Rev Irene Monroe

Gay is NOT the new Black

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | December 16, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: African-American, gay is the new black, marriage equality, post-racial, Prop. 8, race, stonewall riots

If you are African American and gay, and fighting alongside your white LGBTQ brothers and sisters for queer civil rights, the notion that "Gay is the new black" is not only absurdly arrogant, it is also dangerously divisive.

In a presumably "post-racial" era with the country's first African American president-elect, it's easy for some to assume that race doesn't matter.

But when critiquing the dominant white LGBTQ community's ongoing efforts to gain marriage equality and its treatment of blacks as their second-class allies in the struggle, a reality check happens- both straight and queer African American communities bond together against their strategy for marriage equality.


Because race does matter!

Case in point: Proposition 8 and blaming the black community for its win at the ballot box.

The Proposition 8 debate has brought much consternation and polarization between white LGBTQ communities and African Americans.

And with the expectation of a dominantly white Marriage Equality movement pushing forward a single-issue agenda, the movement arrogantly ignores vital ways for coalition-building within black communities and honorable ways of connecting their struggle to those of African Americans.

But here's an example that defused the tension in much of the heterosexual African American community when it was publicly arguing that same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue.

In commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Loving v. Virginia the historic June 12, 1967 Supreme Court decision that advanced racial and marriage equality in this country, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. marked the anniversary by stating the following:

"It is undeniable that the experience of African Americans differs in many important ways from that of gay men and lesbians; among other things, the legacy of slavery and segregation is profound. But differences in historical experiences should not preclude the application of constitutional provisions to gay men and lesbians who are denied the fight to marry the person of their choice."

And in April of 2006, NAACP LDF filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case brought by New York same-sex couples challenging their exclusion from marriage.

But the Marriage Equality movement neither extends its reach beyond its concerns within its community nor outside of it.

How the marriage debate should have been framed -- in a way that speaks truth to various LGBTQ communities of color and classes -- has not been given considerable concern.

And with no public language to adequately articulate the unique embodiment of LGBTQ communities of color and classes within the same-sex marriage debate, this has become contentious. The dominant white queer languaging of this debate, at best, muffles the voices of these communities and, at worst, mutes them.

In other words, in leaving out the voices of LGBTQ communities of color and classes, the same-sex marriage debate is hijacked by a white upper class queer universality that not only renders these marginalized queer communities invisible, but -- as it is presently framed -- also renders them speechless.

Within and across states, the Marriage Equality movement persistently dons white leadership. Faces of color become important, visible and needed to the Marriage Equality movement only when the movement is actually pimping a black page from the civil rights movement for a photo-op moment to push their agenda.

The problem of saying "Gay is the new black" poses the following problems for many African Americans:

* The Marriage Equality movement exploits black suffering and experiences to legitimate its own.

* The Marriage Equality movement's rallying cry against heterosexist oppression dismisses its own responsibility when it comes to white skin privilege.

* The Marriage Equality movement appropriates the content of the black civil rights movement, but discards the context and history that brought about it.

But this is not surprising because the larger LGBTQ movement has distorted, if not erased, its own history when it come to the Stonewall Riot of June 27-29, 1969 in New York City's Greenwich Village, which started on the backs of working-class African-American and Latino transgender patrons of the bar. Those brown and black LGBTQ people are not only absent from the photos of that historic night, but they are also bleached from the annals of queer history and gay pride events.

Because of the bleaching of the Stonewall Riots, the beginnings of LGBTQ movement post-Stonewall is an appropriation of black and brown transgender liberation narratives absent of black and brown people. And it is the visible absence of these black, brown and yellow LGBTQ people that makes it harder for white queer elites in our movement to confront their racism and trans-phobia.

If African American LGBTQ people are not included in the history and in the decision-making issues involving queer life, how then can the movement expect our participation, let alone the rest of the African American community?

Sadly, if racism continues to go unchecked in the Marriage Equality movement it won't only cost California's LGBTQ community the right to marry, it will cost us all.

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I am reading your story in "Crisis". You have risen above a lot. I have respect for you.
Are you saying you won't be accepting paid invitations to speak at white LGBT conferences ? Too bad, because I thought you were the guiding light at the Gill Conference in Pasadena.

