The one person Uma Bompton officially came out to was his mother. Although she was always supportive of his sexuality and told him to never “take crap” from anyone, she had her concerns, the business management sophomore said.
“She was afraid because I’m her baby, and she knows how hard it is to be black in America, but also being black and gay in America,” he said.
There are multiple stigmas at play for the black LGBTQ community in the United States, said Catherine Lugg, Rutgers University education professor and researcher on queer issues.
The black community already faces a historical racism in America, she said. Being LGBTQ on top of that increases the risk of violence, disrespect and hate, Lugg said.
One group in particular that is subjected to violence and disrespect is black transgender people. In 2018, at least 26 transgender deaths by fatal violence were reported, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Eighteen of these deaths were black transgender people.
Having well-known figures in society who identify as black and LGBTQ helps to eliminate the phobia of that community, said Multicultural Affairs director Melanie Johnson. It allows young people to feel accepted in society and gives them role models.
“Pose” actor Billy Porter recently made history as the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy award for lead actor in a drama series.
Many know Porter for his flamboyant taste in fashion. He’ll often arrive at award ceremonies in colorful, elaborate ball gowns. Sometimes though, he’ll show up in a tuxedo.
Like Porter, Bompton said that sometimes he wants to look and feel feminine while on other days he likes to dress more masculine.
On his “feminine” days, he’ll apply long, fake eyelashes and brightly colored makeup. Clothes and makeup are an art and a form of self-expression, he said.
“It’s kind of narcissistic, but I want a reaction,” he said. “I want people to compliment me because I feel like I’m making art.”
Bompton said that switching between different styles pushes androgyny, the state of being neither specifically feminine or masculine. Breaking down gender barriers helps society lose its preconceived notions about gender and sexuality.
Marketing junior Jaylon Deveraux said black men generally have a masculine mind-set and are often stereotyped for being less emotional than other men.
Traditionally, masculinity is associated with being straight, he said. Gay black men are often referred to as “sissies” for their more feminine, emotional attitudes.
“Being gay doesn’t really change who you are as a person,” he said. “Whether you’re straight and want to be feminine, gay and want to be masculine, it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna show.”
Part of the problem is that people aren’t used to seeing gay expression so publicly, Deveraux said. The more people become accustomed to seeing celebrities like Porter openly and proudly expressing themselves, the more accepting they’ll be of gay black men.
In the music industry, representation is just as important.
Rapper Lil Nas X spent a record-breaking 19 weeks at the top of the Hot 100 Billboard Charts for his single featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road.”
Johnson said when Lil Nas X came out, it was unique because his fans had already fallen in love with his music.
People didn’t love “Old Town Road” because it was “straight music,” they loved it because it was a catchy song, Johnson said. After Lil Nas X came out as gay, many boycotted his music because now they saw it as “gay music,” while others supported his sexuality without question.
Johnson said one of the first steps in accepting others and their sexuality is accepting yourself for who you are. Once people understand their own identities and figure out why they want others to accept them, they can see that same perspective from the viewpoint of others.
“We want to be accepted for who we are, so why are we not accepting others for who they are?” she said. “You accepting someone for who they are doesn’t mean that you have to practice their lifestyle.”