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LGBTQI - People of Color

The majority of information available on LGBTQI people has come from research studies that focused on White participants. Yet, ethnicity frequently overlaps with sexual orientation. The following are some general findings on people of color who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

 

African Americans

While the notion of being LGBTQI may be rejected outright by some African Americans, the strength of their family ties often diminishes the likelihood that the LGBTQI person will be entirely rejected as a family member. The role in the family is maintained even when the sexual orientation is rejected.         

Homophobia among African Americans arises from several sources. These may include:           

Religion - The widespread practice of Christian religiosity in the African American community can result in selective interpretations of Biblical passages to promote homophobic attitudes.

Heterosexual Privilege - Due to the out-group status directed towards African Americans by the White majority, being heterosexual (and the privileges that come with this sexual orientation) is seen as giving one “higher status” than being viewed as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Internalized racism -  For those African Americans who have had racist stereotypes ingrained in them, being seen as gay, lesbian, or bisexual may be strongly reacted against and discouraged, in order to stress the “normalcy” of their people.

African American lesbians are likely to maintain strong familial ties and have children. Also, they tend to rely more on family or other lesbians for support, much more so than do White lesbians.

African American lesbians are also more likely to have continued contact with men and heterosexuals, than are White lesbians.

Bisexuality, as opposed to homosexuality, is generally seen as more acceptable in the African American community and more widely condoned than in the White community.

Asian Americans

One of the more salient features of Asian American families is that children are undeniably expected to be obedient towards their parents. Conformity is similarly important. Both obedience and conformity are threatened when Asian American offspring come out to their parents as LGBTQI.

Gay, bisexual, or transgendered Asian American males are viewed as threatening the continuation of the family line, and rejecting the expectation of marrying, having children, and extending the family lineage.

Lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Asian American females are viewed as rejecting the role of dutiful daughter, as well as future roles of dutiful wife and mother.

Because of the prominence of collective (as opposed to individualistic) identification, LGBTQI children are viewed as shaming the entire family. These children may be particularly shameful to Asian American mothers, since a cultural expectation is that mothers are responsible for preventing this occurrence.

Sexual relationships between Asian American women may occur, but are frequently discounted as being indicative of a lesbian or bisexual identity.

Historically, gay and bisexual Japanese American men looked to traditional samurai and kabuki actors as validating their sexual orientation identity. Rejection and condemnation of homosexuality are more recent in origin.

Similarly, gay and bisexual Chinese American men may look historically towards the term “cut sleeve” to validate their sexual orientation identity. The phrase “cut sleeve” refers to the Chinese emperor Ai-di who literally cut his sleeve, in order to avoid waking up his male lover. The eventual influence of Western religions on Chinese culture perpetuated condemnation of homosexuality.

Unlike other minority LGBTQI individuals, Asian American LGBTQI individuals may report being discriminated against more because of their sexual orientation, rather than because of their Asian ethnicity.

Latino/Latina Americans

Similar to Asian Americans, in Latin American households the family is regarded as the primary social unit, source of support, and determinant of gender role expectations.

Lesbian and bisexual Latinas are viewed as rejecting the traditional gender role expectations of deferring to men, residing with their parents until marriage, and extending the family lineage.

Gay and bisexual Latinos are viewed as rejecting the traditional male role of upholding family loyalty, marrying, and extending the familial name.

Language carries deep emotional meaning in the Latino culture. There exist few or no words in the Spanish language for LGBTQI individuals that are not negative, and that do not evoke condemnation or disapproval.

It is not uncommon to find Latino men engaging in same-sex behavior with one another. However, while the pasivo (i.e. receptive) partner is oftentimes viewed as being homosexual, the more masculine (i.e. inserter) activo role, also known as the “buggaron,” is not. Also, the buggaron typically self-identifies as heterosexual, as opposed to bisexual or gay.

Latinos value being indirect as a means of dealing with conflict, and it is the overt announcement that one is LGBTQI that is likely to provoke outright disapproval. Thus, LGBTQI individuals may sense that their family “knows” about their sexual orientation, but they will frequently not “come out” in acknowledgement of this. Similarly, the disapproval that might stem from going against the cultural tradition of indirectness may lead to Latino LGBTQI individuals being even more ”closeted.”

Similarly, not acknowledging the homosexuality of a family member does not constitute acceptance, but rather it is more likely to connote familial denial.

Community membership is another strong value among Latinos and Latinas, and fear of community rejection or becoming an outcast may also increase motivation to remain closeted.

The prominence of Catholicism in the Latino population evokes a strong condemnation of homosexuality in the Latino community. The strength of this faith in LGBTQI Latinos or Latinas may also lead to strong self-condemnation.

Middle Eastern Americans

Note that Middle Eastern Americans refers to people of numerous ethnicities, faiths, and nations of origin.

While not generally “visible” in either the Middle Eastern or LGBTQI communities, it is estimated that roughly 10% of this population is homosexual.