Actually, I think that's the exact opposite of what she's saying.

But I'm noticing a trend: a black LGBT person speaks up about ways the marriage movement can improve itself, various white people get overly defensive and take it as a statement of hatred of the white race, that black LGBT person is effectively tuned out, this cycle is repeated over and over, and nothing changes. And then we lose battles like the one for prop 8 and wonder why.

I can't think of a more conciliatory way to say what the Rev Irene is saying, and you're already accusing her of either cutting ties with the LGBT movement or, if I read what you wrote correctly, of having views that sway with the money. Neither statement is helping.


There are no sinister subliminal meanings in my question that you suggest.

Equality California and the Gill Foundation are very supportive of each other. Just asking a question whether Irene would continue to be at the Gill conferences. Seems to me a ligitimate question in view of her comments:

* The Marriage Equality movement exploits black suffering and experiences to legitimate its own.

* The Marriage Equality movement's rallying cry against heterosexist oppression dismisses its own responsibility when it comes to white skin privilege.

* The Marriage Equality movement appropriates the content of the black civil rights movement, but discards the context and history that brought about it.

Latino is not a race. Latino is not a race. Latino is not a race. Latino is not a race. Latino is not a race. Latino is not a race.

I've hope I've repeated this enough to dispel foolish stereotypes born out of infinite American ignorance.

I would like you to explain the assumption that The Marriage Equality Movement-- as you call it-- is the dominion of upper class white gay men. How is marriage not equally meaningful to people of color?

Latino is not a race.

What exactly is your point? That Latino is an ethnicity? It's certainly a contested category, but you don't mention why Latino is not a race. I'm left wondering whether your making a technical point about language, or making a nuanced point about racial identification, or denying that Latino people exist (a la the old idea that Latinos are all white).

In fact, the only time Latinos are mentioned is to discuss who was involved in Stonewall. Regardless of what Latino is (race, ethnicity, social category, etc), that statement still seems very true to me.

Also, I think you are misreading the point about marriage organizers. I didn't see anything that claimed marriage does not benefit people of color. It is The Marriage Equality Movement(TM) which is led by organizations and headed by boards that are disproportionately white, who in turn frame the issue in a way that disproportionately represents white people. Whether or not the ends are beneficial isn't what is being discussed, it's about whether or not the means are.

umm Tobi, how exactly do they do this "who in turn frame the issue in a way that disproportionately represents white people"

Is there a "white" way to be Married? Culturally there may be different ways to view Marriage but Politcally and Legally there's only one way...the way the Government sees it. And thats what were fighting for, the be treated equaly under the law and by the government.

It's not about how to hold a marriage ceremony, but how to talk about marriage, what stations to run your ads on, how you design those ads, who you choose as spokespeople, how race is represented in your strategic plan, and so on.

Having watched the No on 8 campaign closely, a lot of those criticisms are really important. As much as I love the TV show Heroes, the decision to pay whatever exorbitant fees to have commercials on the Heroes season premiere while claiming to not have enough money for a Spanish language radio ad really sent the wrong message.

It's not just California, I saw the same thing in Oregon. There was barely a single person of color in any of the ads, and the opposition clearly demonstrated more care and concern about communities of color. That's not just a poor strategic decision, it's an insult. That's how communities of color -- especially those involved in the LGBT movement -- end up seeing it.

Yes, the point was to bring light that Latino is an ethnicity. There are white, black, Asian Latinos. To typecast Latinos as brown reeks of stereotyping, of taking the whole Latino community in its immense diversity and purge it of anything not resembling the media hyped image of Mexican indigenous people.

And I'm curious how the framing of marriage equality is racist itself. I do not recall any difference in motivation. Because black people, too, love each other, and they should be free to marry who they love? Check. That they need the benefits? Bolded check, considering that those pushed to lower socioeconomic status will need these benefits above all. Because there must be separation of church and state? Check, equally benefits gay people of color.

Care to elaborate? boils down to this and this alone.

Some things are the right thing to do, some are not. If you take a stand that demonizes or denies basic civil rights to another group, you are on the wrong side, no excuses, no waffling, no oppression comparisons apply. Sometimes wrong is just plain wrong.

