Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

No contradiction: I'm black and gay

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
June 8, 2012 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
American novelist, poet, and gay and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in 1979.
American novelist, poet, and gay and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in 1979.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Black, gay communities treated as if they are totally separate
  • But LZ says he identifies as black and gay and both aspects are integrated
  • LZ: Gays and lesbians have always played a prominent role in the black community
  • He says black community must resist attempts to turn it against its gay members

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- It feels as if I've been living a double life all of these years, and I do not want to deceive you, or myself, any longer. The burden has become too heavy, the struggle to deny my true self, too great.

In order to be free I have tell you something. I am black.

I know; I should have told you sooner. But I was afraid. After all, I've already shared with you that I am gay and well, we all know a person can't be both.

At least that's how it feels the conversation is usually framed: There's a black community and a gay community, and the two conflict and do not mix. Since President Obama voiced support for marriage equality and now the board of the NAACP has followed suit, the narrative is that the black community is trying to make room at the table for gay people.

Allow me to correct this storyline: No one is making room for gay people, gay people have always been at the table, at the forefront.

What Obama, Jay-Z, Julian Bond, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and others have done over the past week is simply acknowledge life is not an "either/or" proposition but rather an emphatic "and." Boxes are for shoes, not people. So while compartmentalizing folks makes it easier to herd people into target groups and voting blocs, it's a gross misrepresentation of the reality of humanity.

I am gay. And I am black.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook.com/cnnopinion

And despite the efforts of black religious conservatives to ignore that intersection, the truth is that intersection is a major part of black culture. It's in our literature (James Baldwin), our films (Lee Daniels), in politics, baseball fields (Glenn Burke), the Black Panthers (Angela Davis) and the civil rights movement (Bayard Rustin).

That intersection exists in our hair salons, barbershops and, yes, even our churches.

Before becoming a journalist, I worked in youth ministry in two churches in my early 20s. I lived with one of my pastors and his family and would study the Bible for hours on end under his tutelage. I fasted and tithed. I poured my heart out to the kids in the congregation. On occasion I even would fall asleep on the steps of the altar worshipping my God.

I am black. I am gay. And yes, I am a Christian.

I also know I was not the only gay, black man in ministry desperately trying to pray the gay away. In fact, I know one prominent choir director who finally had the courage to come out not too long ago.

This is the messy and beautiful reality of humanity. The National Organization for Marriage, a fringe anti-gay think tank, actually had outlined a plan to try to race bait the black community into fighting with... itself.

"N.O.M.'s memos detailed its campaign to direct money to a handful of African-American clergy in order to attack gay and lesbian couples that have made a lifelong promise to one another," said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. "The organization admitted their key goal is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks."

But I am black, and I am gay. A wedge cannot be driven between parts of my being.

I was talking with NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin this past weekend, and he told me something that made a lot of sense. He said, in the fight for equality, you must be willing to run a race in which you may not be around to see the finish line. Not necessarily a pick-me-up, but filled with truth nonetheless.

We are just beginning to have this conversation about sexual orientation and gender identity within the black community, but it is long overdue. A study conducted by the National Center for Children in Poverty found that African-American and Native American young people "are overrepresented" in the population of runaways. The study also found that between 20% and 40% of all homeless youth identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

Many say they were kicked out of their homes or ran away because of violence. Even on the streets these children are much more likely than others to be abused. How can the black community heal if it turns a blind eye to its own children?

It doesn't make any sense.

Blacks trying to separate the gay community from blacks? Well, that makes even less sense. After all, a house divided against itself cannot stand, and gay people are, and always will be, living in this house.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT