Young Gay Black Men Face Unique Challenges When Coming Out

A new study delves into the problems facing young gay people in the African-American community.

The video of gay teen Jacob Rudolph coming out of the closet in front of his entire school is easily the Video of the Week. That sucker spread across the web like a mad man and along with it came heaps of praise for the high schooler’s brave undertaking. Watching that, it’s easy to imagine we’ve reached a new era of mainstream acceptance for the LGBTQ community, but the reality is, for many of us, that’s just not the case. A recent study of African-American gay youth and their families living in New York and Philadelphia reveals that young, gay black men face a completely different set of challenges when deciding to come out to their friends and family.

An article on lays out some of the findings, which were published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies by Rutgers University School of Social Work’s Michael C. LaSala and Damien T. Frierson from Howard University. In it, LaSala explains some of the unique complicating factors faced by young, gay black men, including a “one more strike against you” mentality that he says makes acceptance difficult for relatives of gay youth:

“The world already sees you as less than others. By being gay, you’re further hurting the image of African-American men,” LaSala says was a common reaction among the male relatives of the black youth when they learned that their relative was gay. … “Parents of African-American gay youth said, ‘You have everything going against you as a black man. This is one more strike against you.’ Conversely, parents of white gay youth stated, ‘You have everything going for you — and now this!’”

He also explains that increased expectations for African-American men to be hyper-masculine and void of overt emotion and a sense of vulnerability exacerbate a young person’s struggle to be open about their sexuality, and, even worse, separate them from their community:

When gay black men realize they don’t fit the stereotype, they often develop a sense of alienation, loneliness, and anxiety, not knowing where they fit in. LaSala recalls the words of a black single mother in the study who worried about gender expectations in her community: “You are told to be a man … and being a man does not mean you sleep with other men,” she said. “Being a man means you have a woman and you procreate and continue the family name.”

If you ask LaSala, “being a man” is a lot more than that. When talking about ways to improve the situation for young gay black youth, he explains that interaction from positive, supportive African-American male role models is crucial:

“On a clinical level, targeted interventions, especially those that include the young man’s biological father or a father figure, can assist families to cope with what for many is an unexpected and troubling reality. … Family discussions can lead to expanded and more flexible views of masculinity, so clinicians must engage the youth’s father if at all possible. A father is an essential part of the child’s history and can add a lot to the discussion.”