How do we stop racism in the gay community?

WARNING: some of content in this feature may be offensive to some. FS does not condone it but felt we needed to present the responses honestly.

Being a minority is sometimes like being in a slasher movie: just when you think the threat has passed, a crazed serial killer leaps out of nowhere and takes a bloodthirsty swipe at you. Lately it feels increasingly like the LGBT community is living on a knife-edge – not only in places like Russia or Egypt but also much closer to home.


In the United States, the Trump administration has begun implementing some of Donald Trump’s more extreme campaign promises, including withdrawing guidelines that relate to bathroom access for transgender students. And here in Britain, the Guardian newspaper reported that homophobic attacks in the UK rose 147% in the three months after last summer’s Brexit vote, based on findings by LGBT anti-violence charity Galop and on reports of hate crimes made to UK police.

For those who belong to more than one minority group, this threat can be multiplied. But the sad reality is that gay and bi men of colour who face homophobia and racism in the wider world can very often find themselves subjected to racism from within the gay community. In fact, in FS’s latest survey of over 850 readers, 75% of black guys, 81% of east and south-east Asian guys, and 86% of south Asian guys said they have personally experienced racism on Britain’s gay scene

The question is: are we really that shocked to learn that Britain’s gay scene is so racist? 

DOUBLE MINORITY

“It is a microcosm of the wider society,” says Marc Thompson, co-editor of BlackOut UK and co-founder of Prepster.info, on racism in the gay community.

“We don’t live in this little bubble. World events impact us as gay men regardless of our ethnicity or nationality. We bring all of our prejudices into that world. We remain sexist, we remain misogynistic.”

“Racism isn’t just a word, it’s an experience,” adds Vernal Scott, author, HIV activist, and local government diversity lead officer. “It scars to the very soul and carries an impact akin to the death of someone close; you will forever relive the time and place of its occurrence, especially how it made you feel, the hurt and damage to your dignity and self esteem. A white gay man cannot comprehend, or more importantly, feel the experience of being black and gay – and the ‘double minority’ status and discrimination that come with it.”

“Yes we have LGBT rights, but only for the white community,” acknowledges Manjinder Sidhu, LGBT activist, life coach, and author of Bollywood Gay. “The BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community are left alone dealing with the repercussions. I counsel so many who are suicidal, forced to marry someone of the opposite sex, or worse. It’s not about the white LGBT scene saying ‘that’s their issue, they’ve got to break free from it’. We need white LGBT allies.”

ALWAYS BEEN THERE

Is the current political environment encouraging racism to come to the surface?

“The gay scene has always been disenfranchised, discriminatory, childish, confused, full of shame, guilt and addictions,” says Manjinder. “The bullied carry on bullying. Misogyny, sexism, racism, femaphobia, anti trans, etc, has been in the scene since before I was born, and they still exist.”

“Anybody who’s read the opening prologue in my book ‘God’s Other Children’ will know that racism in the UK gay community has always been there and always will be,” adds Vernal. “I don’t think the Brexit rhetoric makes any difference. Just log onto Grindr or catch white gay men when they are relaxed, and you’ll see and hear just how racist some of them can be. Trumpty Dumpty, as I call him, I suspect that he could be as racist as he likes, but most white gays here or in the USA wouldn’t give a damn, as long as they are OK.”

“It’s a little bit of chicken and egg, did Trump and Brexit make people more overtly racist, or did they create a platform for people to put their racism out there?” Marc asks. “I think they go hand-in-hand. What this shows us is that racism is underlying in our community. It permeates in our society and in our institutions. What these things have done is given them a platform to be much more vocal.”

THE **** WORD

When racism gets vocal, the result is a stream of expletives. The men we surveyed have been called a range of names by others on the gay scene including ‘nigger’, ‘coon’, ‘wog’, ‘monkey’, ‘black bitch’, ‘gollywog’, ‘halfchap’, ‘chocolate boy’, ‘chinky’, ‘takeaway’, ‘yellow monkey’, ‘paki’, ‘curry queen’ and ‘towelhead’. 

“I’ve been called a ‘slave coon’ before by someone who was into raceplay. It was genuinely a random first message he sent to me like it was so normal and acceptable,” says Marcus, 28 from London. 