There is no actual Biblical defense of this hatred of GLBT people, what passes for condemnation is small potatoes biblically speaking, compared to adultery, one of the big ten of sins and yet not treated in this fashion. Frankly the whining "don't blame us, we're more oppressed" crap is old. We are SUPPOSED to be in this together. Black americans have no shortage of bigots too, face it, deal with it.

Oh look someones bashing the "Rich Gay White Male" again...oh my how original ...sigh....

Cant wait for the "ex" Rich Gay White Males to jump on this and shriek with delight...

Lets hear it 10...9...8...7...6...5....

Well, Gay is not the new black, nor is it the new anything else.

We are our own minority, universally loathed, denied rights by even minorities also denied rights. Firpo Carr has assured us that Blacks do not like us. Mormons do not like us. Bill Donohue says that Catholics don't like us. We are the whipping post of American Politics and in that sense no copparasions to other minorities can be or should be drawn.

That said, I have to impose upon Reverend Monroe to expain to this European Immigrant in what sense the Marriage Equality movement's rallying cry against heterosexist oppression dismisses its own responsibility when it comes to white skin privilege.

I am not disagreeing with you, I lacks the innate sense of american perception of race to follow the argument.

Rev. Monroe raises some valid points about racism in the marriage equality movement. You cannot bemoan black community opposition to LGBT marriage equality on one hand while not asking yourself why the No On 8 campaign, for example, never bothered doing any sort of outreach to the black community.

That said, Rev. Monroe's post left me frustrated. Point taken that the black and black LGBTQ community is legitimately pissed about such things as "gay is the new black." But what concrete steps can be taken to fix this state of affairs?

I'm not a very bright person, and I don't want to take a well-intentioned action that will make a bad situation worse. So what can marriage equality activists such as myself do to make things right?

Wow, this is really a difficult site for a gay white male to visit without getting tarred by accusations of racism. How many different subsets of the gay community do we need to coddle before we aren't being discriminatory?

Actually, it's an easy site for a gay white male to visit; I should know. It's my site and I'm a gay white male.

I hope you take from the site the same thing I do - there are a lot of different viewpoints and experiences in our community. If we blind ourselves to each other, there's no way we'll find a way to work past our issues to success.

Perhaps by keeping an open mind and a willingness to engage in some difficult conversations, we can create our own success - without having to piggyback off of other minority groups.

I dont know Bil, kinda have to agree with Tom, IMO its seems the only thing that most of the contributors on this site hate more than Gay White Males is HRC. I love the site but wow...while our differences are constantly being talked about there's very little on the way of unity or working together...and when you bring up that idea its like an immediate backlash...

I dont know Bil, kinda have to agree with Tom, IMO its seems the only thing that most of the contributors on this site hate more than Gay White Males is HRC. I love the site but wow...while our differences are constantly being talked about there's very little on the way of unity or working together...and when you bring up that idea its like an immediate backlash...

Midtowner -

I think HRC still ranks #1. We agree there. LOL (Remember, even I'mnow Joe S's best friend somehow! LOL)

I feel obligated to point out your comment about GWM's. The majority of our contributors are Gay White Males. As I look back over the past month or so I can see that 8 posts were about "Stop comparing black vs gay" or "Blacks aren't to blame for Prop 8" posts. We usually publish 12-16 posts per day.

It's always interesting to me when something like this pops up occasionally. Remember when folks were complaining that we were an "all-trans all-the-time site"? We had a spate of trans posts for a few days and suddenly we were "going trans." Now, we're hating on GWMs.

But we're not. We're still the same blog as always. :)

I've noticed that this tends to happen around subjects that are getting quite a bit of traffic and comments. For example, Rev Monroe also sent this piece out to several other sources - a UK LGBT site, Pam's House Blend, probably others that I haven't seen yet since she publishes in many places. All of the sites have also had quite a few comments and quibbles. The post obviously engenders some passions on both sides.


It's what we need. We need to have some of these conversations desperately. If it makes you uncomfortable to realize that others are having these experiences and feel this way, maybe we should explore why that is. I've gotten defensive on some of the trans posts myself. I simply don't see myself in the way they describe so I bite back.

