White Gay Dudes, Straight Black People: With Friends Like These, Who Needs A Voice?

Recently, in Kalamazoo Michigan, Katrina and Marashette Burks, a married, Black lesbian couple, had their home broken into, valuables stolen, and slurs spray painted on the walls, including the words “Move Or Die”. Because of a lack of hate crime legislation that includes sexual orientation, the crime is not going to be charged as a hate crime, despite the fact that there are other factors, like their race and their gender, that could have left them to be targets. The need for hate crime legislation for the state that covers gender identity/expression and sexuality is, of course, paramount, but it strikes me as odd that in a case in which more factors than just sexuality or gender expression were present, that only that was touched upon, both in the coverage by major news sources and what the “hate” would be constituted as.

This all reminds me of when two years ago, the story of Black homophobic protestors at Gay Day, a queer family event at the park down the street from my home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, went viral. The internet and members of my community blew it up — these angry religiously zealous Black men, or “thugs” as they’d so cleverly code it! Those people, they’re just so Christian and homophobic, just like Dan Savage said! Never mind that two of the most vocal women yelling at them were my friend and I, both Black, mixed queer women (you can see us in the picture on the other side of the fence, I’m the one with glasses and big hair standing next to the girl with a pink shirt on). It was all more complicated than just homophobia, and it then went to include racism and misogyny. I argued tirelessly with a bunch of white queers about it on the event page — while the men were definitely gross, disgusting, and potentially triggering and violent in their threats and their bigotry, that didn’t mean it was OK to throw racialized statements at them. I, as a woman and queer, naturally felt some kind of way about the protestor’s ignorant bullshit, but as Black, I felt some kind of way about the Gay Day attendees’ ignorant bullshit, too.

This racial and gendered climate is why I stopped going to the popular local gay bar, Rumors. As it was, I already experienced multiple microaggressive and straight up racist incidents in the largely segregated club. But then when an incident between a white male bartender and a patron, a butch Black queer woman, culminated in violence, with two bouncers using excessive force to hold this woman down while the bartender went to angrily kick at and hit the woman, I knew I had to stop going, possibly for my safety. “This isn’t right, she’s already down on the ground and that is way too much force!” I complained to the woman working the door, also white, after pulling at one of the bouncers to stop. “It’s none of your business,” she told me curtly “She was stealing from the bartender!” I had a feeling this accusation most likely wasn’t true, and even if it was, the force was unnecessary.

This, mind, all happened the week after my fellow Black queer friend Dea, then 19, was sexually harassed to the point of tears by one of the bouncers. When she reacted and told the dude to fuck off, they went to throw HER out. It wasn’t until I stepped in and argued with the other bouncer that she got to stay. Most of my friends haven’t bothered to go back, which, to add more injury to insult, limits you as far as getting involved in the gay scene here.

As Black women, we have unique challenges when it comes our sexualities and genders because of our race.

Hate crimes against Black queer women largely get erased — the focus is on straight Black males experiencing harassment by law enforcement and white males experiencing homophobia; the latest rise in visibility of street harassment and misogynist school dress code policies is largely focused on white women. Coupled with the new “You might be gay, but I’m Black and I can’t hide that!” that many straight Black folk, women included, are espousing, all of this leave us trans women and queer women of color in the dust, though at this point we all know that anti-gay hate crimes are mostly likely to happen to queers and trans folk of color.transgender_hate_crimes_111810

It all becomes even more complicated in ultra-white, bootstrappy Dutch West Michigan. Even in the rather progressive yuppie enclave that is Grand Rapids, there’s a quiet, passive, white-washed, post-racial attitude about gay identity and rights. White gay folk who are honestly otherwise assimilated and incorporated into the culture as far as their race goes often then help create whitewashed, binarist cis spaces for themselves. It was a white butch woman who first ever told me “There’s a nigger in every race.” Hell, the last few times I’ve heard the word be uttered in person it was by a white queer. Queer events are filled with Lady Gaga and mass corporate branding with no space for queers of color or our special and unique cultural expression and history. Once, a white gay guy said about rather popular gay Black ball events a friend of mine hosts, “It just isn’t, you know, really isn’t that fun, no one goes.” After first going to a party myself and seeing how full it got, I understood what he meant by “nobody” going.

Between erasure, hostility, white cis gay ideals, fetishism, and tokenism, it makes it hard for us to come forward and feel our lives and issues are being represented, addressed and respected. What’s more, all of it is so… polite! All this volleying between “Race doesn’t matter, and Black people are homophobic, and oh man, Gay is The New Black!” makes it sound like, you know, people like me don’t exist.

In the wake of a hate crime committed against this married Black lesbian couple in Kalamazoo, a town not far from where I myself live, we can no longer afford to simplify and erase these stories and all the perspectives and angles that play into it. I can only imagine the stories of intimidation and erasure other West Michigan Black queers who are not men experience and feel. It would be kind of cool if my community, and others, gave a little bit of a shit about it.