“It is very common to be called a ‘fucking paki’ by young white men,” says AP, 40 from London. “They think that this is funny, and if you confront them they say it’s just a joke. Also they think that saying ‘here paki suck my white cock’ is appropriate too.”

DAILY LANGUAGE 

Ironically, when it comes to racism, the most extreme language is sometimes the easiest to handle. 

“You know exactly where you are with someone who calls you a ‘black bastard’ or a ‘nigger’, but it’s the things that impact you on a daily basis,” Marc explains. “For many, racism is ‘Wogs Get Out’ or ‘No Pakis Here’ scrawled on a wall. They don’t see that racism is in daily language: someone saying they like BBC (big black cock) or ‘no blacks’ etc, on an app profile. These are preferences, but these preferences are built on some sort of ideology that says differences are wrong.”

Some of the guys from our survey detailed some of the day-to-day incidences of racist language they experience. 

“Every other comment towards me is a variation of ‘I wanna see if it’s true what they say about black dick’ or dark chocolate or black meat,” says Michael, 20 from Hertfordshire. “The black dick comment is offensive no matter how lighthearted or funny you think it is. It’s setting an expectation upfront which is demeaning.”

“People assume that my dick is down to my ankles when it’s actually seven inches. I’m happy with my penis, but these stereotypes make me feel sad,” says Kevin 21 from London. “I get comments like ‘honest to God, man, when I see a black guy I start to precum’. I get comments like this, and they’re not jokes.”

“I am either a sexual fetish to other guys or they completely ignore me, there’s not much in between,” says Balwinder, 36 from London. “Some guys ask if they can touch my turban or beard, saying it turns them on.”

“I rarely get objectified as an Asian man. I mostly feel ignored,” says Raymond, 25 from London. “Men think I don’t speak English, and assume I’m the submissive bottom.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m fulfilling someone’s sexual fetish. They really like ‘asian’ guys, they like my dark features,” says James, 25 from Leicester. “Someone even assumed I’d give really good Indian head massage.”

“I have had guys say to me ‘OMG I love Bollywood films’ or ‘I’ve got a thing for darker skin/hair/eyes’ and although I haven’t been particularly offended by these comments, it did make me feel like a ‘thing’ and less of a person,” admits Jimmy, 29 from London. “Oh and I hooked up with a guy and he said ‘I’ve never done an Asian before, I thought you’d smell of curry.’”


WE ASKED: HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED RACISM ON THE GAY SCENE?

  • 75% of black gay men said yes

  • 81% of South East and East Asian gay men said yes

  • 86% of South Asian gay men said yes

  • 100% of Arab gay men said yes 

  • 30% of Latin American gay men said yes

  • 78% of gay men of mixed ethnicity said yes


APP PREFERENCES

The place where those surveyed say they face the most racism is on gay apps and websites. This can include receiving abusive and racist messages, being blocked or ignored, or seeing phrases like ‘no blacks, no Asians – I’m not racist, it’s just my preference’ in profile descriptions.

Grindr have recently introduced a range of emojis – some see them as fun tools for chatting, flirting and expressing sexual appetites, but these colourful graphics can equally be used as yet another way to communicate racist opinions.

Marcus, 28, a respondent to our survey explained: “I only really get guys come to me because of the big black cock stereotype. Nowadays it feels like 99% of the guys I talk to on apps are only looking for hung men. Admittedly I am not a top and am not hung like a horse, which in turn leads to me getting blocked, rejected or ignored a lot on apps.” 

“Technology, and comments on profiles like ‘no blacks, no Asians,’ reflect the reality of our ‘real life’ experience,” says Vernal. “To be honest, I’d rather be rejected or blocked by a racist fool than to find myself on a date with him. That’s cool with me; go ahead and block me. I know I deserve better than a bigot decked out in gay camouflage.” 

“Twelve years ago, when I joined Gaydar, I saw the same thing so many times I wrote an anthropology essay on it and deleted my profile after two weeks,” says Manjinder. “Some Asians or blacks have retaliated by writing ‘Asians only’ but I’ve never seen them say no to a racial group. It dumbfounds me. Write about what you want, not what you don’t want. Apps and dating sites need to close down racist accounts, which would probably mean over 50% of white gay profiles closed down.”

