As a colored boy growing up in the 1970s, I experienced a world where my openly gay uncle thrived as a well-known church organist in our hometown of St. Louis. I don't recall hearing much anti-gay rhetoric from the pulpit back then.
As a high school and college student in the 1980s, I never really thought about people who were gay. The only public discussion I remember was that gay people were dying of AIDS.
As a law student in the 1990s, I finally came out to myself. The next day I came out to my mom. I called her on the phone, she listened, and she told me she loved me. But she left me with a warning. "Be careful," she said. "And don't tell too many people about this."
Twenty years later, young Black gay men are finally telling their stories to as many people as possible. Many of those stories are compiled in the new book, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough.
A father slaps his son to the ground for admiring girl's clothes. A classroom bully mocks a seventh grader for being a "sissy white boy trapped in a Black boy." A single mother's boyfriend molests her son and swears him to silence. Those are just a few of the real life stories told in For Colored Boys.
In a world where young black men like Trayvon Martin are gunned down for looking suspicious, and the mysterious death of a young black man like Chavis Carter arouses little suspicion outside our own community, it's not surprising that young Black gay men would experience the double whammy of racism and homophobia.
But unlike their encounters with societal racism, colored boys often find nowhere to turn for consolation when they face homophobia, bullying or molestation because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Where do you turn when the people abusing you are the people who are supposed to protect you?
An angry mother repeatedly calls her son a "faggot." A father kicks out his son after learning he's gay. A group of neighborhood kids at a block party hurls insults at an effeminate young boy when an anti-gay reggae song comes on the radio. Those are not plot lines from a fictional E. Lynn Harris novel. Those are real life adventures as told through the stories of 45 men of color who share their deeply moving past experiences in For Colored Boys.
As the editor of this new collection, I was struck not only by the pain inflicted on these young men, but also by the source of the pain. In far too many instances, they were wounded by their own family, friends and neighbors. The very people charged with nurturing and supporting them were unintentionally killing them with words and deeds that made them feel unwelcome in their own homes and communities.
Still, I was impressed by the resilience of these young men and their ability to move from tragedy to triumph. The contributors in the book range from professional athletes coming out for the first time to drag queens who have known they were gay all their lives, thus reflecting the broad diversity of experiences in the community.
After enduring sometimes heartbreaking childhood life stories, some of the book's contributors went on to become successful lawyers and doctors, bestselling authors, filmmakers, reality TV stars and recording artists. But those are just the ones who survived. Others could not endure the abuse, and they will never be able to tell their stories.
So while adults get caught up in debating what Chick-fil-A or President Obama may think about same-sex marriage or some other hot button issues, it's important to remember how our casual language and behavior can unknowingly leave a lasting impression on the young people in our lives. Our youth are looking for love, guidance and direction. It's time we listen to what they have to say.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.
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