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Briana Urena-Ravelo is a lippy 24 year old first gen Afro-Dominicana witchy angsty queer punk based in America's High-Five state. She is currently a freelance writer at Feminspire. Her interests are music, shows, Afro-Caribbean spirituality and culture, radical politics, fashion and clothes, cooking, body modifications, her calico Shampoo, eating candy, and making straight white boys cry. She really wants to hold hands with Lana Del Rey.

Briana has written 5 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.

    When I worked at Charlotte Russe, the predominantly white staff were constantly talking about partying at Rumors. That was my first signal to get out of that shitty croptop hellhole.

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      Violence is never okay and I hope those trans* violence numbers do nothing but go down from here on out, but that graph is totally misleading. Because the increments are so large, it looks like there’s been a big surge in violence, but if you look at the percents its labeled with, it’s only a 2% difference between the lowest number and the highest one shown on that graph.

      On a related note, this explanation of misleading graphs marks the first time since I finished my statistics class that I’ve used something I’ve learned in it! One time in ten years. That’s a good return on investment, right?

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        Literally nothing in the chart made any sense to me because the numbers don’t add up to 100% so an explanation is definitely needed. Also, I thought the graph was showing the percentage of hate crimes against trans people that are reported, so the number rising would be a good thing. I’m totally lost, I’ve never seen a more confusing infograph in my life lol.

  2. Thumb up 9

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    I have so many feelings about this I don’t even know where to start. Especially in light of that NY Times that had white gay guys fighting mad at black women. Again. They are always mad though. The response to that article was so racist and gross that I wish I could say it was probably an isolated incident but this happens a lot. It’s gotten to the point where I often wonder if all white gay guys are racist or just the ones on the internet.

    And that Anti-LGBTQ Violence chart is scary. Laverne Cox made a good point the other day about how her being nominated for an Emmy doesn’t mean it’s any easier out there for the rest of the transgender community who experience violence on a daily basis.

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    I kinda wish you were based here (the DR) because I don’t know anyone who can articulate so well this type of things. Anyway, you are awesome and it’s great to read a fellow Dominican on my favorite site ever.

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    great article, really well written also. What saddens me possibly the most is the hate that exists within our community. At some point, we have all experienced some sort of outcast feeling or direct discrimination due to how we identify. It makes me so sad that some are willing to take it further with racism and then to escalate to violence is so scary. We need to stand together.

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      West Michigan was settled by Dutch immigrants who brought a very conservative Dutch Reformed religion with them, that still has it’s tentacles very deep into the politics and mindset of a lot of the population. I’ve had random people ask me if I was Dutch when we were introduced, it definitely gives you a status you don’t otherwise have if your last name is Dutch. Most of the money in the area and the politics are controlled by a few wealthy Dutch-immigrant families, if you look at the names of the buildings and stadiums downtown, you can see it. Not to mention the town of Holland itself, who has a yearly tulip festival in its attempts to be uber-Dutch. It’s all pretty ridiculous, considering the real Netherlands is one of the most progressive and tolerance countries in Europe and West Michigan is the most stifling and conservative areas in Michigan.

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        Saying this from a Western European perspective, the Netherlands are actually kind of terrible. Seriously, as in French neo-nazis from the working-class North drive up to clubs in Flanders and in Amsterdam because they feel more ‘at home’ there.

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          As a Dutch person I can confirm that when it comes to race issues, the Netherlands is definitely not the place to go. It’s fine – good, actually – for queer people… as long as you’re white. Unless you’re white and eatern european, because then you’re not considered white enough, really.

          The Dutch variant of the n word is regularly used by even otherwise reasonable dutch people. I’ve had friends that used it, even, and not been able to comment on it for fear of being left with nobody at all.

          I think the issue here is that the country has a reputation of being progressive and tolerant etc, to the point where this reputation is actually used by dutch people as an excuse to not be? Like… if you comment on something they’re fairly likely to respond with “Nonsense, I’m not racist, I’m Dutch!” or even “Well, at least it’s still better than other places!”

          I doubt it’s all that much worse than most other western countries, but it’s still not good, and even though it might be better than most other western countries when it comes to lgbtqa issues, softer than a rock does not mean soft.

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        I see! That’s interesting. I have to say I find the whole… nationality culture of white americans to be somewhat baffling.

        Growing up on the internet as I have, I’ve often come across people claiming things such as “I’m Italian!” or “I’m German” and then, when I eagerly respond with “Oh, I’ve been there, what town are you from?”, it turns out they’re not actually italian or german at all, they’re just american, and many of them haven’t even ever been to the countries they claimed to be from.

        What?? That is super weird. If someone here has a French surname and their great grandfather or whatever probably got here from France, we don’t say they’re French?