Personally, I don't think of you (from your comments here since we don't know each other in real life) as a racist or transphobic. I'd hope you think the same thing of me. So how do we get past our own defenses of "Not me!" to exploring why so many black or trans folks are having these feelings or experiences?

We have to talk it out. I think you're on to something too when you question how we work together in unity. That's the end result we need to arrive at, but there's something to be said for letting some of the old scabs get picked off before moving forward. Sometimes folks just need to get it off their chest.

Besides, if we know everyone is coming from, it'll make it easier to see future roadblocks. Don't you think?

Bil, very nice I appreciate what your saying and agree...I guess being a white gay guy, when I come to the site it seems like the only acceptable group to blast are Rich White Gays (which I am white and gay, but not rich)... If I say akward things about Trans-folk I get it,if Im not racially sensitive enought I get it...but everyone seems to get a free pass on blasting the rich white gay guys.

I feel that I am racially sensitive and love everyone, I love the trans folk...Ive been schooled by both groups and my awareness has been heightned, but at the same time I have my own opinions and thoughts about things. I enjoy discussing with all types of people but the validity that everyone screams for here some times does not feel like its extended to me, just because of what and who I am.

Not tyring to be to deep here, and I apprecaite the original poster and her post, growing up in Memphis I have seen racism, and seen the horrible things it has done, I just dont see it as strongly in the LGBT community. Dont get me wrong I know its there, but I never for once think the that the Rich White Gays are tying to ignore everyone of color and think only about their agenda. I believe they think its our agenda...

Keep up the great work

Pesonaly I find it insulting that that phrase was even uttered and spalshed all over the press.Owell now we get to figure out how to deal with it and bury that crazy idea.

Technically, wouldn't African-American be an ethnicity too? There are plenty of white folks living in Africa, and upon moving to the Americas, they would be white African-Americans. I mean, for that matter, not all black folks are black. I've got a black friend whose skin is lighter than mine, and I've got a white friend who's skin is darker.

Calling Latinos brown might not be entirely accurate, but I can't think of a racial term that is. And in the specific context of talking about the lack of black and brown folks in Stonewall pictures makes sense. You never can assume that there aren't PoC passing as white in a picture your looking at. So saying something along the lines of "The communities included Latinos, but the pictures had no brown folks" is actually the most accurate thing you can say?

As for how the framing of the marriage equality movement can have a white bias, look just above, I went into more detail about it in a response to midtowner.

Not really. There's no unifying cultural element. Africa is divided into many sections, having been conquered by many civilizations. Hispanics have a direct and uniform heritage through the Spanish language, not to mention inherited social structures, which can be seen in how poorly they have run their governments (a Spanish legacy, where blood superseded merit far more strictly, unlike in Anglo-Saxon systems that provided more wiggle room for a meritocracy).

Black being used to refer to people of African descent is a literary transition, one that can be debated. There is no such literary transition for "Hispanic" or "Latino"; these are qualitative labels that allude to region, not skin pigment.

Black and brown people would be called just that-- black and brown people. Whether they're Hispanic or not is an entirely different detail to divulge. Contrary to popular belief, you can make references to ethnicity without having to presume race, and vice-versa. These are completely separate qualities.

Your explanation to Midtowner was fairly thorough. One thing puzzled me, though: How to talk about marriage. What do you propose are the contextual differences we should note when talking about marriage to a black person instead of a white person?

Eeek, I seem to have skimmed your response and missed this section the first time I read it.

Hispanics have a direct and uniform heritage through the Spanish language, not to mention inherited social structures, which can be seen in how poorly they have run their governments (a Spanish legacy, where blood superseded merit far more strictly, unlike in Anglo-Saxon systems that provided more wiggle room for a meritocracy).

I'm incredibly uncomfortable with this. After assuming all Latinos are Hispanic, you seem to cast all Latino people as one monolithic group, which you identify as being less capable, and to top it off you go into how Anglo-Saxons are superior. I'm actually a bit speechless.

You're forgetting about Portuguese. Brazilians are Latinos as well...

Nerissa Belcher | December 17, 2008 12:16 AM

I agree with Rev Monroe that gay is not the new Black. What is the new Black is poverty. Whether gay, straight, White, Black or whatever a person is treated more in accordance to their income than their sexual orientation or skin color. This being particularly the case in the USA.