In some Arab cultures, same-sex behaviors may be overlooked, but experiencing same-sex emotional attractions in addition to the sex makes a person homosexual, and therefore a potential outcast. Arab men in particular make a distinction between sex and emotions.

In many Middle Eastern countries, governments may overlook homosexual acts in private, but public displays of homosexuality (i.e. lesbian or gay socials, clubs, etc.) are unacceptable and open to prosecution. Examples include the imprisonment of homosexuals in Egypt or stoning in Afghanistan.

Middle Eastern Americans of Muslim Faith

Middle Eastern scholars unanimously agree that Islam rejects homosexuality. Yet, it only becomes a punishable offense if it occurs between men having anal sex in public.

For those LGBTQI of the Muslim faith living in the U.S., many admit to living in fear of being rejected by heterosexual Muslims, or even fear of being openly attacked by fundamentalist Muslims.

Many in the greater Muslim community believe that homosexuality as an identity component does not even exist in their culture.

Fears of shaming the family or losing respect at their Mosque leads many Muslim LGBTQI members to remain closeted

On the basis of certain Koran verses (i.e. “For ye practice your lusts on men in preference of women; ye are indeed a people transgressing”), from the Muslim perspective homosexuality is viewed as unnatural. Also, some scholars argue that one cannot be both gay, lesbian, or bisexual and Muslim.

There is no separate or special word in the Koran for homosexual sexual relations. However, terms denoting “bad things” accompany texts on men penetrating men, while other verses refer to same-sex acts between women as “a great sin.”

Native Americans     

For Native American women, motherhood remains an important role since children are seen as maintaining the future of the tribal group. Many Native American lesbians and bisexual women have children.

Individuals that by Western standards appear to be androgynous (and therefore outsiders) were historically valued in Native American societies. However, contemporary Native Americans have frequently been less accepting of those who don’t fit into more traditional Western gender roles.

Native American societies that exist on reservations were found to be even less accepting of homosexuality. Therefore many LGBTQI Native Americans living on reservations have experienced even more pressure to remain closeted.

The degree of acceptance extended towards LGBTQI Native Americans by their community may be determined by the religious affiliation of the Western group that colonized that particular tribe.

Adapted from:

  • Greene, B. (1994). Ethnic minority lesbians and gay men: Mental health and treatment issues
  • Greene, B. (1996). Lesbians and gay men of color: The legacy of ethnosexual mythologies in Heterosexism
  • Rust, P. (1996) Managing Multiple Identities: Diversity among bisexual women and men; Islam and homosexuality essays and reports.  Retrieved online from www.travelandtranscendence.com/g-afghanistan.html on Jan. 20, 2003.

 

Transgendered People of Color

Like gay, lesbian, and bisexual people of color, transgendered people of color also balance the challenges of being both an ethnic and a sexual minority.

Below are some of the facts reported on transgender (or gender variant) people of color…

  • Unlike White transgendered individuals, who have the “luxury” of concentrating their efforts on only social or personal issues, transgendered minority individuals are forced to address issues related to racism and their ethnicity in their daily lives.
  • Ethnic minority transgendered individuals are less likely than White transgendered individuals to seek out transgendered-related and general health care services.
  • Transgendered people of color are also less likely even to seek out transgender-related health services (i.e. gender reassignment services). As one African American female-to-male preoperative states, “Black people don’t go to White people for advice (help). When something happens in the family, you keep it in the family.”
  • Some Latino/Latina transgendered people may also face obstacles to health care or transgender-related care, due to language differences, economic barriers, cultural differences, or previous immigration-related conflicts.
  • In keeping with the saying that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are the “minority within a minority”, transgendered people of color are even more of a minority in the LGBTQI community.
  • Asian Americans are frequently considered “the newcomers” to the gender variant community, and as with LGBTQI Asians the emphasis placed on family and conformity can create conflicts for gender variant Asian Americans.
  • The reluctance of many Asian cultures to overtly discuss sexuality in general can result in discounting or rejecting the needs of transgendered Asian Americans.
  • As with LGBTQI Asian Americans, transgenderism is viewed by the heterosexual Asian American community as a White “disease.

 

A  2001 study of over 250 African American and Latino/Latina gender variant people found:

  • 35 % reported suicidal ideation
  • Over 40 % were unemployed, which was attributed to discriminatory hiring.
  • Almost 40 % lacked a high school diploma
  • 43 % were victims of crime or violence
  • Over 30 % had problems with alcohol and/or drugs, which was attributed to the limited economic opportunities, familial pressures, and societal racism.
  • Commonly cited barriers to heath and transgender-related care included lack of insurance, lack of health professional sensitivity and hostility, and fears of transgendered status being revealed to acquaintances.

Source:

Xavier, J. (2001). A needs assessment of transgendered people of color in the District of Columbia,Retrieved online from www.symposion.com/ijt/hbigda/2001/30_xavier.htm on Jan. 22,2003;

Yarborough, M. (2002). People of Color and Cultural Awareness. Retrieved online from village.fortunecity.com/carnival/383/color.htm on Jan. 22, 2003.