“I still live with the trauma of having dated Milo Yiannopoulos, who now spends his time being as demeaning towards black men as possible and calling it entertainment,” Vernal adds. “I can confirm that he is very different from the time we spent together. I fear that he’s just saying what a lot of white gay men think: black men are just walking cocks, not people. In my case, I’ve lived and learned. Because of guys like him, I’m increasingly drawn to just dating guys of my own race.”

DO YOU KNOW THIS IS A GAY CLUB?

Many readers told of the hostile reception that can greet them at the door of gay bars and clubs.

“Certain door staff can be particularly hostile towards people of colour,” says Jimmy. “This is not an opinion, it is a verifiable fact – I’ve seen it several times. I also went to Vauxhall once, and was told my ‘brown boyfriend’ didn’t ‘fit the look’ of the club.”

“I often have trouble getting into clubs popular with the white gay community,” admits Mike, 25 from London. “They often use the excuse that I look straight. I often need to go with white friends.”

“I’ve been singled out and told to wait at the door of a club whilst my white friends went straight through leaving me outside,” says Wayne, 31 from London. “I’ve never been denied access but delayed. I’m almost always asked ‘have you been here before?’”

“I’ve been asked countless times if I know this is a gay club. I’ve been asked to name other gay venues,” adds Steve, 34 from Hackney. “And there are assumptions that I must be hung and that I’m a top. Also, I must be an escort.”

Laks, 41 from London says, “I’ve had my sexuality questioned by security staff and managers at LGBT venues in the mistaken belief that South Asians can’t be gay.”

“London’s ‘queer spaces’ have either been deliberately or unwittingly ‘whitewashed’ to mirror white-run gay publications,” says Vernal. “So much so that it truly catches my eye when I spot a black face in the gay media. They are usually limited to the clubbing or paid escorts sections at the back. It’s the same with social settings. The not-so-subliminal message in gay social settings is whites equal money, and blacks don’t! Denied the social opportunities that whites take for granted, black LGBT people, like a sub-class below a sub-class, must go elsewhere. If we do venture into the hubs, black gay men are more often that not perceived as eye-candy fetish-material or as hyper-exotic sex toys – not as holistic people.”

“Berlin is way worse,” Manjinder says. “I used to live there. I was like an exotic zoo animal to the men there. I believe in empowering oneself, and loving one’s own skin, and then we have a positive response. We need support to do this. We rarely get represented in any magazines, media, TV, radio, etc. Gay magazines are to blame as well as apps for the commodification, discrimination, and objectification of gay men – youthful white men with muscles on covers.”


WE ASKED: DO YOU FEEL SEXUALISED OR OBJECTIFIED ON THE GAY SCENE?

  • 85% of black gay men said yes
  • 54% of South East and East Asian gay men said yes
  • 57% of South Asian gay men said yes
  • 75% of Arab gay men said yes 
  • 80% of Latin American gay men said yes
  • 55% of gay men of mixed ethnicity said yes

RACE AWARENESS

Do we need to start looking closer to home when it comes to being a forward-thinking community?

“Poorly-trained door staff are part of the problem,” Vernal says. “Door security needs training on race issues, just like the management and bar staff do. The gay community is big on encouraging non-gay establishments to get trained up on LGBTQ issues, but they should take a page out of their own book and submit themselves to race awareness training. If we fail to undertake such training, then future generations are going to be having this same conversation thirty and forty years from now.”

“What can the gay scene do? We can try to recognise that when a group of black gay men or Asian men rock up at a club that they are gay men,” adds Marc. “Gay men don’t come in one shape, one colour. There’s not only blond and a twink or shaven and muscly. We are all different. So maybe there is training that door staff and bar staff must do.

“But what can we do as a community?” Marc continues. “We can call it out. So if we are at a bar and we see someone getting hassled, or we see racism online or on apps, then we name it and we call it out.”

A SAFE SPACE?

It’s assumed that the LGBTQ community will give you an accepting and warm embrace, which isn’t always the case. 

