Black and gay in America: How a ‘subset’ of men struggle for acceptance

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Darius Pryor, community health navigator for the LGBTQ Life Center in Norfolk, said the experience for black gay men in America can be an even greater battle for acceptance. (WYDaily/Courtesy Darius Pryor)
Darius Pryor, community health navigator for the LGBTQ Life Center in Norfolk, said the experience for black gay men in America can be an even greater battle for acceptance. (WYDaily/Courtesy Darius Pryor)

Living life in the LGBTQ community can be difficult for anyone, but for black gay men acceptance poses an even greater challenge. 

A 2016 study from the journal Aids and Behavior showed black gay men disproportionately experience homonegativity as compared to their white counterparts, resulting in greater rates of depression and social isolation. 

There are a variety of resources for the LGBTQ community in Hampton Roads but for some, there is still a feeling of being ostracized by the African American community. 

“That’s part of being a subset of the LGBTQ community,” said Darius Pryor, community health navigator for the LGBTQ Life Center in Norfolk. “So for a gay, white male looking at me, I’m still inferior. But I would get the same energy in my own community from a straight black male because he only sees that I’m gay.”

Pryor said part of the issue comes from being seen through a lens of power hierarchy. Because of his skin color and sexual orientation, he lacks power in both minority communities which makes it difficult to feel accepted.

In the African American community, studies have shown that specifically gay men struggle for acceptance. Part of this relates to the way religion is embedded into the community, which in the past has created a source for homonegativity. 

But Pryor said even outside the religious community there is a sense of emasculation of gay men that roots back to slavery. When black men were slaves, often they would be subjected to “buck breaking,” meaning they were raped by their owners as a tool to make them feel inferior.

Centuries later that mentality is still in the background of African American culture, Pryor said.

“That trickles down,” he said. “There’s been a high teaching of homosexuality as wrong even for white America, but at the same time it’s a little bit of trauma for us. It’s in our DNA at this point.”

Pryor has had even more of a social hurdle after being diagnosed HIV-positive. 

According to the study, black men have an increased risk of HIV exposure due to complex factors of social environment, mainly being the stigma in the black community surrounding homosexuality. Pryor said in his experience, part of this is because individuals aren’t discussing sexuality and prevention methods so many aren’t aware of how to protect themselves.

Being an HIV-positive black gay man in the modern day is a struggle because it’s yet another subset of a minority struggling for acceptance.

Pryor works with HIV prevention efforts in the area and he said one goal is to help people learn empathy and understanding, instead of dividing a person into various categories.

“It all becomes compounded when you’re representative of some of those groups,” he said. “It’s a lot to have to guard yourself on so many different fronts constantly.”

Pryor said those conversations are slowly changing in the black community, especially with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

With the recent political unrest surrounding the discrimination of black people in America, Pryor said more are also looking at the difficulties surrounding black gay men. During protests or media coverage, there has started to be even more representation of LGBTQ individuals in the black community which Pryor said will hopefully help make a change toward acceptance.

“There’s been a lot that has been done, and centuries of conditioning, to get to where we are now,” he said. “It’s either going to continue to happen where we have these movements every few decades…or the system can be made even to where we don’t have to compartmentalize ourselves.” 

Victor McDaniel and his boyfriend, Elvis. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Victor McDaniel)
Victor McDaniel and his boyfriend, Elvis. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Victor McDaniel)

Victor McDaniel is a black, transgender gay man who lives in Portsmouth with his boyfriend, Elvis, a white gay man, as well as Elvis’ family.

“I guess right now, it feels likes I’m not wanted anywhere,” the 22-year-old said.

McDaniel, who works at Kroger, said he feels like his identity and situation is a “double whammy” and he is struggling to find a family.

“My own family didn’t accept me being trans so me being gay is a really big problem for them right now,” he said.

His mother is a conservative Christian and McDaniel said he grew up in the church and was taught it was not okay to be gay.

“I was absolutely terrified to come out,” he said.

McDaniel would dress as a boy wearing androgynous clothing and sometimes people would mistake him as boy. His mother thought he was gay and liked women.

“I think it would have been easier to understand if that had been the case,” he added.

While his boyfriend’s family support McDaniel because he is gay and is “okay” with him being transgender, they have an issue with him being black.

“It’s hard because there’s so many forms of racism,” McDaniel said. “It’s something that I’m very aware of constantly.”

For example, Elvis had to unfriend people because they made comments like “oh, you’re still with that black guy.”

The black community and the Black Lives Matter movement is a different story.

“It’s hard dealing with it because I’m very passionate about black issues,” McDaniels said. “I am kind of outspoken about it.”

One issue is people using the phrase “All Lives Matter,” and not understanding black people are disproportionately targeted because of the color of their skin.

“You’re not scared to get pulled over by police even if it’s a broken tail light,” he said.

And it can be difficult to explain that to some people who may not understand.

“I can try my best but walking into a room and being the only black person is absolutely terrifying,” he said. “If you’re not black you’re never going to be able to really understand that.”

What is harder, being black or gay?

“I would say being black is harder because it’s not something you can hide easily,” McDaniel said. “You can’t really conceal the color of your skin.”

He noted he is both black and gay “24/7” and when people say blue lives matter, he points out “that’s a uniform you can take off.”

“I’m scared of the police, if I need help I don’t want people to call the police, because I don’t want to be seen as a threat,” he said.

He said he would just do his best in an emergency to take care of himself or just go straight to the hospital.

Being gay has other challenges, too.

McDaniel can’t hold hands in public with Elvis or show other public displays of affection.

“People are accepting but not as accepting as you think,” he said. “It’s just hard in general and I’m always scared of being beat up.”

In the black community, celebrating blackness is a challenge because he is gay.

“Being gay isn’t inherently a good thing,” he said. “There are spaces for black men but they are hyper masculine. You have to be a man, you have to grow up, you have to be a certain way, you have to do this.”

“If you’re anything other than straight, it’s sort of frowned upon,” he added.

June is Pride Month, but McDaniel said he doesn’t feel proud of who he is.

“I don’t feel like I have anything to be proud of,” he said. “I’m still scared to come out.”

“Because I belong to so many groups…it just feels like I have no true home.”

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