Black people need to stop treating homosexuality as if it's a white man's disease. We need to embrace the vibrant presence of gays and lesbians in our community and stop siding with bigots and racists. Over the past few weeks the homophobic murder of Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square and the assault on PC James Parkes in Liverpool have shocked the gay community. Every anti-gay opinion adds strength to their attackers and supports other gay bashers. Whenever the subject of homosexuality is raised in the black community there is hysteria and denial; we who are black and lesbian or gay are considered at best a joke and at worst just plain wrong, weird or dirty. Many think we are somehow infected with a western decadent ifestyle and are undermining our race. This thinking is fuelled by a combination of ignorance, fear, hatred, Christian and Islamic-based homophobic religious beliefs, and perversely racial pride. This deadly combination of prejudice forces us to be invisible in our own communities. Being black and lesbian or gay makes it harder for many of us to come out.
The fear of losing our families in a racist society, and therefore our connection with our culture, is very real. Also having to negotiate through a white gay scene makes it doubly difficult to forge an identity or gain support from our peers. The knee-jerk reaction of many African or African Caribbean parents is to either throw their lesbian and gay children out of the house at 16 or 17 or disown them. The wider community is hostile, too. I heard of one teenager who was chased out of his school in East London by a group of 40 armed youths with dogs. An alternative to coming out for many young people and even adults is to live invisible lives. Through disguise and deceit many black lesbians and gay men establish friendships, networks and lovers and never tell their families - the stress on themselves and their relationships can be unbearable. The underlying problem we are faced with is to choose between our sexual identity and our race. The reality is that we cannot choose because both are intrinsic to us. One cannot be hidden while the other cannot be denied.
Sadly, in today's world, for black people who are "flamboyant" whether gay or straight or just more bookish or more sensitive or even academic (or for girls more sporty) we cannot escape the "accusation" that we are gay. Homosexuality is as natural as eyesight. It is not a choice. It cannot be denied or made subject to one's race no more than you can change your place of birth. Over the past 10 years the confidence and presence of black lesbians and gay men has been growing steadily. There have been a number of long-running clubs (Queer Nation, Caribana, Bootylicious), publications (MOC) and websites that have struggled against the odds to exist and reflect our lives. Also there have been two Black Pride events (UK Black Pride and Outburst) every year for the past three years. On the Friday that Ian Baynham's vigil took place, OutburstUK hosted the only black gay event in Black History Month – attended by more than 200 black lesbians and gays. It would benefit all of us if more such events happened next year because visibility is the key to overturning ignorance.
In many ways black people are the last people to celebrate prejudice against homosexuality and for this we should be ashamed. We are systematically harming our own. If you are black and reading this you probably assume there is no lesbian, gay or bisexual person in your family. Has it occurred to you that your mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, son or daughter might be "one of them"? If we don't look out for our own we cannot complain when others lecture us about our prejudices. I do not agree with Peter Tatchell telling the black communities what to do as he did in the Guardian recently, but our own silence around sexuality only allows others to fill the vacuum and to lead the debate in our absence. It's time to wake up. The wider black communities should beware. There are too many black people in prison or under mental health supervision. Meanwhile black boys are killing each other wantonly. We should not be adding to disadvantage by persecuting or ostracising even more black people because of who they are compelled to love.