“I had huge self-esteem issues as a youth going to the scene,” says Manjinder. “My so-called saviours were the most discriminating to me. It made me very sad and suicidal. What I felt about myself was constantly echoed back to me. How shallow and narrow-minded the scene was. I couldn’t get a boyfriend for a long time, no-one ever approached me in clubs, and I felt like I was wrong. I started dating Asian men instead.”

“As black gay men, we do lots and lots of things just to negotiate life, and then we go to the gay scene thinking it’s a safe space, and we have to face the same racism there, just by somebody saying ‘do you know this is a gay club?’” says Marc. “When you’ve bucked up all your courage just to go there, when you’ve gone through all the things that every other gay boy has gone through, and you get there and somebody is questioning your sexuality – but not just your sexuality, they’re questioning everything about you. Are you safe to come in here? Are you going to cause trouble? Are you a drug dealer? It’s not just are you gay, it’s who are you? They are not going to do that with a white face, ever.”


WE ASKED: DO YOU FEEL THAT DIFFERENT ETHNICITIES ARE FAIRLY REPRESENTED IN THE GAY MEDIA?

  • 16% of black gay men said yes
  • 9% of South East and East Asian gay men said yes
  • 6% of South Asian gay men said yes
  • 25% of Arab gay men said yes 
  • 20% of Latin American gay men said yes
  • 6% of gay men of mixed ethnicity said yes
  • 24% of white gay men said yes

GAY HIERARCHY

Where do BAME members of the gay community feel they sit in the hierarchy of importance? We asked in the survey how well they thought their presence and experiences were acknowledged. 

“I feel as though because the gay community has faced discrimination, many members of it feel as though they are exempt from having to examine issues within their own community,” says J, 17 from London. “Often I feel as though I am intruding and an outsider at mainstream gay events like London Gay Pride. I generally don’t feel as though I can relate to the experience of white gay people, as I don’t think they understand the reality of being a person of colour in the gay community.”

“The gay community is dominated by the experiences of white gay men. Experiences outside of that narrative are often pushed aside or lost. This makes other voices muted,” says Mike. “I believe bisexuals, lesbians and other voices are muted because of this too. The gay community needs to learn that there are multiple narratives, and fight to allow different voices and experiences to be heard and validated.”

“In my opinion there’s a very real hierarchy that exists within the gay community – with young, attractive, ‘straight-acting’ white men sitting squarely at the top,” says James. “Ethnic minorities tend to be pushed to the side. We’re either perceived as unattractive, or we’re sexually fetishised as exotic, or expected to encompass perceived stereotypes.”

“It’s as though it is taboo to have a black boyfriend, but to have sex with a man of colour is a milestone that needs to be achieved,” says Jake, 18 from Essex. “People of colour shouldn’t be fetishised, but seen as people you can have a successful relationship with – rather than a shag to fulfill a life goal.”

“Based on my observation, we, the south-east Asian race, aren’t the most appealing race in the gay scene,” says Alan, 25 from London. “You see a lot of Caucasian, black, Latin, Middle Eastern, and European men mingling and fooling around, but we are just left behind.”

“We occupy several spaces,” acknowledges Marc Thompson. “And as gay men of colour, we occupy the space of being black all of the time, and the space of being a homosexual. But to look at it another way, white gay men have white male privilege. They are white, which puts them at the top of the tree. They are male, which puts them at the top of the tree. They can sail pretty much through life. As a black man, I do not have that.” 

“On one hand, white gay men say that their sexuality enables them to empathise with the black experience,” says Vernal Scott, “and yet, on the other, they say my race isn’t a relevant factor and that I have a ‘chip’ on my shoulder. Well, let me state loud and clear: my race is always relevant. I can’t make it invisible like I can my sexuality. And if I have a chip on my shoulder, guess who put it there?”

BARRIERS

The experiences of racism can make gay men of colour more reluctant to access services that promote safer sex. 

“There are internal barriers that we have as men of colour. Our own internalised stigma, or shame, or concern about engaging with sexual health services,” explains Marc, “and the taboos some of us might face around talking about sex openly. I don’t think we’re any more reluctant to test or engage, but I think there are some barriers that we put up, and it isn’t made any easier for us.”

