone who was offended."

However, the apologies weren’t enough to keep CBS from being fined for the incident. Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered an investigation insisting that “somebody had knowledge of it.” In the end, the FCC fined CBS an astounding $550,000 (later voided in 2011).

And so began the modern day “He-Man Woman-Haters Club,” or maybe just a He-Man Janet Jackson-Haters Club. No one could guess just how long the fallout would last and how it would affect only one party: Janet Jackson.

The 46th annual Grammy Awards were one week later and were set to also air on CBS. Timberlake was nominated and scheduled to perform, while Jackson was set to present to Luther Vandross. A longer tape delay was also planned due to the Super Bowl incident. However, CBS used the Super Bowl incident to their advantage and allegedly worked behind the scenes to have Jackson removed from the program due to her not agreeing to issue yet another apology. Timberlake stayed in line with the old boys’ club and issued several apologies. One such apology happened on stage during his Grammys acceptance speech where Timberlake stated, “What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”

It was apparent that due to Janet Jackson not playing by CBS’ rules, she would ultimately face the harsh reality of being shunned and blackballed in the industry. The youngest in the Jackson clan went from superstardom to very little promotion and even less support from those who once praised her every move.

CBS' now former CEO and Viacom’s then co-president and Co-COO, Les Moonves, led the charge in blackballing Janet. In his eyes, Jackson wasn’t “sufficiently repentant” and caused him embarrassment. Reportedly, he demanded her songs and music videos be removed from rotation on VH1, MTV, and all Viacom-owned entities. When it was reported several years later that Jackson secured a book deal through Simon & Schuster once they were under CBS, Moonves was irate. Sources reported him saying, “How the f**k did she slip through?”

Obviously, the same way his sexual misconduct slipped under the radar, that is, until the summer of 2018. The longtime CBS chairman was ousted when he joined a long list of powerful men being brought down by the #MeToo movement. In a detailed report from The New Yorker last August, more than a dozen women including former CBS employees, delivered powerful statements regarding sexual misconduct by Moonves. In turn, he was let go from the position that he held for over 20 years and was denied $120 million in severance pay. He was stripped of the same power that he used to blackball Jackson and deny her the spotlight to advance her career.

However, Moonves wasn’t been the only party to suffer due to their disregard and mistreatment of Jackson. Timberlake, who used the momentum and press from the Super Bowl to catapult his solo career into high gear, also recently suffered in album sales and popularity, particularly in the black community.

Following the Super Bowl mishap, Timberlake’s star was on the rise. Thanks to his laughable apology, he was allowed a spot on the Grammy stage and took home two Grammy awards that year. He went on to grace stages worldwide, star in movies, start a family and release more solo albums. He also eventually admitted to Jackson receiving more criticism for the mishap than he did.

“If you consider it 50-50, then I probably got 10 percent of the blame,” Timberlake said in a 2006 MTV interview. “I think America is harsher on women. I think America is unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”

Then, it was announced that he was performing at last year’s Super Bowl LII and releasing a less than soulful album with Man of the Woods. The album produced the lowest first-week sales Timberlake has ever garnered for his five albums, sans NSYNC, moving 293,000 units in its first week. That was a major drop from the sales of his previous album, The 20/20 Experience, which sold 968,000 units during its first week. His 2018 Super Bowl performance also garnered mixed reviews and ample side eyes. It was preceded with a #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay hashtag, which was one of the top trending topics on Twitter the entire day of the Super Bowl, somewhat overshadowing his return to the Big Game’s stage and rightfully so.

In the midst of the ridicule, shame and complete disdain for an act that involved more than one party, Janet Jackson has held her head high and persevered. She released her eighth studio album Damito Jo two months after the incident with little to no promotion. However, the album still went on to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 charts. Although she suffered a personal loss with the death of her brother Michael in 2009, she still pressed on with hit albums, numerous awards and film and television roles. In 2015, she inked a major partnership with BMG, which included the beginning of her own label, Rhythm Nation.

Since “Nipplegate,” Jackson has rocked arenas around the world on four highly-anticipated tours. For her Unbreakable World Tour, Jackson partnered with Uber to give fans in more than 25 cities the chance to win tickets by just using the app for rides. The State of the World Tour, which included 78 stops between 2017 and 2019, grossed over $44 million in sales.

