Communities of Color Must See the Colors of the Rainbow

Right before the Prop 8 vote, I had a big fight with one of my friends. He's Indo-American (as am I), he's gay, but he's closeted. His entire family was voting YES on 8. I asked him not to come out but at least to talk to his family about voting. I know straight people who have convinced their families to vote NO. My friend wouldn't even talk to his family about voting NO. Why? He was afraid that his parents would "suspect" something. I was appalled - we are on the verge of losing what took us so long to gain, and you are afraid you'd raise suspicion? You are 23 (my friend is), not a baby. Snap out of your complacency, step out of your comfort zone. He told me I was being ignorant of his situation, that I was stupid, and that asking him to talk to his family about voting NO on 8 is tantamount to asking a Muslim gay man to do the same. The irony was that I know Muslim gay men who had come out. He never talked to his parents or anyone else in the family. His NO vote was drowned out by about 10 other YES votes from members of his immediate and extended families.

And so on election night 2008, amidst Democratic and progressive triumph across the country, California voters passed Proposition 8, a Constitutional Amendment removing the right to marry for same-sex couples. This wasn't just about rights but about dignity, about being able to celebrate our love like the rest of society, about finally not being a second class citizen. But by a narrow 5-point margin, California voters decided that majority (mob) rule should suffice as a substitute for minority rights.

How did this happen? A lot of factors were involved, and a complacent liberal base was not the least of reasons - "it would never happen in California!", we were told. The other side lied and scared the pants off of people. "They are going to teach your toddler about gay sex!", parents were scared into believing. But I am here to talk about a factor that hits close to home: communities of color. I'm an Indo-American gay man and the homophobia of my ethnic community is disturbing to me. A CNN exit poll found that 70% of African American voters and 53% of the state's Latino voters voted to repeal marriage equality. Whites and Asians voted against the proposition, but by a slim 51% each.

This diary isn't about laying blame. It's about starting to change attitudes in communities of color. To do that, we must first recognize, though, that there IS in fact a problem on this issue in a lot of communities of color - and that problem is bigger than in White communities, at least in the state of Calfiornia. Barack Obama has himself spoken at Black Churches about the homophobia in the Black Community. As an Indo-American, I have experienced the homophobia in the Indo-American community first hand. There IS a problem.

I want to address this to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who are also part of communities of color. If we want to make change happen, we must step out of our comfort zones. I personally know too many Asians, too many Indo-Americans, that are not out to their families. Anyone with a knowledge of the LGBT community knows the same is true for a vast number of Latinos and African Americans. In fact, a lot of us aren't out to anyone except a close LGBT circle. That needs to stop.

Step One: Coming out. Communities of Color must literally see the colors of the rainbow. If people do not see and know that gay people aren't just this "other" in their heads, but the people they love, the people that take care of them, the people that love them, the people of their own communities, they will never come around to accepting gay people as "normal". Coming out is a crucial part of putting human faces on the LGBT community. I know the fears. I have lived through them. I understand the fear of rejection by your own family. I know the pain of being told that you are sick by your own family. Trust me, I know. But nothing worth fighting for is ever easy.

People need to know that they are not just voting on an issue - that they are voting on people's lives. They are voting to devastate people's lives. They need to know they are voting on the lives of people who come from every walk of life: people who fix their plumbing systems to accountants who do their taxes to doctors and nurses who take care of their sick family members to teachers who teach their children to home aides who are helping their parents live independently to people who fix their computer problems. But if they do not put a human face on us - if they do not realize that we are teachers, doctors, nurses, plumbers, accountants and most of all, sons and daughters and fathers and mothers and cousins and uncles, it's too easy to characterize us as this distant identity.

Does the same apply to whites? Of course it does. Are there closeted whites? OF COURSE there is. But in my experience, in my neck of the woods, this problem is far more severe within the LGBT communities of color than within the LGBT white communities.

If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender - from whatever community you come - know that you do not have to be alone in your experience of being honest about yourself to your family. There are LGBT centers and LGBT youth centers everywhere helping people come out. You have friends everywhere. But you have to take the first step and walk into that LGBT youth center and ask them about how to do this. Or to ask a friend or a complete stranger about it. And here's a new task for LGBT organizations focused on communities of color: help your members come out to their families.

Let the colors of the rainbow be displayed proudly in our communities of color. Your courage can move mountains. Never forget that.