“… My service—not only as a gay soldier but also as an African-American one—was completely erased. Denied. Ignored. All because, in my mind, I didn’t fit the stereotypical image of what ‘sells’ in the LGBT community.”
BY ROB SMITH
> One of the reasons I find the topic of race and race relations in the LGBT community so dreadfully boring is that it is always centered around race and dating. Gay men and women of color whine about seeing messages from whites online dating profiles and apps that exclude them, and thus the entire conversation becomes about race and sexuality.
(Some) white people double down and defensively state “preferences,” people of color are seen as finding whites more attractive than those who look like them, and the entire conversation reinforces the idea of white as the apex of attractiveness and pretty much proving the point of whites who choose to date interracially. That is why I’m not going there. In fact, I don’t care. Really, I don’t. If someone looks at the deep chocolate shade of my skin and sees that as somehow “less than” or unattractive, that is fortunately their issue to deal with and I’m not about to make it mine. The reasons behind our dating preferences are much too complex to be described as “racist” when they don’t fit the mold of those who would choose to make us feel guilty about them.
If someone looks at the deep chocolate shade of my skin and sees that as somehow “less than” or unattractive, that is fortunately their issue to deal with and I’m not about to make it mine.
Instead, I will tell a story about a writer. That writer has just published his first book – a milestone in any writer’s life. In fact, an excerpt from that book can be found just a few pages behind this piece in this very issue of THE FIGHT. That writer was excited that a major gay website wanted to publish a piece that he wrote explaining why he wrote the book. That writer is the first African-American soldier to ever publish an Iraq war memoir. That writer is also the first gay soldier to publish an Iraq war memoir since the implementation of DADT repeal. Imagine that writer’s surprise when the article went live on the site only to have his image nowhere to be found, instead replaced with a photo of a white soldier pulled seemingly at random from Getty Images.
Well, that writer was upset. That writer was livid. That writer was then told that the use of the photo was a mere oversight and that there was no need to be offended. Obviously, that writer was me, and of course I was offended. I felt erased. I felt that, in those fleeting 15 minutes that the photo was live on the website, my service not only as a gay soldier but also as an African-American one was completely erased. Denied. Ignored. All because, in my mind, I didn’t fit the stereotypical image of what “sells” in the LGBT community.
This is an issue that goes a lot deeper than some offensive preference stated on a Grindr profile.
This is about meeting an extremely prominent LGBT activist who, as you’re striking up a conversation, stares through you like you don’t exist.
This is about giving a lecture to over 100 students as a guest of the LGBT organization at a small university in the Midwest and having to correct their lesbian president for using “colored people” in a conversation.
This is about going to a bar in the gayest area of New York City and seeing every white person at a bar served before you.
It’s easy for people to engage in that simple and asinine conversation about race and that I detailed at the start of this article. That is the conversation that I see over and over and over again when race and racism in the gay community is brought up. What I don’t see is the conversation about how the heads of most major LGBT organizations are almost uniformly white. Or a conversation about how the writers and editors of gay magazines and websites are almost uniformly white.
Those conversations are a bit harder to have, because the answers to those questions require a bit more soul-searching. The answers to those questions can be found somewhere within the media entities who do give writers like me a voice, who do share our stories, which try hard not to erase the existence of LGBT people of color.
Shortly after the incident, I had an email conversation with that dreaded cisgender white male editor. You know what? He apologized for the oversight. I realized that though what I felt was very real and valid, it was a mistake that was not made with ill intent, but one that just so happened to have struck a very deep nerve informed by years of being discriminated against in petty little ways within the LGBT community. It made me wish that we could have these conversations a little bit more often, without retreating to our little corners with people who look exactly like us and see life through the exact eyes that we see it through. We thankfully have organizations like GLAAD who exist to police representations of LGBT people in mainstream media, but I sometimes wonder: who’s going to police us?