Jackson even went on to star in a real-life “role” of a lifetime when she welcomed her baby boy, Eissa Al Mana, on Jan. 3, 2017 at 50 years old. Just last year, she won the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards, the first black female artist to do so. And most recently, in December 2018, it was announced that she is joining six other inductees for the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class.

 

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⠀ People of the world today Are we looking for a better way of life Sing!—We are a part of the rhythm nation People of the world unite Strength in numbers we can get it right, one time We are a part of the rhythm nation ⠀ 29 years of #RhythmNation 🖤

A post shared by Janet Jackson (@janetjackson) on Sep 19, 2018 at 12:01pm PDT

In addition to her many accomplishments, she is also revered and respected by her music peers, and she has inspired the career of many of today’s pop and R&B stars, including Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and especially Ciara. During the 2015 BET Awards, the Princess of Crunk & B paid tribute to her idol with rousing performances of “If” and “Rhythm Nation.” Then in 2018, Ciara re-expressed her love for Janet to Billboard saying, “Everything she does is perfection. It says a lot to me. It says you gotta care, you gotta give 100 percent every time... She is queen of creating those iconic moments that we still talk about today. She has been a huge influence in my life.”

That level of impact in a career that spans more than four decades cannot be denied nor held down. Following “Nipplegate,” she may have endured a few hiccups and been shunned, but her star will forever shine brightly. She has proven that much with her success before and definitely with the “Black Girl Magic” she has displayed since then.

What a difference 15 years makes, huh? In the end, Janet “Miss Jackson If You’re Nasty” won.

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Op-Ed: Straight Black Men’s Silence On Jussie Smollett’s Homophobic And Racist Attack Is Dangerous

In the early hours of Tuesday morning (Jan. 29), Jussie Smollett became the victim of a senseless racist and homophobic crime in Chicago. Two white men viciously attacked him with what Smollett believed to be bleach, fractured one of his ribs and spewed out a bombastic diatribe of disgusting discriminatory slurs. "Aren't you that f***ot 'Empire' n****r?"  the masked men reportedly asked him.

The two unidentified men reportedly also wrapped a noose around the 35-year-old’s neck and reportedly yelled out, “This is MAGA country."

Let’s call it what it is: what happened to Jussie is a blatant hate crime by two homophobic white supremacists—the same type of white supremacists who put the lives of unarmed straight cisgender black men and women in danger, and the same type of white supremacists who call the cops when a black man is in his backyard living his best life and minding his own damn business.

The actor has received a slew of support from members of the LGBTQ+ community in and out of Hollywood, as well as black women alike. But aside from a few Hollywood peers and allies, those same straight black men who are targeted by white supremacists have been largely silent. Their probable homophobic attitudes or silence towards their black gay brothers can be just as lethal as the same white men that kill them and incarcerate them at more disproportionate rates than any other minority in America.

White supremacy is one thing, but the toxic masculinity and internalized homophobia that plagues black and brown communities is another.  

To this day, as a 27-year-old Dominican gay man, I say a prayer when going inside a barbershop because I don’t feel safe. Most black and brown men find the shop as a sacred place of camaraderie with their boys. For me, it’s torture. “Nah he’s a f***ot, he lives up the block,” I heard a Dominican barber say to a black client. They both laughed in unison at a gay man who just left the shop in my neighborhood in the Bronx. I just sat there hoping I wasn’t their next target.

I’ve never felt supported by straight men to safely be my full self in front of them, with the exception of a few who are part of my personal or professional life (and maybe that’s a problem I need some soul searching on). What makes it worse is that when given the platform and opportunity to educate themselves on LGBTQ+ people, prominent voices in the media take it as a chance to display their ignorance.

In the summer of 2017, author and trans activist Janet Mock visited  Power 105.1 The Breakfast Club to promote her new book, Surpassing Certainty. Days after her appearance, comedian Lil Duval went on the show and was asked what he would do if after four months of dating, a girlfriend disclosed she’s transgender. From here on, things took a turn for the worst. Duval made transphobic comments towards Mock and the community.

