With kindness and light in her heart Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, and gay liberation activist helped march the gay rights movement forward during the 1960s. Yet, though she was a pivotal figure in history, it seems that her story has been swept under the rug and known only by those who seek it out.
That sentiment of underrepresentation is something the 39% of LGBTQIA people who identify as people of color grapple with every day.
According to a study by the UCLA Williams Institute, LGBTQIA people were nearly four times more likely to experience violent victimization. In addition, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of anti-LGBTQ hate groups rose from 49 to 70 in 2019.
Also, in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 30+ transgender or gender-nonconforming people were murdered, with the majority of them being Black and Latinx transgender women.
These statistics, along with constant bigotry online or in real life, made it apparent to most LGBTQIA people of color that the fight for equity was not over.
“Being of LGBTQ and a person of color right now in this moment, we are very underrated,” said Jay Love, a Black gender-nonconforming UA senior majoring in African American studies.
Love said they felt like it’s a constant fight to “prove a point” that LGBTQIA people of color deserve the same privileges and acceptance that the majority take for granted.
This fight for acceptance is something Faith Wamble, a Black bisexual junior at the University of Alabama majoring in environmental engineering and specialist in the army, understood immensely.
She said it was a fight that had seeped into many facets of her life. While at work, she experiences occasional hostility when customers made the wrong assumption about her sexuality. And though her immediate family was welcoming to her, she also faced some opposition from her relatives while coming out.
Wamble said she even experienced these moments of opposition in the military.
“I’m already looked down upon, so to speak, because I’m female, and on top of that, I’m Black,” Wamble said. “And on top of that if I’m like I’m gay; they’re like ‘oh no she can’t do this,’ and it’s like there’s no reason that it should be held against me in a sense.”
She said moments like that made her feel like she had to validate herself to other people continually.
“I try not to because I am who I am. I don’t really have to explain myself to you, but sometimes I find myself in a position where they aren’t trying to be bigoted. They just don’t understand,” Wamble said. “And there’s only so much I can do to help them understand. Like look, just because I’m this way doesn’t mean it changes how I can be with you.”
In the search for acceptance and equity, these educational moments are essential because ignorance and fear are breeding grounds for hatred and stigma.
Yet while trying to educate others, people of color and Black people in particular are sometimes met with even more hatred and stigma.
Love said when Black people speak out about an issue, they are painted as “an angry Black [person],” making it hard to truly educate and even harder for Black people to reach toward equity.
That’s something Stephen Shol, a gay biracial junior communications studies major at the University of Alabama, recognized.
Shol said as a biracial person who can sometimes be “white-passing,” he had to realize that he had some privileges that weren’t afforded to Black people, and because of that, speaking out was necessary.
“I have to use my privilege to talk about what’s going on for other people, specifically for Black people in America,” Shol said. “We know that there is a problem, and there’s been a problem for a long time, and I feel like especially now it is so important for everybody to use their voice.”
Pedro Reyes, a gay Latinx sophomore majoring in political science and criminal justice, also recognized that his experience as a person of color and LGBTQIA member was different and at times more privileged than others. Yet, with that privilege, he works to dismantle these stigmas and educate others on them.
However as those who identified with the two marginalized groups fought against stigmas, they acknowledged that the fight was happening inside the communities too.
Tyler Samples, a Black gay senior majoring in political science and public relations at The University of Alabama, said he has seen discrimination against LGBTQIA people within the Black community, and it confuses him.
“We’ll march, and we’ll protest, and we’ll say Black Lives Matter, which obviously Black Lives Matter but some people don’t account that all Black Lives Matter. It doesn’t just stop at Black straight [cisgendered] men,” Samples said.
He said he found it a “very interesting situation” that people tend to separate Black LGBTQIA lives from the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think it is very hypocritical to try to demand justice, but within your own community, you’re still blatantly discriminating against people,” Samples said.
He said it was counterproductive to fight for equity and inclusion but be exclusionary within the community.
Reyes agreed with this sentiment relating it to his experience within the Latinx community.
“Historically, the Latin community is very rooted in homophobic values and ideals, so whenever it’s this Latin pride, it’s not the same when we’re talking about [Latinx LGBTQIA members],” Reyes said. “It’s very saddening, but I also think it reflects the hardships that the African American and Latin community have had to go through. They’ve always had to mold themselves to be so perfect to be accepted by white people.”
These stigmas weren’t limited to racial identities either; within the LGBTQIA, there lies prejudice disguised as “preference.”
“There is so much discrimination within the LGBTQ community,” Samples said.
He discussed how some gay men within the community discriminated against “feminine” men and transgender women and men due to internalized homophobia. He said they disguised their prejudices behind preferences, specifically on dating apps.
“People will say ‘Oh, it’s just a preference,’ when I feel like they’re being discriminatory, but they’re using [preference] to justify it, and that’s still not correct,” Samples said. “It’s an ongoing issue.”
Shol said he’s seen many gay men “go unchecked” for harmful, misogynistic, or racist behaviors just because they are gay. He said it happened, especially on social media and dating sites.
Reyes furthered the discussion by saying that these weren’t just preferences.
“It’s not a preference because if it happened in the real world outside of hook-up culture, it would be seen as something completely different,” he said.
He said regardless of what minority group someone is a part of, they should be held accountable for their harmful actions.
“There’s a lot of problems within the LGBTQ+ community, and white supremacists still exist in the LGBTQ+ community,” Reyes said. “You don’t just get an excuse just because you’re already in a minority group. There are racist people in the LGBTQ+ community.”
Shol recalled times in high school, where he saw his Black LGBTQIA friends going through different experiences because of prejudices.
“I would have friends who I felt like would have to work harder to be accepted by both their family but also by their romantic partners, and that’s not okay,” he said.
For Love, as someone who identifies as gender nonconforming, they said they felt like there wasn’t any acceptance for a person like them in the LGBTQIA community because of a lack of understanding.
And in moments like that where a person doesn’t feel like they belong, it becomes easy to try to conform instead of continually fighting against so many stigmas and stereotypes. Yet, in those instances, Samples encourages others to take back their narrative and be whoever they want to be.
“If you like something, you should do that and do it to its fullest extent,” he said. “As long as it’s bringing you comfort or bringing you joy, I don’t think you should question that.”
That sentiment was something Love learned as they came into their own.
“I wasn’t made to fit in,” they said. “I was made to be myself. I was made to find out who I was as a person and grow and build and inspire as that person and become something greater than what others feel like I should be.”
Wamble said she never understood why people placed such a stigma around someone else’s self-expression.
“They can do what they want to do and be just as powerful, but [then] they’re comfortable,” she said.
Yet, in the end, Love said regardless of who someone is, all they wanted anyone to do was spread love and have respect for one another.
“Don’t try to beat someone down because you’re not as comfortable in your skin,” they said. “There’s too much hate in the world.”
Reyes said the prejudices and moments of opposition reminded him of how important it is to always “stand out and bring new perspectives and ideas to the table when you’re struggling.”
Yet new perspectives and ideas are hard to have without compassion, which Samples encouraged students to have.
He said UA students should try to be open, patient, kind and loving with one another.
Though in the end, it comes down to the individual to accept themselves and live freely.
“The most important person in your narrative is yourself,” Shol said. “So once you realize that you don’t really owe anybody else an explanation because you have to live your life in the way you want to, we’re only here for a short amount of time, honestly.”