Rather than focus on who can claim to be a member of the biggest group of victims we should focus on the ever increasing gap between the haves and have nots. Everyone should have an equal shot at success regardless of their race, gender, etc.

This idea is the yet to be realized foundation of our nation given that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are declared to be inalienable rights in the United States Declaration of Independence. Perhaps these rights would have been realized already if professional victims of all sorts would fight for them rather than for the sanctification of their victim status.

For more on the role of poverty see "Obama's turn to the right leaves out poor LGBTQ Americans" at by Rev. Monroe.


General comment:
Yet another plea by a prominent black writer, yet another rash of defensive responses. Sigh. Why do I even bother to be a part of this movement?

You have an allergic reaction when someone suggests you change your ways to be more inclusive or take account of historic inequalities that we often reinforce through our community's practices.

Just so you know, pigmentation and phenotypes among blacks are varied as well. "Black" is also a fluid category--especially now that the "one-drop" rule is fading away and scientists are becoming louder about the fact that race does not exist biologically.

Let's say Latinos are not a traditional "race" (and I agree), for some reason I'm sensing a defensiveness in your posts that reminds me of the racial hang-ups I've noticed among some Latinos (as in the black community, often European features are valued more than indigenous or African features; racial discrimination in countries like Brazil and Columbia, etc).

Maybe it was your second post which made reference to "Mexican indigenous people" and for some reason I sensed a desire to distance yourself from that image (oh God, please--we're not all THOSE people!). Hopefully, I am very mistaken.

P.S. I'm sure you don't need to be reminded of this, but Brazilians speak Portuguese--not Spanish.

I fear we're getting into a bit too much of semantics, but while there are a plethora of cultures in Africa, isn't that also the case among Latinos? The term Latino represents dozens of countries across two continents, including individuals who don't have traceable lineages of Spanish decent.

Overall, though, I think we can agree that the issues of culture, skin, other physical features, nationality, family, and self-identification get conflated as one or maybe two issues. The same thing happens with the concept of "gender" representing assigned sex, secondary sexual characteristics, gonads, external genitals, chromosomes, presentation, self-identification, perceived gender, legal documentation, and so forth.

As to your last question, it's a bit misleading. When talking to an individual, race is only one of thousands of things to consider. But when communicating through mass media to a large population, there are specifics. You can start by reaching out to PoC community leaders, putting PoC in your ads, running them on stations aimed at PoC, get PoC volunteers, send speakers to PoC events, use the existing PoC networks from your ally organizations. I'm sure someone could create some specific talking points, but the first and most important part is not HOW you talk to PoC, but IF you talk to PoC.

I get your point on reaching PoC now. It's not the how you really where referring to, but whether you actually bother to target them. Fair enough.

On the nomenclature issue, Latino's are united by the Spanish language; and while their lineage is not Spanish in some regions, that's the country that has had a hegemonic effect on the structuring of these countries. They all speak Spanish. There is no thing in Africa, however, such as speaking "African". The customs throughout most of Latin American have some Spanish culture ingrained on them. Ultimately, though, it boils down to language as an identity. Gender is incorrectly used, as you pointed out, and it drives me nuts (so far that I'll even amend applications writing "gender" for "sex"). Just because there's a lazy conflation by irresponsible media, however, does not justify the misconceptions.

Bravo, Dr. Monroe. I applaud your post. It is unfortunate that white privilege obscures the understanding of those who should otherwise be allies. I cringed when I saw the Advocate headline. I cringe whenever I think of it.

But at the same time, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who don't understand. I also understood nothing until I went to graduate school and read about the nature of oppression and the specifics of its history in this country. As a straight white male middle class lawyer, I had never experienced oppression based on my race or my sexual orientation or or my class or my gender. I could not appreciate what those others were talking about, and ascribed their complaints to a victim mentality. When I transitioned, there was a big "aha!" moment - which lasted several years. Going back to grad school and reading about oppression helped me make sense of what I was experiencing. Race discrimination really is completely unlike sexual orientation discrimination in so many ways -- except the fact that both are immoral.

For those of you who don't understand how Rev. Monroe can make these claims, I suggest reading up on some classic works regarding US oppression. I've got some on my website for my classes. I tend towards the legal side of things, so I would suggest Derrick Bell's 1980 article: “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma.”

