This week CNN premiered “The Sissy Boy Experiment,” an Anderson Cooper 360° special three-part series. In the special report, Cooper examines the life of Kirk Murphy, a suicide victim tormented by childhood psychological and physical abuse. Murphy’s parents, in hopes of discarding Kirk’s feminine behavior, took the then 5-year old to a UCLA psychologist in hopes that he would someday live “a normal life.” Murphy would later be subjected to unrelenting abuse from his father, and ultimately take his own life.
As horrendous as Murphy’s story is, the Black community, too, is no stranger to its own “Sissy Boy Experiment.” African Americans have historically and statistically exhibited disproportionately negative attitudes toward homosexuality. We’ve all seen and heard it before. Young Black males are pressured to live a life void of any and all things effeminate. I can count the instances where I heard the “sissy” moniker spewed to debase young boys who weren’t manly or tough enough. That rhetoric is more harmful than any physical abuse could ever do. Homosexuality has long been a taboo among Blacks, which continues to haunt the race today.
African Americans account for nearly half of all Americans living with HIV/AIDS, yet make up only 12.6 percent of the population. This chilling data suggests that somewhere we have dropped the ball. Because we fail to engage conversation on homophobia in the Black community, we subsequently fail to address pressing issues inherently linked to homosexuality. Because of the pressures and fear gay Black males face in America, they in turn participate in irresponsible sexual behavior (i.e., the “down-low” epidemic).
And who is to blame for such calamity? Black America. Gay Black men lack support and understanding from the heterosexual community. A study by the Midwest AIDS Biobehavioral Research Center found that Black men were less likely than White men to practice safe sex due to lack of social support.
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This lack of support has led the Black race to a perilous reality. But beyond the high rate of HIV/AIDS infections, suicide is another dark cloud lingering above the African American community. Contrary to popular belief, suicide does exist within the Black race. Just last year, Joseph Jefferson, 26, committed suicide due to the strains of living life out of the closet.
On his Facebook page Jefferson posted, “I could not bear the burden of living as a man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called ‘social mainstream.’”
It is lamentable to think that any human being would turn to suicide for being marginalized over something as menial as sexual orientation. But sadly, stories like Jefferson’s are happening more often than we think. This isn’t just a gay issue; it has become a Black issue, too.
Luckily leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, and even President Obama, have recognized this issue, publicly condemning the Black community’s homophobia.
In 2005, Sharpton led an initiative of public forums at churches and schools aimed to educate African Americans on HIV/AIDS and discrimination against gays and lesbians.
According to a 2008 report by the Huffington Post, Obama addressed his concern with homophobia in the Black community.
“If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community,” he said to members of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. “We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them.”
Until the rest of Black America wakes up, “The Sissy Boy Experiment” will continue to cripple the vitality of the African American community, and the American fabric as a whole.
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