Commentary: Does It Really Matter Who Michael Sam Is Dating?

The NFL player's kiss sparks a conversation about gay interracial relationships.

Posted: 05/13/2014 10:34 AM EDT

Saturday was a historic day in professional sports. It would have been enough, for me, that my hometown St. Louis Rams chose openly gay football player Michael Sam in the seventh round of the NFL draft that day. But it was also the day when the Brooklyn Nets, the NBA's only team with an openly gay basketball player, won their first playoff game against the defending champion Miami Heat.

As you might expect, Sam's brief televised kiss with his boyfriend lit a social media firestorm over the weekend. But I'm not interested in debating the silly homophobic responses to his expression of affection. What intrigues me is that Sam's kiss also sparked a predictable but important conversation in the Black gay community about interracial relationships.

To be fair, it didn't start with Michael Sam. When CNN anchor Don Lemon came out in 2011, there was talk about his boyfriend's race. When Jason Collins came out in 2013, many in the community wondered who he was dating. And when University of Massachusetts basketball player Derrick Gordon appeared at a recent GLAAD media awards event with his white 47-year-old boyfriend, Gerald McCullouch, eyebrows were raised again.

When four prominent Black gay men come out of the closet in four years and not one of them appears to be dating another Black man, it's bound to provoke a discussion. "We are starving for healthy images of Black gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships in the media," wrote Darian Aaron, author of When Love Takes Over: A Celebration of SGL Couples of Color.

Aaron is "not troubled by interracial relationships," he wrote in a recent piece for Mused magazine, but he is troubled by what he calls a "lack of balance" in the media and by "those in our community who have subconsciously bought the lie that black men are the problem and white men are always the solution."

Karamo Brown, host of the #OWNSHOW for the OWN network, has also spoken up about this. He admitted in a recent Facebook post that he couldn't think of any prominent African-American openly gay men who were dating other Black men.

A former reality TV star turned TV host, Brown remembers some of the negative community reaction to his own interracial relationship years ago. "When I got off The Real World, I dated a Latino man," he told me in a phone interview. "And I got so much hate," in part, he says, because his boyfriend had fair skin and green eyes and looked Caucasian.

Sometimes our racial assumptions reveal the limits of identifying one another by our skin color. When Fred Rosser, better known as WWE wrestler Darren Young, came out in 2013, he appeared on The Ellen Show and did a photo spread in People magazine with his boyfriend Nick Villa, who does not appear to be Black but also is not clearly white either. That leads to the central question: Does it matter who prominent Black gay men choose to date?

I've been in interracial relationships. I've dated white men, Latinos, and Asian-Americans. But my most serious experiences have been three long-term romantic relationships with Black men. Although I value my privacy, I understand why this interests people in the community, even if it doesn't directly affect them.

There's a reason Black gay men seek validation from public figures. The two most dominant character types of Black gay men shown in the media over the past decade have been either sexual predators spreading AIDS on the down low or fabulous sidekicks to glamorous divas and TV housewives. Aside from a brief run of the LOGO TV series Noah's Arc, we rarely see publicly broadcast images of Black gay men in loving relationships with one another.

But Black gay male relationships do exist. Both Darian Aaron and Karamo Brown are currently in such relationships. Diana Ross sang at Reggie Van Lee's 2011 wedding to his husband Corey McCathern. And two Black gay male couples, Octavius Terry and Jamal Sims and Quincy Lenear and Deondray Gossett, were married at this year's Grammy Awards.

Still, when I speak to Black gay men about interracial relationships, there seems to be a great deal of pain in the community that needs healing. Those who are involved in interracial relationships often feel ostracized and judged by their community, while those who want to be in relationships with other Black men often feel neglected and overlooked by the media and larger society.

Some feel Black gay men in interracial relationships don't love themselves, while some who are in these relationships feel they don't see Black gay men who appreciate them for who they are. And sometimes it's just as simple as two people falling in love.

There is no one single Black gay experience, but there must be a way to bring these seemingly opposed groups together. The high-profile interracial dating stories we see in the media should not be used as an excuse to judge one another. And we certainly should avoid using someone else's dating experience, or even our own past experience, to draw conclusions about the worthiness of all Black gay men for relationships.

Karamo Brown suggests "this would be a key time for those brothers who are in interracial relationships in the public eye to express that 'this is who I love but it does not take away from the love for my community.'" That could be helpful, but a conversation this raw will require both sides to come to the table and talk candidly.

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 commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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