While Brown now seems to be one of the most applauded Supreme Court decisions ever, it was one of the most heavily criticized for decades. After Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the eminent law professor Herbert Wechsler questioned whether the Supreme Court's decision could be justified on the basis of neutral legal principles, implying that it was just an attempt to appease Blacks. Prof. Bell demonstrates conclusively that, far from an attempt to appease Blacks, the decision was actually an attempt to appease White elites, and did very little to improve the actual educational conditions of African-Americans. In fact, to this day, we have largely segregated schools and neighborhoods, and aside from the satisfaction of outlawing statutory segregation, the Brown decision has failed to live up to its promise.

I try, but I don't get it.

I respect the African American achievements, as we all work to overcome America's original sin. And as a world traveler I am intensely aware of my white skin privilege. But I still don't get it.

How is invoking the honor and respect we all feel for the achievements of black America a form of disrespect? How is using their beacon wrong? We've worked hard to get here. Can't we all enjoy the fruit of our labors? Can Asians use African Americans as a model or is that disrespect too? Can women? Religious minorities? I don't get how America (all of us, black and white and brown and yellow and whatever) having this great achievement we can finally point to with some pride and hope (and yes the job is far from done) is a form of disrespect and dismissal.

This is all a little weird sounding. We can't use the black experience as an example without kissing the ring and genuflecting? I thought all Americans had this experience of overcoming our BS about race. I thought we all owned this. I didn't know it belongs to black people who have control over how we talk about it. I thought my fighting for black rights was part of my experience even though I have white skin. I thought I lived through these last 50 years and have my own take on it an my own right to speak on it. I've ridden this roller coaster for decades, can't i draw from my experience? Can't I talk about my experience in my voice without checking in with the closest black person? Does my Obama vote still count if I am white?

I also think Rev Monroe commits a serious rhetorical sin using such incendiary language without examples. I am a white guy. So please explain to me how my saying "We want the right to marry" or "I want my civil rights" commits the sin that it "dismisses its own responsibility when it comes to white skin privilege." Say what? Does my sign at the rally have to say, "We want the right to marry - and of course I note inclusion of working class black lesbians who would otherwise not feel included without this disclaimer"?

I don't know about you, but in my world "we" includes all of us, rich, poor, black, white, lesbian, gay, bi, etc, etc etc. I am not sure I am the one committing the sin of exclusion. (No on 8 was not savvy about anything, so using them as an example of what the community feels is disingenuous.) No gay person I know leaves out the rest, but we can only speak for ourselves. I say I want equal rights. I am grateful for the groundbreaking work African Americans have done in civil rights law and activism. I appreciate to these brothers and sisters for lighting the way. And I want civil rights for all of us.

i deeply admire you

but i disagree completely on this issue!

only fools equate gaybashing with racism
and only fools deny droves of undeniable similarities...

black gaybashers were pimped by g. w. bush to help steal 2 elections the very same way that they were pimped by the same hypochristians to blackout prop 8...

obama chose warren
but he would never have chosen david duke
being a racist is no longer cool in america
but being a gaybasher is heroic
this is why gay is indeed the new black
even as the old black is still black too

alicia banks

i admire you but i disagree!!!

gay is indeed the new black. and, the old black is still black too

the same black gaybashers who were pimped by republikkkans to steal 2 elections are the very same black fools who were pimped to blackout prop 8.

racists are no longer accepted in america.
but gaybashers are patriotic macho heros!
black gaybashers are the worst in the world, from africa to jamaica to brooklyn!

i voted for obama by default. as black gaybashers defend his choice of warren, i am prouder of that fact each day.

alicia banks

I disagree with you calling people like myself who support the incoming president 'Obama nazis' as you did on your blog.


i am very sorry about that.

but, my mom taught me to call them as i see them.

i have seen obama's fans acting like nazis for two years!...

from banishing tavis smiley to denying the blackness of cornel west to denying that bo's mom is white to calling a legendarily afrocentric rebel like myself a race traitor because i proudly voted for hc...

most of obamas fans have lost their ENTIRE mind,s PRECISELY as nazis did.

see much more on this at my blog: