It is the most fabulous time of the year: LGBTQ Pride Month! Cities such as New York and Los Angeles are decorated with love, sunshine and all the beautiful colors of the LGBTQ rainbow flag. (Yasss!) This year, however, new shades have been added to the rainbow flag: black and brown. The “new” flag debuted at the beginning of June (Pride Month) in Philadelphia to expressively represent the Black and brown members of the LGBTQ community. Although it was an effort to support and acknowledge an even more oppressed group, the new flag has received resistance and disapproval.
I am not a member of the LGBTQ community* firsthand, but I come from a family with a stunning trans aunt, grew up with lots of friends within the LGBTQ community, attended the Pride parades in NYC since I was a child, my mother worked in a lesbian bar in the '90s for years (Henrietta Hudson's before it turned into an all-inclusive gay bar) and the list literally goes on! As a woman of color, on the other hand, I have witnessed both racism and “reverse” racism (having a white father who was raised by a black family), thus I see the significance of drawing awareness to those who are doubly marginalized. It is already a struggle to be a person of color and it’s an even harsher struggle to be both Black/brown and LGBTQ.
Some of the criticism surrounding the black and brown stripes being added to the rainbow flag is that the rainbow is already a representation of ALL people within the LGBTQ community. Displaying black and brown stripes on the flag has been seen as excluding white members by including the element of race in an already targeted minority. The dialogue sparked by the updated rainbow flag is extremely important and relevant. As an ally, I really wanted to better understand the opinions and various points of view of my friends and family within the LGBTQ community on this passionate debate.
Many of my friends within the LGBTQ community, both of color and otherwise, seem to disagree with the placement of the black and brown stripes.“Gay is not a race. The flag has absolutely nothing to do with RACE; it represents all inclusion. And most of all it doesn't match!” said a very close friend of mine Neil-Christian Williams. After speaking on his being a Black man within the LGBTQ community, he expressed to me he will always be a Black man first before being recognized as a gay man. He and others I’ve spoken to feel as if the efforts to redesign the flag are done in vain since adding race to any equation in our country’s current fragile state will gain notoriety. He felt racism in general, LGBTQ or otherwise, is most imminent.
I managed to have a heart to heart conversation with my girlfriend, Isis King, the first Trans woman to appear on the famed reality show America’s Next Top Model. She, too, disagreed with the placement of the stripes on the flag and the Black community’s need to take a deeper look within before looking outwards:
“Our flag is not about race. You can add any color you want to it but that will not fix the problems we face within our community. I read an article last week about a Black man telling a woman of mixed race that she is Black and should identify solely as Black… basically telling her she should disregard her white heritage. But who are we to tell someone how to identify themselves? She should be able to relate and acknowledge both sides of her lineage, in my opinion. But that is issue number one within the Black/brown community. We have racism/criticism within and amongst ourselves, judging others who are Black but by lighter and darker complexions. As that relates to me within the LGBTQ community as a Trans woman you are constantly struggling with who and what people are telling you to identify as. As Black/brown people we are tiresomely expressing how marginalized and discriminated against we are. We seek comfort and encouragement from outside communities… yet we do not encourage each other. We are constantly judging and comparing others that do not support us but truly that starts from within. We do not have the togetherness that provokes respect from other communities. There is good reasoning behind the brown and black stripes on the LGBTQ flag but truly it won't make a difference. There should probably be a brown stripe added to another flag, however...not the LGBTQ flag.”
She and I intimately discussed the discriminations she has faced as a Trans woman of color in the LGBTQ, despite her fame. It was disheartening for me to learn a lot of abuse she, and other members of the Trans community, has faced are Black-on-Black crimes. Isis shared the Trans community still has the highest murder, suicide and homeless rates above any other community. Partial responsibility stems from [Black] men having shame for being attracted to a Trans woman and/or having a difficult time facing the stigma that comes with publicly dating gay/trans people. "If there are a group of [Black] men on a corner, I am reluctant to walk by them more than any other group of men,” Isis disclosed.
