Equality Forward: Doug Spearman
August 10, 2009
A National Conversation about Race, Sexuality and Gender The Equality Forward essays are a collection of stories about race, sexuality and gender from some of today’s most distinct voices in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-rights movement. Read their essays. Share your own story. Join us for a national conversation on August 13. And read more about Equality Forward.
This essay in the series is submitted by Doug Spearman, an actor best known for his role in the series Noah's Arc. Most people have seen the rainbow flag of the gay community. The multiple stripes that are supposed to symbolize the various differences, in gender, nationality, race, and even proclivity, that make up the vibrancy of the LGBT community. Let me call your attention to something – the lines between the colors are sharp and clearly defined. They do not blend or run into one another. They’re still separate. People tend to believe that racism, on all sides of the color lines, is something that stops at the gates of the LGBT community. As though at the entrance to the various Boys Towns around the country you were required to check your ideas about Blacks, Asians, Jews, Arabs, etc… the way cowboys were required to turn over their guns when they walked into a salon in the Old West. It just doesn’t happen that way. In fact, I think it’s worse now than it was when I came out in l980. Back then the bars felt a lot more friendly, prejudice was a dirty word, and the kids of the l960’s and early 70’s – those that had created the gay movement – were still on the dance floors of America elbow to elbow with the people who’d marched in Vietnam protests and Black Power parades, and had been active participants in the original Civil Rights Movement. Those were the grownups who were standing at the bar when I got there. They welcomed me. But they’re gone. That spirit seems to have evaporated. Not everywhere and not for everyone, but enough so that if you’re over the age of thirty-five you would notice. Now, somehow, we’ve sunk back into old habits of separating ourselves from each other. People talk about white bars and black bars. We have white prides, black gay prides, and Latina/o gay prides. And they’re more than just celebrations of culture and gayness. These prides exist because a great many men and women feel unwelcome in mainstream gay communities. It’s been happening for a while, but now, suddenly, people are talking about it. Our community has finally decided to talk about its dirty laundry. And it’s not an easy conversation to have. Race and race relations are a thick thread in the fabric of our country. It was a factor in the last presidential election, and for a while it was the cause of a lot of finger pointing after the Proposition 8 decision here in California. In the early days after the election, a lot of gay activist blamed black voters for not showing support for their plight for marriage equality. First they got the numbers wrong. Black voters, especially in Los Angeles, were not the tipping point. Second, they failed to understand what the issues of civil rights and equality mean to black people in this country. They – meaning well-intentioned gay activists – assumed that since theirs was an issue of equality and civil rights, that they’d have natural allies among a people who’d spent centuries being discriminated against. It’s a valid hope. But then again, when did a group of gay activist ever show up to make sure that black and Latino/a neighborhoods had decent schools or safe streets, or march for union job protection? All things being equal, when did that ever happen? How many gay men and women care or are aware that the President of the Southern California branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Eric Lee is being pressured to resign for supporting marriage equality? Where are we as a community on his behalf? We are all first Americans, despite our sexual identity. And, as Americans we inherit its issues like racism. It’s not possible for us not to, is it? This inheritance is why I’m surprised when I find out that LGBT people think we, as a community, aren’t riddled with racism. Think of it as a scale like anything else – there are people who have none at all and there are people who are riddled with it – gay and straight. If it weren’t part of this nation’s core then CNN wouldn’t keep doing series about it, HRC wouldn’t commission studies about it, the fact that the president is black wouldn’t be cause for celebration or concern, depending on your point of view. It’s a different world for white Americans than it is for black, brown, and yellow Americans. Especially if you have education, income, and available resources. And we’re finally beginning to openly talk about the differences. Until we do, until we acknowledge the realities of all the -isms that exist within the LGBT community, we will never be able to face the discrimination and hatred that is aimed at us. Until we realize that the civil rights inequalities exist within the very worlds we’ve designed for ourselves then we’ve really just recreated the places a lot of us tried to escape from. Until rice queen and snow queen disappear from our own vocabularies, and until I don’t have to overhear two white guys describe me as Mandingo (as I did in a club in LA one night) then we’re not much better than the people out there who stand on corners with signs that say God Hates Fags. We can do better. We can be better. We’re trying. I see that now. And maybe it’s time for a new flag. Doug Spearman was born in Washington, D.C., at the height of the Civil Rights movement. He's currently an actor/writer/producer/activist living in Los Angeles. Spearman is best known for his work on the television show, Noah’s Arc which focuses on individuals dealing with the intersection of sexual and racial identities in present-day Los Angeles.