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Say It Loud

I have been blessed to have known, and know, some pretty fierce women who taught me a great deal about perseverance, love, humility, honor, virtue, character, and respect. These women are the catalysts behind who I am today, and they continue to shape and guide my life. Two of these women are my grandmother and my mother.

My grandmother was part Mohawk (my great grandfather) and Cherokee (my great grandmother). She was given in marriage, for a small dowry, to a Black man much older than she. During their marriage, my grandfather physically abused my grandmother, shamed her, abusing her so bad one time she miscarried, and then left her to pursue other women leaving my grandmother without money to support herself or their 8 living children.

My grandmother became a sharecropper, moving from city to city, town to town, state to state, picking and curing tobacco, cotton, beans, whatever would get the family through. Because of the many moves between North and South Carolina and Virginia some of the children were unable to get much of an education as they were only able to attend school on bad weather days when they were unable to work the fields.

As my grandmother was abused so too was she an abuser, separating the light from the dark, she physically and mentally abused the darker complexioned children. My mother, being one of the darker complexioned children, was least likely to get an education and most likely to be harshly punished. My mother often talks about the many pounds of cotton she picked, the bruises she suffered in tobacco and cotton fields, the shingles and constant scarring of her hands, the many horrible whippings she received, and being in weather so cold she thought she would freeze to death, but still in spite of it all, she credits her mother, my grandmother, for keeping the family together by doing the best she knew.

I now agree with my mother. Though my grandmother was a dogmatic sanctified holy roller, as we used to call them, who mixed in a little Indian tradition with her Christian beliefs, she still kept her family together. Being a sharecropper family headed by a single woman, it was not unusual for the owner of the property whose land you worked to come ‘round to see ‘bout you. Maybe he wanted something from your garden, harass the mother, or worse, one of the daughters. My grandmother never allowed anything to happen to any of her daughters – light or dark – she kept them with her and protected them. If she felt anything was about to happen, had a dream, or felt something was wrong, she would pick up and move again – all of them.

My mother married my father, left home, headed for Washington, D.C. and left the belief system of her mother, and others in her family, that all a darker complexioned woman was capable of doing was cleaning homes. After a few months in Washington, my mother and father moved to Chicago where my brother and I were born. She played the part of a dutiful housewife and mother until I was seven-years old when my father died in a horrible plant accident where he worked. At that time, my mother did not have a high school diploma and had not worked on a job for six or seven years. There was no insurance money, no wrongful death litigation – there was nothing but rent to pay, a car loan, and two mouths to feed.

My mother went out to find work and got a job at the post office. Months later, she went back to school to get her high school diploma. She did not want a GED and after a bad experience in a welfare office, she chose not to apply and back to school she went to get a certificate as a Licensed Practical Nurse. After being called a glorified nurses aide, she went back to school to receive an Associates Degree as a Registered Nurse.

I stop here to add a note about my hometown Chicago. Chicago is often referred to as the most racist city in the nation. It is my belief that any African American who has lived through and experienced the overt racism, racial attacks, and “Council Wars,” where the City Council is not divided along partisan but racial lines, you can make it anywhere in the world. I have been spat upon, called out of my name (and you know what that is), threatened with physical bodily harm for being Black, have had eggs thrown at my car, and have been followed around stores. More importantly, as an African American in Chicago, you can expect the bar of success to be arbitrarily raised to keep you out of certain jobs. One word I often heard was “overqualified.” I was so overqualified for so many jobs it ain’t even funny.

My mother had many experiences with the bar being raised and was told B.S. RN’s were better suited for management level positions. My mother went back to school again and became a B.S. RN and worked in a number of management level positions. When she resigned one position to take on a challenge elsewhere, Black and White folk hated to see her go, she was that good. In her late 50’s, my mother received her Master’s degree and now, in her late 60’s is contemplating a Ph.D.

Though my grandmother had her afflictions regarding darker complexioned people who were incapable of doing anything more than housekeeper, my mother was the only one of four daughters to get a college education. My grandmother finally did display my mother's graduation picture on her piano and would boast often about her daughter the nurse.  Though my mother had her afflictions with homophobia, she got over it when realizing her daughter was not the perverse stereotypical image she maintained of lesbians and gays.  Now, she wants to tell everybody I'm gay and often talks about people living their lives to the fullest because "you only have one life."

My grandmother could have passed for White sans her darker complexioned children. Maybe she blamed them for her lot in life or maybe she took out her anger on them because they looked like their father. One fact remains true; she could have given them away or passed them off to other relatives, but she chose to keep her family together.

My mother, an attractive, shapely woman with long beautiful black hair had so many men vying for her attention, but my mother was very particular about who she allowed around her children. She could have given us away to my father’s family or hers, but she chose to keep her family together.