When members of your own community disregard you because of your sexual orientation, it becomes much harder to protect the lives of those that are doubly ostracized. People are abandoned by their own families for proudly standing up for themselves. This leads to prostitution, drug abuse, suicide, etc. “Black Lives Matter until you're Trans or Black Lives Matter until you're gay.” Similarly, the religious communities of people of color (and otherwise) do not embrace being true to one’s sexuality, hence why there are so many people that are secretly members of the LGBTQ community but shaming it simultaneously.
I spoke with Atiba Newsome, a celebrity stylist who frequently works with models, actors and musicians in the entertainment industry. An industry stereotypically deemed an impartial sanctuary and hub for hetero- and homosexual creatives alike. Yet, he explained how he consistently maintains his professionalism and mindfully conducts himself in a way to neither entice nor deter him of preferential treatment. “I do not support nor do I denounce the 'gay' flag because I personally do not feel like being gay is a handicap or a setback. Now being Black on the other hand is another thing. People know I am gay when I want them to know, unlike being Black, which is obvious.”
However, there were definitely a few people I spoke with that DO appreciate the flag reaffirming and highlighting the cultural battles Black and brown members of the LGBTQ community face versus white members. A friend of mine, and Trans-man Bryce, shared, “While I agree that the stripe is ‘a bold statement to stand in solidarity with its Black/brown sisters and brothers,’ first the Black/brown community has to get behind the Black/brown LGBTQ community. Maybe if they did, we wouldn’t need a stripe. I don’t think that putting the [black/brown] stripes on the flag will change how white LGBTQ are treated or that Black LGBTQ people will be treated better. Being gay/lesbian or trans is not a race, true, but the treatment of Black/brown LGBTQ folks is far worse than white.”
To be blackballed (pun intended) in the “Land of the Free” in 2017 is an obvious indicator that we aren’t acting progressively enough for our fellow woman and man. These black and brown stripes are definitely conjuring a dialogue too essential to ignore. Yanni Pena, a close friend, colleague and stellar makeup artist, had a lot to say about the new flag. Yanni was actually the first person who enlightened me about the extension of the black and brown stripes via a Facebook post. It was astonishing to witness the level of criticism he received for outwardly supporting it. “I support the Black and brown stripes because it is a step into intersectional visibility within our (LGTBQ) community. What I am having trouble with is why are there so many people against it? Specifically white/white passing folks within our community. Even though it is argued that the rainbow flag is inclusive of all, there hasn’t been much education about the meaning of the flag and our Black trans sisters that created impact during the height of the civil rights movement. I think the addition of the black and brown stripes has sparked conversation within our community and I feel like this is the first step into a direction we want to go.”
It is biased as a person of color to side on this, but how can you not? You can immediately guess what race someone likely belongs to and the life changing privileges or life snuffing perils that go along with it. Lino Martinez, a friend, hair stylist to the stars and New York transplant from Arizona spoke to me on the vast differences in trials faced in the suburbs of Arizona versus the Big Apple. He stands firm in his support of the black and brown stripes. “As a gay Latino man, I think it is a good reminder that the struggle isn’t just with sexual orientation but also with race. Being Black or brown in this country and in this world is being born with a target on your head for discrimination. Being a Black/brown homosexual reaches higher levels of discrimination and abuse not only from other races but from homophobic people within our Black and brown communities. If these black and brown stripes can help as a reminder that we are not fighting for gay rights but for the equal rights and acceptance for people of color, I stand with it and I stand with pride!”
It was refreshing to speak so candidly with friends I hold close to my heart and to hear their opinions on a matter that affects them every day. I hope the black and brown stripes strike productive movements that spread more love and guidance and NOT divisiveness. I think it is about time we solidify unity EVERYWHERE instead of tearing each other apart (Black, brown, purple, green or blue!).