The reality of racism isn’t newfound or recent. Truthfully, it’s an age-old monster that has outgrown its brutal tyranny. Racial discrimination is both a global and domestic issue, and sadly it has long been been an inescapable consideration for Black people, people of color and indigenous people. 

That said, I present this piece wanting to speak to a particular audience: the entire LGBTQ community. Far too often in queer spaces has this intangible puppeteer caused a palpable divide among our members. As a young Black queer man, I’ve already experienced accounts of discrimination from others that have left a lasting impression on how I understand the unity in our community. Being mindful of those experiences, I was forced to confront an ugly truth: not everyone who identifies as queer is truly an ally. 

Before I undress my experiences though I challenge you, as a reader, to reciprocate the vulnerability I will display. As I divulge the truths I’ve accepted, I ask my audience to listen intently as if I sitting across a table from you having a candid conversation. 

Because – and I mean this quite sincerely – racism isn’t an issue that can we can combat solely through the efforts of those who experience it firsthand.

Realistically race controls a lot of interactions, both subtly and overtly. Specifically in queer spaces what allows the divide to deepen is the refusal to acknowledge it, and the continual facade of being a false ally. 

Being an ally is something familiar to many in the LGBTQ community: a father who makes an honest effort to support his child by attending pride events, having a group of friends who are straight but hold spaces for their trans peer. That said, genuinely working to understand someone else is emotionally taxing.  But like most things that are difficult to obtain, the rewards are worth the effort.

Authentically showing up as an ally really only requires that you show up as yourself first, and the most crucial part, with a willingness to learn. A huge contributing factor to being a false ally is projecting an image of understanding something with fuller depth than you actually wield. 

In a way, it’s similar to the intrusive and innocently ignorant questions almost every queer man has received from straight people. My favorite one is “Who’s the man, and who’s the woman in the relationship?” The moment of grace extended is the same kind of grace the community collectively needs to afford to one another. Like I did in an eye-opening experience that completely changed my understanding of how my presence was perceived.

At the time I lived in Colorado and I had befriended a white gay man from the English composition class we were taking. This individual and I had made it a habit to hang out, listen to music, talk about the arts, and discuss different social issues that seemed to be prevalent within our respective communities. I enjoyed our verbal exchanges as I often gained more insight or an interesting perspective from this person, they often demonstrated an ability to comprehend and understand experiences outside of their own respective identity, and that was a trait I admired. My perspective of this person took a completely different turn one evening as a result of an unexpected and fateful exchange. 

While hanging out during the late hours of the night, they were messaging one of their friends through a direct message. While he was texting his friend it was brought to my attention that their friend said something inappropriate and he was unsure how to handle it. This friend of theirs referred to Black people as “colored.” 

Instantly enraged, I repeated the words “Colored!?” back to them, and immediately suggested a response that would set a boundary of race and correct the speech, but instead of even addressing the issue they chose the comfort and ease of silence and didn’t even attempt to correct their friend. 

An awkward stillness settled into the atmosphere, and I realized this person was being less than sincere when it came to their concerns about minorities. It was a bitter truth I had to swallow and I soon realized that even in the gay community, which was so infamously touted as being accepting of others, that racism was alive and well. 

I was holding them culpable for the language of their friend simply because if we were all in the same room, that friend would never be bold enough to utter those words in my presence. This was the critical moment that being a true ally was hinging upon; the responsibility to correct someone else’s racist ideals. The hurtful factors of this situation consist of this: first someone will hide the language they use to display that they aren’t discriminatory. Secondly, whether or not I was present, that friend wasn’t going to step up to the plate to correct the behavior either way. So although this person didn’t explicitly say those words or even agree with their peer’s stance, their complicity was just as harmful. To employ a willingness to facilitate dialogue that would better educate their peer is the difference between being an authentic or false ally.

Honestly, this isn’t my first account of regressive and discriminatory words being used to refer to a Black person in queer spaces. Grindr, a hallmark app for the queer community, was a breeding ground for some of the most disparaging comments and verbal assaults experienced by people of color and Black folk – myself included. 

During an exploratory phase when I was navigating my sexuality and the app there were multiple times older white men that I ignored would project their dissatisfaction by calling me the N-word on the messaging app. As despicable as the thought may be to imagine in our modernized times, it’s a reality I had to accept at a young age. 

I say all of this with the entire LGBTQ community in mind. I’m not interested in coddling anyone into accepting the facts of a situation, but rather I’m invested in challenging everyone to be receptive to change. 

Let’s change the sexual racism that occurs, the subtle and slick micro-aggressions that alienate minorities, and build a more authentic support system that will become a part of the solution. 

No one can change the skin they’re born into, and they should never be made to feel they need to. The opportunity to change your attitude or perception, however, is something everyone can do.

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