As A Black Queer Person, I’m Often Disinvited From The Cookout

Photographed by Jordan Tiberio.
I came out to my mom in the middle of a Dunkin’ Donuts. 
I’ll admit that it wasn’t my ideal place to have the talk. I planned to keep my identity a secret, and I had no understanding of what being out to a family member, especially one who birthed me, could look like outside of the dialogue I had crafted in my head. 
I had doubts — like many other Black queer people — about the ways I would be perceived by others. As the first-born daughter of an ordained minister and a doctor, I feared for my parents’ reputation. In some ways, my identity might tarnish the lives that they built for my sisters and me.
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When I came out to my mom, I was living with my grandparents for the summer so that I could easily commute to downtown Atlanta for my internship. My parents lived in the suburbs and my mom suggested that we meet up for coffee to catch up. 
It was late in the evening and the baristas were sweeping up the floors, preparing to close down. My mom and I played The Truth Game, where we asked each other questions and the rules were that we could only skip answering a question twice.
I laughed as I proudly refused to answer whether or not I had any secret tattoos and how many times I skipped school. 
She then bluntly asked if I ever questioned my sexuality.
I winced as I took a sip of coffee and leaned back into my chair. 
“Yes,” I replied. 
She nodded her head and told me that it was important to live my truth. Although I agreed, I found that navigating queerness as a Black person was a nuanced concept that I didn’t have the space or capacity to address at the age of nineteen. So, I said “Okay,” and as we parted ways, I continued to navigate my identity in the best way that I could.  
I was grateful that the 21st century brought more awareness into the lives of queer people and there were terms to describe the feelings my ancestors most likely wrestled with but I always felt as if my foot was halfway out of the closet. 
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My struggle was not an anomaly, but a story that many Black LGBTQ people are familiar with. Queerness in the Black community has historically been stigmatized and ostracized in an effort to uphold the standards of Westernization.
Although there has been more mainstream media representation of queer people, homophobia still lingers throughout our community. As a full-time organizer, I have come face-to-face with anti-LGBTQ laws as they have gained notoriety around the south. As I scrolled through Instagram comments, I felt a familiar sharp pain in my stomach.
Over a dozen states around the country have started to introduce and pass bills that target LGBTQ students and families. The specifics of the bills vary by state, but are generally aimed to limit and prohibit conversation around gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms. These types of bills have gained notoriety around the country after Florida passed the Parental Rights in Education bill. Opponents to the bill have referred to it as the Don’t say gay bill. 

In many ways, the phrase "Don't say gay" reminds people that even as time progresses, society is still forcing queer people to live a life in secret.

In many ways, the phrase "Don't say gay" reminds people that even as time progresses, society is still forcing queer people to live a life in secret.
I’ve always known that Black queer people existed. As a preteen, I observed my aunts' family friend at basketball games. Her hair was always in cornrows, and she was often seen sporting a jersey with a woman wrapped around her arm. I had yet to learn lingo such as studs or femmes; I was aware that it was possible for women to like other women, but knew that it could not be my own story. I witnessed a slither of queerness at those Saturday games, but come Sunday, I was sitting in the pews of church listening to my pastor denounce gay marriage.
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He asserted to the crowd that, as Christians, we do not support homosexuality.
As I sat in my seat and listened to the sounds of claps erupt, I felt my heart sink. In an effort to feel included, I jumped out of my seat and became enveloped into applause. In the back of my mind, I knew that my pastor was talking about people like me and I prayed that my claps could be loud enough to overshadow the sadness I felt.
I started to date women as I progressed through college. Most of my relationships were short lived, ending in tears of frustration because I wasn’t ready to fully admit who I was to myself. It felt as if I was always being warped back into time. I naturally gravitated towards Black queer writers such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde. I fantasized about fleeing to Paris, as James Baldwin did in an effort to have the freedom of being both Black and queer simultaneously. 
I was constantly met with the reality that my identity was marginalized and it was very rare to find spaces that intersected the love of Blackness and the acceptance of queerness in the south.
I once described to a date that being Black and queer oftentimes felt like I was a vegetarian showing up to the cookout at a time when there was no Beyond Beef or Tabitha Brown to show you how to veganize soul food. It was just me, remembering what side items were available, and hoping that my difference in food intake wouldn’t be commented on.
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In many ways, being queer made me feel disconnected from my community. I advocated for the rights of Black people in spaces, but was often met with the reality that my invitation to the cookout was denounced once I came out.
When I moved out to live on my own for the first time, I sent out a couple of texts to my extended family, telling them that I had a girlfriend. I was met with mixed reactions. My grandma hugged me and told me that she accepted whoever I decided to be, but her response was the rare positive one that I received. I was met with messages from other family members such as:
That’s not something you should tell us through text.
I love you, but I can’t support that.
My mom told me that not everyone was going to be able to process what I’m dealing with, because it was new to them. What haunted me the most was that being Black and queer is not a new concept — it is one that has always existed, but has been hidden in the shadows of Black revolutionary thought.
I found myself debating with Facebook friends as they learned that the views I have now are not synonymous with the culture I grew up around. When I made posts referencing Black queerness, I was told that Black people aren’t gay and that everyone doesn’t need to know who you’re sleeping with.
I fiercely snapped back each time, describing that many Black activists throughout history were queer. I noted that behind the March on Washington was Bayard Rustin, a Black gay organizer who helped pave the way for the rights of Black Americans in our country. Although his work was prominent, he received backlash for being queer, was arrested in California, and was forced to register as a sex offender for his same-sex relations.
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It wasn’t until 2020 that he was pardoned for the conviction he faced in the 50’s that specifically targeted Black queer people. California Assembly member Shirley Weber, stated in an interview with CBC Radio in 2020, “It's just that we don't talk about it. And so, as a result, it's one of these undiscussed items in Black communities” when referencing the existence of queer people.
As an adult, I have found myself putting up dozens of metaphorical picket fence signs urging my community to see Black queer people in ways that I wish I would have been seen as a kid. No matter how many cookouts I’m disinvited from, my queerness and Blackness is something that cannot be separated. 
At times, I venture back to the conversation that I had with my mom in Dunkin’ Donuts when she told me that I should live my truth. I believe that, someday, the truth will set Black queer people free and our mere existence would be enough.

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