Black people underserved in LGBTQ population, professor says

Photo provided by Ravi Perry.
Photo provided by Ravi Perry.

In a lecture, VCU political science professor Ravi Perry combined personal experiences with political theory to discuss Black LGBTQ activism at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center on Feb. 27.

Perry said the Black experience is often incorrectly characterized as being heterosexual. A 2012 Gallup poll found Black people in the U.S. are more likely than any other race to identify as LGBTQ, at 4.6 percent. Comparatively, 4 percent of Hispanics, 4.3 percent of Asians and 3.2 percent of Whites identify as LGBTQ.

Poor Black people are more likely to identify as LGBTQ than upper-class White people, Perry said.

“I think it’s surprising to a lot of people,” Perry said. “Imagine having to suppress yourself when you’re living in an [impoverished] environment that’s so antithetical to how you express yourself.”

For years, those at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement tended to be middle-class White gay males, Perry said. This demographic dubbed marriage equality a top priority for the LGBTQ community, despite the fact that others were more worried about issues like job security.

“Freedom to me has to mean more than marriage equality,” Perry said. “What we begin to find in the mid 1990s is people of color begin to say this [lack of representation] is a problem.”

In recent years, Perry said, there has been an increase in the number of churches catering to Black LGBTQ Christians.

“Many Black queer folks have found themselves — those who identify themselves as Christians in the U.S. in particular — as without a place to go for their religious worship services,” Perry said. “If we aren’t welcome where we’ve traditionally gone, we will create our own spaces.”

Shane Ford, a sophomore political science major, said more people should be aware of events like Perry’s lecture.

“I thought it was a fantastic event,” Ford said. “It gave a lot of information and it gave a different perspective than what you came in the door with.”

In an interactive discussion, attendees looked over a list of suggestions to improve conditions for the Richmond LGBTQ community, compiled at a similar event last year. Ford noted the lack of job opportunities for Black transgender women, saying many resort to sex work because there aren’t many other options.

Perry encouraged attendees to be more active in helping the LGBTQ community, challenging each person to commit to at least one item of action.

“What is not fine is for us to have ideas to help others and for us to do nothing with them,” Perry said. “That, I think, is a moral failure.”

Perry emphasized a quote from African-American novelist James Baldwin: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” Perry said the term “ignorant” shouldn’t be used as a pejorative. Ignorance, caused in the U.S. by unemployment and poor education, is present in all people, Perry said.

“All of us are ignorant of most things,” Perry said. “We will die on this Earth knowing very, very little.”

Beth Marschak, a board member of Diversity Richmond — a group that serves LGBTQ people in Richmond — said she enjoyed hearing Perry’s personal story of coming out to his family and revealing his positive HIV status.

“I think that information and data and statistics, historic events or whatever theory, is all quite interesting,” Marschak said. “But probably what moves most people is actually knowing someone’s story.”

Georgia Geen Spectrum Editor 

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