by Latonya Pennington
On Monday afternoon, “Gay Black Rapper” Mykki Blanco started a crucial Twitter conversation on how mainstream gay media is white. While Jesse Saint John’s tweet simply opened the door to the issue, it was Mykki Blanco who really drove the point home: gay media is overwhelmingly vanilla.
As the discussion gained attention, Viktor Kerney started the hashtag #GayMediaSoWhite to bring awareness to the lack of all LGBTQ+ people of color in “Gay Media.” Yet, I read a recent piece on the hashtag that only focused on the lack of representation of gay men of color in gay media.
To write about #GayMediaSoWhite and only talk about gay men of color is to erase everybody else who falls under the umbrella of LGBTQ+ people of color. Think about it, if gay men of color are not represented in white gay media, that means there are even more of us LGBTQ+ folks of color who are not represented either.
As a gender diverse lesbian of color, I, too, rarely see myself reflected in mainstream gay media, especially in live-action works. As a result, I mostly rely on animated series and comics for representation such as Sailor Moon, the film Adolescence of Utena, and Steven Universe.
60% of LGBT inclusive films featured white gay men, and only 33% of LGBT characters on cable were people of color in 2015. And very often, the few characters we have are killed off the show. We have existed for as long as white gay men have, and we still don’t we have the same representation due to a combination of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and transphobia.
Despite what mainstream media shows us, LGBTQ+ people of color are not too difficult to find. Reality television shows such as Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce and The Prancing Elites have added representation of queer people of color at a faster rate than scripted television shows. Instead of being celebrated in all types of media, we are treated as a marginalized group of misfits who only belong on reality TV. I am tired of constantly being made to feel like we don’t belong in all genres.
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This is not to say that we don’t have any live-action queer characters of color on mainstream television. That would be to ignore the impact of Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder and Jamal Lyons from Empire. But the examples we have like Annalise and Jamal are few and far between. One queer person of color per show is not enough, even on a mainstream show. We are not tokens, but a community made up of endless experiences and personalities.
Not only is it that we lack representation as LGBTQ+ people of color in fiction, but many of us are also being removed from the media about the history of the movement. In films like the recent Stonewall adaptation, our trans heroes of color have been removed from history entirely. This rewriting of our past makes it so we don’t know names like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera unless we look up Stonewall for ourselves on a non-mainstream source.
Fortunately, where mainstream gay media has largely failed, independent LGBTQ+ media has been way more fruitful.
Thanks to social media, kickstarters, and platforms like Netflix and YouTube, LGBTQ+ people of color have found ways to thrive in film and beyond. For example, Pariah and Tangerine are independent films with LGBTQ+ people of color currently streaming on Netflix. Other examples include webseries like The Peculiar Kind and Bi: The Web Series, and webcomics like Mahou Shounen Fight! and Rock n’ Riot.
Besides creating representation, independent LGBTQ+ media has also created community through queer people of color spaces. Since LGBTQ+ people of color often have to deal with racism from their white counterparts, QPOC spaces allow them to exist in peace. Although they are small, sites like Black Girl Dangerous, SOULELGBT, and The G-List Society show that there is safety in numbers.
I am grateful for independent LGBTQ+ media. Without it, I would feel like I was alone in my struggles and that I had to fit into one of the limited roles for queer Black women. As author Zora Neale Hurston once wrote that, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” This is what I feel every time I consume mainstream gay media.
Outside of the realm of independent media that I choose to consume, I find myself lost again. If I am looking for something new, I have to Google several variations of the words “LGBT people of color” just to find characters who represent me. This is why using #GayMediaSoWhite to talk about LGBTQ+ people at large is so important. It is not just some of us that are left out, but all of us.
In a world where we as LGBT+ people of color have higher rates of homelessness and are more likely to be murdered, relaxing with positive representations on television shouldn’t be too much to ask for. With such grim outlooks facing LGBTQ+ people of color, we need more than just celebrities to look up to. We need images of everyday LGBTQ+ people in television, film, and beyond.
Together we are more than just a hashtag: we are thousands of queer people of color amplifying each other. We are people who are tired of being reduced to tragedies and tokens and who deserve to be represented as more. Despite being made invisible by mainstream gay media, #GayMediaSoWhite shows that we are willing to fight to not only exist, but also be seen and heard.
Latonya Pennington is a queer freelance writer and blerd. She specializes in pop culture and entertainment and has written for Superselected magazine, The Mary Sue, Black Girl Nerds, and more. When she isn’t freelancing, she can be found on Twitter, streaming shows, listening to music, reading, and writing poetry.
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