Being African American & LGBTQ: An Introduction
African Americans are, and have always been, a vibrant part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and same gender-loving community. From trailblazing pioneers such as openly gay novelist James Baldwin and transgender rights activist Marsha P. Johnson, to modern-day heroes such as actress Laverne Cox and basketball star Jason Collins, LGBTQ African Americans have made enormous contributions to the ongoing fight for social, racial and economic justice.
According to the Williams Institute, there are more than 1 million LGBTQ African Americans currently living in the United States, with approximately 3.7 percent of all African American people identifying as LGBTQ. LGBTQ African Americans are disproportionately young and disproportionately female, and nearly one-third of all African American same-sex couples are raising children.
LGBTQ African Americans live in communities across the nation, but there are some areas of the country where the LGBTQ African American population is more heavily concentrated. Washington, D.C. comes in at number one due in part to the large number of African Americans who live in and around the nation's capital. Maryland, Georgia, New York and North Carolina also have large numbers of LGBTQ African American residents, as do several other states in the Deep South. Notably, many of these states lack statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
What are some important issues facing LGBTQ African Americans?
While the Civil Rights Movement resulted in monumental legal changes for a country just 100 years removed from slavery, African Americans continue to experience bias, discrimination and prejudice at all levels of society. The situation is even more severe for LGBTQ African Americans, who live at the intersection of racism, homophobia and transphobia and face a number of critical issues, including:
- Economic Insecurity – Although economic conditions in the U.S. are improving, LGBTQ African Americans continue to be economically disadvantaged because of persistent discrimination, housing insecurity, a lack of quality, affordable healthcare and fewer educational opportunities. A 2012 report found that "32 percent of children being raised by Black same-sex couples live in poverty, compared to 13 percent of children being raised by heterosexual Black parents and just 7 percent being raised by married heterosexual white parents." Additionally, Black transgender people face severe rates of poverty, with 34 percent living in extreme poverty compared to just 9 percent of non-transgender Black people.
- Violence & Harassment – According to a 2014 report on hate violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities, Black survivors of hate violence were 1.3 times more likely to experience police violence than their non-Black counterparts. Black survivors were also twice as likely to experience any physical violence, twice as likely to experience discrimination and 1.4 times more likely to experience threats and intimidation during acts of hate violence. Additionally, Black transgender women face the highest levels of fatal violence within the LGBTQ community and are less likely to turn to police for help for fear of revictimization by law enforcement personnel. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 38 percent of Black transgender people who interacted with police reported harassment; 14 percent reported physical assault from police and 6 percent reported sexual assault. Such high rates of revictimization by police is a major barrier to dealing with anti-transgender violence.
- HIV & Health Inequity – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young, Black gay and bisexual men are among the communities most heavily affected by HIV. In the city of Atlanta, for example, a young, Black gay man now has a 60 percent chance of becoming HIV-positive by the age of 30 even though Black gay and bisexual men are more likely to engage in safer sex practices than their white counterparts.
- Religious Intolerance – While LGBTQ African Americans identify with various faith traditions, the Christian church remains a source of both hope and trepidation for many––but acceptance of LGBTQ people is increasing in communities of faith. For example, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, support for marriage equality increased from 23 percent to 38 percent among Black Protestants between 2013 and 2014.
- Criminal Injustice – A number of recent, highly publicized cases of police brutality and misconduct have highlighted how broken our criminal justice system really is. Findings from a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice investigation revealed patterns of excessive force in the Albuquerque and Cleveland police departments. Findings of clear racial disparities and discriminatory intent were also revealed in a 2015 study of Ferguson, Missouri, which became a site of major protests following the police shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown in 2014. Additionally, data from the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found disproportionately high rates of arrest and incarceration among Black transgender people when compared to all other racial and ethnic groups.
Where can I find resources that are relevant to the LGBTQ African American community?
Human Rights Campaign
- Coming Out Guide for African Americans
- Transgender Visibility Guide
- What Do I Do? A Handbook to Understanding Health & HIV
- A Christian Conversation Guide: Creating Safe and Inclusive Spaces for People who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
- Brave Spaces: Perspectives on Faith & LGBTQ Justice
- Historically Black Colleges & Universities Project
- Black Youth Project 100
- Center for Black Equality
- Color of Change
- Hispanic Black Gay Coalition
- National Black Justice Coalition
This resource is specific to the experiences of LGBTQ people living in the United States who identify as African American. For more on the experiences of Black LGBTQ people living outside of the U.S., click here.