HRC Blog

Coming Out as Black and Queer: What Are We Really Saying?

The following post from Romeo Jackson is part of HRC's month-long Black History Month series, lifting up the voices of LGBT African Americans and allies who are making a difference in the fight for equality and social justice:

The LGBT civil rights movement was built around the power of coming out, and for this reason, we rarely examine the standard coming out narrative. Our current definition of coming out is far too narrow to accommodate the diversity that exists within the larger LGBT community. When I hear the national narrative on coming out, rarely do I hear the experiences of trans people, asexual people, or people of color represented. It seems these experiences are often over looked, and because of this, the coming out process as experienced by LGBT people of color is sometimes misrepresented and/or misunderstood.

Coming out can often look different for LGBT people of color. Sometimes the process may be understated and not draped in the rainbows and glitter we are used to seeing during Pride Month. Instead the process may focus more on “coming in” to an internal sense of self-worth that many of my peers rarely feel in a society that consistently reminds us that being queer/trans and a person of color is subpar.

Because many people of color reject the label of LGB, and prefer to go unlabeled or identify with the less commonly used term “same gender loving,” we see these coming out experiences as insufficient or “not as good.” There is a lack of awareness among the general population that the terms queer, gay, and many others are rooted in a white, gay, cisgender, male experience. And, for many queer/trans people of color there is no connection to such commonly used terms. All too often the coming out experience of QTPOC and how we choose to come out is not celebrated or respected in LGBT communities. The coming out experiences of everyone, regardless of how they choose to come out, is meaningful and powerful.

Even as I reflect on my own coming out story, I must remember that my experience often sits on the outside of the “common” gay black male experience or even queer experiences in many ways. As I share my coming out story against the backdrop of coming out to a religious family with deep ties to the South -- a family that is deeply rooted in black culture -- people are often shocked by my overall positive experience as if black people are more homophobic than other races. My personal story pushes back against the common stereotype that black communities are more queer-phobic than others, and many folks are not ready for that.

I dream of a day when coming out is not necessary, but until then we must challenge the closet itself and the power and the shame that it carries to ensure we build a movement for all queers and their intersections.

Romeo Jackson is black, queer, feminist studying Intersectionality and Social Justice at Northern Illinois University. He also serves on the Campus Pride Advisory Board. Follow him on twitter @romeojackson22.

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