“We have to take control of our own sexual health, and stop relying on THT, GMFA or NAZ,” says Vernal. “If condoms don’t work for you, or even if they do, ask your sexual health advisor or GP about Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). As well as using our little rubber friends and PrEP, we must also learn about risks caused by alcohol and drugs (or ‘chemsex’), which can seriously undermine our well-being. A bit of discipline and a lot of self-love helps too.”

“It’s about looking at that bigger picture,” Marc adds. “People of colour are disproportionately affected by ill health or poorer mental heath. You name it, we’re just disproportionately affected. And just because we’re gay doesn’t mean that disproportion shifts in any way. So we’ve got to look at all the factors in society that have an impact on why we might have poorer outcomes in health generally, poorer housing, lower levels of employment, the daily stresses of life that we have to endure.

“If you think about Muslim communities or Muslim gay men for example, who right now might have heightened concerns of Islamophobia after a terrorist attack. They’re at work and going about their day, and they’re really worried about this stuff. That’s going to take its toll. So it’s about connecting those dots.”


WE ASKED: DO YOU THINK THE GAY COMMUNITY HAS A PROBLEM WITH RACISM?

  • 81% of black gay men said yes
  • 86% of South East and East Asian gay men said yes
  • 82% of South Asian gay men said yes
  • 100% of Arab gay men said yes 
  • 70% of Latin American gay men said yes
  • 70% of gay men of mixed ethnicity said yes
  • 49% of white gay men said yes

THE FUTURE

Racism has been acknowledged and brought to light time and again, yet it still persists within the gay community. FS itself has dedicated two issues on racism in the past, but instead of repeating the same evidence of racism again and again, how do we move forward and make things better? 

“Saying the gay scene is racist, the minute we acknowledge that is a great start,” says Marc. “In terms of going forward, what we can start to do is have clear and uncomfortable conversations about race, ethnicity, diversity and difference in our communities. When we talk about ‘gay’ we have to unpick what that means. Because when a lot of people hear ‘gay’ they think ‘white and gay’. We need to address the rich rainbow of people in there, but white gay men have to understand that their black and Asian BAME brothers and sisters live in a world where race has a huge impact on them – and they have to acknowledge that, be prepared to have difficult conversations, not ignore what we are saying, it’s not part of our imagination. And then we can start moving forward.”

“White folk need to understand that my path has different obstacles and challenges from theirs,” adds Vernal. “It’s less about blame and more about sharing knowledge and mutual understanding about our differences, similarities, feelings and actual experiences.” 

CHANGE ON EVERY LEVEL

“BAME LGBT people need their voices heard, need to be seen, represented, displayed as 3D individuals – not stereotyped,” says Manjinder. 

“This means outreach done in their communities, funding and support for BAME activists and role models. This also means making literature available in different languages. My self-help book Bollywood Gay can be separately purchased from me in Arabic, Bengali, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu, to explain what being LGBT is to parents who don’t understand English.”

“Look at out lives in the round, holistically, to consider how all these things impact us outside of the apps, outside of the bedroom, outside of the clubs,” says Marc. “I think organisations need to be much better with their staff levels and their volunteer levels. Black men and Arab men and Asian men look at these organisations and just see white faces, and that needs to change. And finally, it’s about change at the top. Who are your trustees? How many people of colour do you have in senior management or trustee positions?”

Manjinder agrees, adding: “Get some BAME people working in LGBT organisations and magazines in high positions. Change the magazine from superficial stuff to real stuff that people care about. Make it positive and also talk about the issues in a solution-based way.”

“The mainstream LGBT community spends time telling the world to stop the oppression, homophobia and prejudice, but it neglects the fact that it is prejudiced in treating BAME LGBT people as second class citizens and often ignoring them,” says Kane, 47 from Birmingham. 

“The gay community is everything but tolerant,” says Balwinder. “Racism in the gay world is rampant, so using the colours of the rainbow as a logo is absolutely hypocritical. I’ve experienced more racism on the gay scene than anywhere else in my entire life.”

“The gay community is a rainbow,” says Clif, 41 from London. “They may only see one colour, one sex. But we are here. We have stories that should be heard.”


For more information, visit www.blkoutuk.com

For more information, visit www.naz.org.uk


READ ALL THE ARTICLES FROM FS #159


Words by Stuart Haggas | @getstuart | Photos: Shutterstock.com