Mock detailed the experience in an essay in Allure. “Duval purposefully misgendered me (as the hosts laugh, thereby cosigning) in an attempt to put me in my place and erase my womanhood,” she writes. “Their fragile masculinity would not allow them to recognize a simple truth: I am an accomplished, beautiful black trans woman. Your willful ignorance will not stop me from being exactly who I am.”

Then, of course, there’s the whole Kevin Hart debacle with his homophobic tweets from 2011 and his Oscar hosting gig, but I digress.

What cisgender straight black men need to acknowledge is that in spite of identifying as queer, we’re still black people and our black bodies are just as susceptible to violence and injustice as theirs are. In a 1984 interview with The Village Voice, author James Baldwin succinctly explained this.

“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,” Baldwin said. “The sexual question comes after the question of color; it’s simply one more aspect of the danger in which all black people live.”

He also went on to break down the chasm that exists between white queer people and queer people of color—or, really, just white people versus people of color, among all demographics when it comes to the benefits of white privilege.   “I think white gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, into a society in which they were supposed to be safe,” he added. “The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly. Their reaction seems to me in direct proportion to the sense of feeling cheated of the advantages which accrue to white people in a white society.”

That same racial dichotomy and breakdown of privilege that Baldwin expressed back then is still prevalent to how people on both sides of the spectrum responded to Smollett’s attack. Ellen DeGeneres, a privileged queer white woman, showed her support to Jussie by including that he came out on her show four years ago. Nowhere did she acknowledge that while being gay, he is also a black man.

Four years ago, @JussieSmollett came out on my show. I’m sending him and his family so much love today. ❤️

— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) January 29, 2019

On the opposite side of that, many in the black community have spoken out on the attack by only highlighting the racial aspect of it, and ignoring Jussie’s gay identity. Prominent film producer and activist Tariq Nasheed blatantly refuses to acknowledge the intersectionality that comes with being a gay black man. A gay black man doesn’t have the privilege to pick and choose which marginalized identity he wears in society on any given day when he can be attacked for either of them.

Instead, he just denounces the white LGBT community for supporting Jussie but allegedly taking advantage of the situation and using their queerness as mechanism to manipulate identity politics to their favor.

The “intersectionality” crowd is totally silent when white media outlets ignore the racial element of the #JussieSmollett story.

Yet they vehemently correct & chastise Black ppl who don’t mention the homophobic aspect.

That speaks volumes

— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) January 29, 2019

See what I’m saying👇🏾 https://t.co/aSkQc98sBv

— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) January 29, 2019

W H A T ?? https://t.co/4pNRL5FIZO

— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) January 29, 2019

With that being said, you can’t support the black and brown LGBTQ+ community if you’re not going to acknowledge the intersections between their race and their queer identities. That’s like concealing the issue with a tone deaf “all lives matter” slogan, which puts a bandaid on the identity you choose not to recognize.

I don’t care how historically homophobic black culture can be. That will never be a valid excuse for one’s silence or ignorance. In Hollywood, music, politics and sports, there are tons of black men with influence who choose to turn a blind eye or “mind their business,” and it’s not helping anyone.

Yet the silence that’s more weaponized comes from black men in our own communities. Usually when something happens to a cisgender black man that can take or has taken away his life, the community is in uproar. But when it comes to queer folks, the protests aren’t as loud. And for black transgender women, who suffer the most from fatal violence among the community, they are met with silence.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, approximately 26 trans women were killed in 2018, most of which were black. “Many people find it difficult to see that violence is intersectional, and that we must analyze it with nuance, understanding that various oppressive systems create the conditions for a specific instance to occur,” Raquel Willis wrote for Out. “This is why we often see initiatives that focus on alleviating threats of violence for one specific, marginalized identity group at a time: white cisgender women, white LGBTQ+ people, Black cishet men, and on and on.”

Here’s a message to all black men: we need your influence and your voice. You can’t just be vocal when rapping about the inequalities of the straight black man from the ‘hood in America. You can’t just be vocal about supporting Colin Kaepernick on his kneeling stance. You can’t just march in a Black Lives Matter rally, and not acknowledge your queer brothers and sisters marching right beside you—because our lives matter, just like yours do.

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