  5. Thumb up 1

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    I was living in Grand Rapids when I came out, and realized pretty quickly that I needed to get out if I wanted to live and be happy. I have a lot of bitter feelings toward that whole region, actually. Being connected to the Christian Reformed community, which fosters white male superiority better than any religion I’ve ever seen, I found Grand Rapids and its surrounding area to be stifling, discriminatory and oppressive. You nailed it when you said it was a “quiet, passive, white-washed” kind of attitude.
    Also- I was at that Gay Day in 2011 and I think I remember you yelling at the protestors! The police response to that situation was so disgusting. There was definitely more going on there than just homophobia.

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    Sometimes I don’t know how to feel about these type of articles. I agree with some points, and find others to be offensive

    I find the idea that as a gay white male I’ve somehow been “assimilated” very laughable.

    Yet I suppose trying to get that point across is usually futile. It won’t help you to know that my mother refers to my “lifestyle” as an abomination. Or that I fear holding my boyfriends hand. Or that I’ve been turned down from jobs because I mentioned my “partner” or, if I’m feeling bold, “boyfriend”.

    Most gay white men that I know are staunch liberals, many identifying with numerous causes that don’t directly impact them. There may be some who display the traits you’ve highlighted, but I don’t agree with the notion that gay white males (or white lesbians) are the true oppressors

    And on a final note, a night club doesn’t exactly make for a great study on humanity as a whole. In my home city there is an entire strip of clubs and bars, where if I wanted to see debauchery and ignorance I could find it easily, thanks to the wonderful friend we call alcohol.

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      Really, you seriously think you need to explain what the experience of homophobia feels like to a gay woman? You don’t think she probably already knows exactly what the fuck that feels like? This kind of response is precisely the erasure she is talking about.

      She also made it quite plainly clear that she was talking about assimilation based on race, not on sexual orientation. Please try to step outside of your privileged bubble for a minute and LISTEN. What is presented here is not a set of opinions for you to agree or disagree with. This is a person sharing her experiences, struggles and pain. LISTEN.

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        The word privilege doesn’t scare me, so if you’re attempting to dominate an argument with that word you might like to choose another.

        I wasn’t presuming to tell her what discrimination was, we’ve all experienced it. And if you’d read my comment you’d understand that I agreed and disagreed with some points made.

        I was just highlighting the sort of pseudo-intellectual idea that as a gay white man I’m somehow the oppressor. When in fact we have a long way to go for all LGBTQ citizens. I don’t like to compare oppression, as if it were a competition.

        At which point in my comment did I demean her experiences?

        Ugh. The same old liberal arts ideology.

        • Thumb up 11

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          This is not about “scaring” or “dominating” or any of the other shit that dudes always try to drag into Internet debates. You have used a black queer woman’s discussion of how her voice is repeatedly silenced by people like you as a forum to whine about how bad her description of her reality made you feel. If you cannot see how much of an utter asshole move that is, I really can’t help you.

        • Thumb up 13

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          If you read the piece and all you hear is that she’s calling you an oppressor, maybe you should step away from your computer, come back, and re-read the article. Clearly Briana is not attacking you, or any individual gay, white, cis man of systematically oppressing queer women of color. On the contrary, it is your relative privilege – your whiteness, your maleness, your cis identity – that will always always ALWAYS offer you more social advantages and privileges than a queer person of color will have. AND, it’s because of people like you that derail these important conversations by saying “OMG I’m not the problem. I have struggles too!” why we can’t have nice things and why queer women of color are continually silenced in LGBTQ spaces. These kinds of microaggressions are another kind of violence that prioritize the needs of less marginalized people (i.e- white gay men who need to have their experiences validated) at the expense of more marginalized people. People with any degree of privilege, myself included, need to be able to hear people explain why and how they have been marginalized because of their lack of privilege and instead of saying “Well I’m not your enemy” say, “How can I help?” or even just “I didn’t know that that was an issue for you. Thank you for sharing your experience.” Queer white people are not inherently oppressors but they often behave in a way that supports systems of oppression.

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    Briana I so feel this. I grew up in Grand Rapids, and went to college in Kalamazoo, and escaped to Chicago as quickly as possible because west Michigan (or Michigan as a whole, actually) didn’t feel like the place to be for a working class, mixed (with admitted white presenting privilege) dyke like myself.

    The people I know still back in Grand Rapids are all “Hey, it’s not so bad here, we’re getting really diverse! There’s a gay bar, I went to a bachelorette party there last month!” and I’m all oh please no.

    Also, if anybody is looking for something to do about the hate crime in Kalamazoo, my friend runs the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center and they’re raising money to benefit the victims of this attack.

    http://www.kglrc.org/2014/07/hate-crime-awareness-coalition-formed/

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    How the holy blue fuck does something like that happen and not “count as hate”?!?! This is why I’ve always been extremely dubious about the list-making around laws n’such. It’s like “you’re not on the list, you’re not coming in!” but that’s ridiculous. Why not just have a hate crime mean “a crime involving hatred”? What’s wrong with that definition? You make lists and lists and you’re always gonna end up leaving someone off those lists and getting bullshit like this occur. It’s really sad.

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