I come from a very tight-knit family of strong and supportive women. We are the loudest cheerleaders, best hype-women, and one of the most powerful prayer circles around. As I get older, I have learned how fortunate we are to have each other to lean on in times of need and celebrate together during joy!
With June being Pride Month, I am reminded of a great example of this unconditional support of my family when my younger sister shared with us that she was gay about 20 years ago. For us it was a no-brainer, we were like, “Ok, cool - you know we love you no matter what”. This response, however, isn’t as common as one would think, especially 20 years ago and particularly within the Black community. A friend of mine that identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community once told me they had to dress differently and act differently whenever they went home to visit their Black family. I've heard heart-wrenching stories of Black LGBTQ teenagers being thrown out of their homes and forced to live on the street or in shelters just because their families didn’t accept them. When I think of how members of the Black community and especially Black women already have to maneuver through life facing micro-aggressions of being “too aggressive” or natural hairstyles being seen as “unprofessional”, the last place a Black woman should feel alienated is within her family.
I was proud of my then teenage sister for being brave enough to live her truth and let it be known that she was gay. I can recall my older sister and I going with our younger sister to a gay club once to show that we supported her no matter what. To be honest, the experience was a little awkward and a little uncomfortable for me at the time because I was in a setting that I wasn’t used to. But when I saw the joy on my younger sister’s face and how comfortable she felt, nothing else mattered. It made me realize how awkward or uncomfortable she or any of the Black women in that club may feel in everyday settings where they don’t feel like they can truly be themselves. Similar to being in a workplace setting where you may be scrutinized or looked down upon due to the color of your skin, imagine having that compounded with those who feel your sexual orientation is a “problem” as well - a gay Black woman needs all the support she can get!
An awesome and honest depiction of a Black woman coming to grips with her sexuality and her family’s reaction is Lena Waithe’s Emmy-winning episode from the second season of Netflix’s Master of None. Waithe, who was the first Black woman to win Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017, based the episode titled “Thanksgiving” on her actual journey of coming out to her mom. I won’t ruin it for anyone that hasn’t seen it (definitely watch it) but it’s a great representation of discovering her truth and the women in her family’s genuine reaction. When it comes to this topic, representation matters. Waithe has done a phenomenal job co-writing and acting on the Netflix series Master of None. The series' new 3rd season highlights Waithe’s character, Denise, and her wife living in upstate New York. It’s great to see a show that features two Black women that are married just living their life.
A sincere portrayal of the struggles Black women experience when dealing with their sexual orientation within the Black community is Jay-Z's 4:44 album song titled Smile. In the song he speaks candidly about his mother grappling with her homosexuality:
Mama had four kids, but she's a lesbian
Had to pretend so long that she's a thespian
Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate
Society shame and the pain was too much to take
Cried tears of joy when you fell in love
Don't matter to me if it's a him or her
The song, which won a GLAAD Media Award for Special Recognition, is accompanied by a beautifully shot video set in the ’70s with all the old-school vibes of the Black community (including a legit house party with kids in attention). The visual representation does an amazing job bringing light to the strife and pain his mother (and many Black women) endured while living a life that wasn’t true to her all while “keeping it together”. The poem featured at the end, written and read by Jay-Z's mother Gloria Carter, says it all:
Living in the shadow
Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?
In the shadows people see you as happy and free
Because that's what you want them to see
Living two lives, happy, but not free
You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love
The world is changing and they say it's time to be free
But you live with the fear of just being me
Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be
No harm for them, no harm for me
But life is short, and it's time to be free
Love who you love, because life isn't guaranteed
At the end of the day, I couldn’t be happier for my younger sister. Our family is looking forward to celebrating her and her soon-to-be wife in August for their wedding (which was delayed due to COVID). I’m elated and proudly telling everyone that they just welcomed a precious baby boy into their family earlier this year (my birthday twin). I can’t imagine not being a part of all these great milestones for my sister and her family. As a Black community, we shouldn’t pick and choose who we want to support and embrace - we are stronger together. Let’s all do our part to embrace our LGBTQ family and friends because as the saying goes “love is love”.
Happy PRIDE everyone!