Two stories, two women; both came to accept their daughters after their daughters moved on, shattering preconceived notions and stereotypical images. So, when reading the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Survey, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” I can only say I was a bit peeved at questions 6 and 7, which assumed “Racism is a problem . . .” and “Homophobia is a problem . . .” No, “homophobia is” not a problem for me and “racism is” not a problem for me and I resent anyone assuming these two conditions are a matter of fact in my life. My history and experience has taught me these two conditions are a problem only if allowed. A problem, difficulty, crisis, quandary, a predicament, a fix? No, not a problem. My problem with homophobia was just that, my problem and my own fears, not the fears of the community in which I lived. When I came out no one really cared and most assumed I was a lesbian because I am unmarried and without children. They didn’t know anything about homosexuals, they didn’t understand homosexuals, but they knew me and I was not what they envisioned a homosexual to be – I do not have a turnstile at my front door with women going in and out.

Two women, both experienced prejudices on some level, both experienced sexism on some level, both experienced racism on some level and both realized they did not have the luxury of belaboring this point and chose instead to keep their families together. What about our family, the African American GLBT family? Why did the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum come in seventh in name recognition after the NAACP, the ACLU, and the NGLTF; second to the NAACP in terms of organizational attendance; and second in organizations that represent and fight for Black GLBT issues? I’m confused, low in name recognition but a little higher in attendance and in the belief they fight for Black GLBT issues. Did someone talk to them after they circled “No” in the column asking if they heard of the organization and then said “oh yeah, I did go to one of those conferences” and “I guess with a name like that they must be fighting for Black GLBT issues?” Here is where we need to work. We need to keep the family together. Our Black GLBT organization needs our help as do other Black organizations named in this survey. Excluding the NAACP, other non-Black organizations faired better than our own organizations.

Two women, both single parents and though their methods varied with regard to child rearing, their objectives were the same – keep the family together at all costs. Though my mother can tell the story of my grandmother’s abuse and so too can I tell a few stories about my own mother’s abuse, she and I, daughters of mothers, realized we needed to agree to disagree and move forward building bridges toward understanding while using our lives as the examples within our home, within the family, within our community and then out into the world where we traveled with unity and strength. A house divided cannot stand.

Like Malcolm and Martin, or Booker T and W.E.B., our motives may vary but our objectives are quite often the same. When we, the African American GLBT family, stand with one another in unity, agreeing to disagree, looking to understand and not condemn, then folks will have to come to us looking for the answers instead of us going to them looking for solutions. We will not be encumbered by racism or homophobia and we will no longer teach this as a problem.  We will instead be empowered through unity and strength and yes, we will overcome.  Charity begins at home.

Three women, mothers and daughters who argued and disagreed many times over motives, guilty as charged for perpetuating hurt and pain from the past, but worthy still of celebration for the objective to keep the family together.  Women who learned and then taught by example how to overcome adversity and to stand tall and proud in spite of it.  Women who looked at themselves and realized they needed to build bridges of understanding from one generation to the next bringing with them the balm to heal the wounds of past hurts, and then stood tall and proud, side by side in unity.  Because of these two fierce women, my mother and grandmother, I can truly say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.


NOTE:  It is not my intention to imply that mothers who have children not living with them are less of a woman or mother for their decisions or for what was forced upon them.  Sometimes, that is what's best for the child.  My mother still struggles with whether she made the right decision in doing what she did as did my grandmother.  I will grant you, their decision caused some pretty deep scars in their children.  After looking back and understanding and forgiving my mother, only then could I see not one, but two very strong women.  Raising children as a single mother is not an easy task and there are no right answers.  Things happen for a reason, people and situations come into our lives to provide us with the necessary lessons we will need for our vocation in life.  The above is my story and the lessons I learned from two women who happened to be my mother and my grandmother. 








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Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud gives one of the first and largest glimpses into a national, multicity sample of Black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The study examines family structure, sexual identity, political behavior, experiences of racism and homophobic bias, and the policy priorities of more than 2,500 Black GLBT people that attended Black Gay Pride celebrations in nine cities during the summer of 2000. Nine local Black Pride organizations, five prominent African-American researchers, and the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force collaborated on this project.  



Queer as white folk

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Later this month, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will release a first-of-its-kind survey of 2,500 black lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people. The potentially groundbreaking survey, conducted by five African-American LGBT researchers, was administered over a five-month period in the spring and summer of 2000 and asked participants to describe their sexual orientation.

It will come as no surprise if very few respondents identified as "queer." Despite the claim that "queer" is more inclusive than "gay" and simpler than "LGBT," the word "queer" is just as white as the television show that bears its name. It does not represent the vast majority of black homosexuals and bisexuals.  [Read More]


NGLTF's Black Gay survey finally arrives,
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The most curious thing about the survey is the title, "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." It's taken from the James Brown song of the late sixties' Black Power / Black is Beautiful era. It's curious because, while it speaks volumes about "Black" pride, it has nothing to do with "Gay" pride.  [Read More]



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