Racism is not a new form of discrimination, and it seems to not go away even after decades of activism. What is worse is that seemingly safe space for those who face discrimination is still not necessarily safe for black people to be free of racism. The LGBTQ+ community has its fair share of discrimination, but black members of the LGBTQ+ community are doubly marginalized due to the layers of discrimination that they face from various communities. External discrimination caused by the racism that continues to plague society, internal discrimination based on sexual orientation or non-conforming gender identity, and internal discrimination from the LGBTQ+ community that almost invalidates racial identity are all factors that make it that much more difficult to be black but more specifically to be black in the community.
The black community harbors a culture based on African heritage, the shared history of slavery, and ongoing racism (Hill). Because blacks share the past of having their identity stolen from them through slavery, the want of and devotion to a culture with a strong basis in African heritage has a major influence on the general expectations for black people. Within this African heritage are powerful religious and traditional values that usually do not support LGBT and shame those who identify with the community. This can make it more difficult for black LGBT people to come out and be open among friends and family for fear of being disowned or disappointed. Additionally, there is “the fear of cultural estrangement from the African American community” if a black LGBTQ+ person is cast from their black community. There is the weight of disappointing those who are supposed to be your family but also the weight of feeling disconnected from heritage because of beliefs that oppose identity. While there is definitely a lack of research and studies done on the black LGBT population, some demographic statistics can offer a better light on the reality of black members of the LGBT community.
Mental Health of Black LGBTQ+ Adults
A small study revealed some data related to the discrimination and affected health of the black LGBT population. One interesting result of this study was that black lesbians face more racial and gender-based discrimination than sexual orientation-based discrimination. This is because black lesbians tend to share more in common with the black community than with their white counterparts in the LGBTQ+ community. Because of this, the more common and traditional form of discrimination takes over, meaning women have their role in society, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Regarding the mental health of black LGBTQ+ people, according to data collected by Gallup, black LGBT adults are nearly twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression compared to black adults who are not part of the LGBT community (Choi). These rates are likely caused by the extra layers of discrimination that black LGBTQ+ adults face in their everyday lives. One of these layers exists in the LGBTQ+ community usually in the form of microaggressions, rather than blatant forms of racism.
Microaggressions in the LGBTQ+ Community
Discrimination does not have to be outright slurs, and exclusion based on a certain trait. In the LGBT community, black people face microaggressions that include micro-invalidations, micro insults, and micro-assaults which all single out LGBT people of color in a passive-aggressive manner (Balsam). Forms of these microaggressions can be comments such as “race doesn’t matter” or being sexualized more because of different ethnicity. While microaggressions are not always obvious, it is important to identify when someone uses them because they are just as harmful as outright discrimination when people just want to feel safe and accepted in a community.
Creating a Community for Black LGBTQ+
Black LGBT people are not strangers to the fear of racial and ethnic alienation, and unfortunately, even the LGBT community cannot serve as a form of asylum for LGBT blacks. Until people become more educated on the experience of black LGBT people, there cannot be a truly safe place for them. People of the LGBT community may attempt to comfort black people in the community and only further estrange them from their identity because of the many layers to the identity of a black LGBT person.
Balsam, Kimberly F., et al. “Measuring multiple minority stress: the LGBT People of Color Microaggressions Scale.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 17.2 (2011): 163.
Choi, Soon Kyu, Bianca DM Wilson, and Christy Mallory. “Black LGBT Adults in the US.” (2021).
Hill, Marjorie J. “Is the Black community more homophobic?: Reflections on the intersectionality of race, class, gender, culture and religiosity of the perception of homophobia in the Black community.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 17.2 (2013): 208-214.