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Gay is the new black: Why it is wrong to think BME and LGBT identities are mutually exclusive

The ‘Gay is the New Black’ campaign has done much to dispel the myth that homosexuality is a purely western practice. (Photo: LGBT Group)

This week is Diversity Week across campus and to mark it we are having our main event for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender History Month, “Invisible To Invincible”. This Thursday we will be looking at minority groups within the LGBT community, in particular focusing on Black and Minority Ethnic, and faith groups.

We are lucky enough to receive a talk from people that are involved on a day to day basis in raising the profile of and combating the prejudice faced by minority groups, within minorities groups, using welfare and outreach work, but also film, photography and journalism. The talk follows on from the screening of the documentaries “Battyman” (09/02/2010) which focuses on homophobia within the black community, and “A Jihad For Love” (16/02/2010) which analyses homophobia within Islam.

There is a widely held misconception both within BME (black and minority ethnic) and non-BME circles that African people, Caribbean people, Asian people, or anyone from a non-western heritage are not gay. This is obviously completely false, but remains a commonly held misconception based upon inaccurate and sometimes purposefully misconstrued information. For example, I have personally heard it said many times that homosexuality is a “western” concept, and was never present in Africa or Asia until colonialism. Anyone who can navigate the complexity of a Google search can find pages and pages of documented evidence of homosexuality in pre-colonial Africa, and also information on the fluid nature of gender in the eyes of many societies that have hardly been changed at all by the wave of western colonialism, culture and ideals.

In the UK, especially in large urban cities such as London, there is an already prominent, yet still growing, emerging black gay community, asserting itself and showing that BME and LGBT identities are not mutually exclusive. This is shown most prominently in the music played in black gay clubs, including dancehall songs which have been banned by certain areas such as Brighton and Hove for encouraging violence towards the LGBT community. As one person put it: “What can be more powerful in tackling homophobia than seeing two men dancing together to ‘Log On’ by Elephant Man?”.

Being of faith doesn’t preclude same-sex relationships as depicted above. (Photo: LGBT Group)

The co-existence of faith and LGBT identity raises different issues to those of race and LGBT identity, as organised faith tends to be based around religious documents and texts and so is as open to conflict about strict meaning and definition as any other topic linked to faith and belief. As a result of this, more and more people are choosing to draw their own conclusions on what their religious text means to them and how they perceive their own faith and belief. This has led to a consensus (surprisingly to some) by many people that actually it is OK to be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and be in the LGBT category, and that their relationship with their chosen belief system is not hindered by their LGBT status, but reinforced by it. Their LGBT identity is no longer seen in conflict with their faith, but rather, as a compliment to it; a mark not of shame, but of them being singled out by a higher being for the path of being LGBT, and as such possessing a religious duty to help others in similar situations.

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