Two of my childhood friends were different. It was an intangible difference. The words needed to describe them had not yet been etched into my vocabulary.
We played on the same block with the same groups of boys and girls. We attended the same block club parties and each other’s birthday celebrations. We got into some of the same mischief that children often get into while roaming in the darkness of West Chicago Avenue in Austin.
These two girls in particular stood out among the rest of the kids. But none of us really questioned it. I think we just accepted them in the way that children often negate differences and splendor in commonalities.
So, as the 41st Chicago Annual Pride Parade starts today and hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate what many believe as the start of the gay rights movement, The Stonewall Riots in 1969, it is important to understand this festivity also celebrates the contributions of many prominent gay and lesbian African Americans.
We honor their legacy of music, literature and Hollywood roles that pertain to black life, but few choose to acknowledge these as strides in being both black and gay, which can be a whole social struggle on its own. Still, why can’t we applaud both?
To advance one and not the other seems as a blatant perpetuation of self-hatred. It seems that to be viewed as human, to be accepted on the basis of good judgment and character and loving interaction, is flawed.
Economic class, races, religions, sexual and gender orientations seem to highlight differences while failing to acknowledge the universal suffering of society.
BlackVoices.com published a slide show of famous gay African Americans. Among those noted were Josephine Baker, Alvin Ailey, Ma Rainey, Countee Cullen, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Billie Holiday.
These are household names, names that I have studied in history classes. Yet these men and women were kept in the closet. To know that they were gay would not have diminished their accomplishments, just as my friendship with these women remains strong.
We still sometimes find ourselves under the moonlit skies of West Chicago Avenue. In this way, I hope I never grow up.