Gay Racists: On the Fringe of the Fringe
How many people marched in June Pride parades demanding dignity and equality while harboring a prejudice?
The phenomenon of the oppressed railing against others perceived to be slightly lower on the pecking order is nothing new - least of all on the gay scene. Gay males perceived to be effeminate are often targets of scorn from other, more "macho" gay men (at least in their own eyes). Within the queer group identity, the Gs and Ls often marginalize the Ts as an unfathomable "other" - as foreign to their experience as those selfsame gay men and lesbians are from the world of bigoted straights.
This is regrettable, if understandable within the gay subculture. But what could possibly compel a gay man to adopt a belief system that allows him to denigrate those of a different race, class or sexual orientation?
Gary Bailey, is the chairperson of the National Social Work Public Education Campaign, an out-gay man who teaches the racism coursework at the Simmons College School of Social Work. He speaks as a clinician dealing with issues for which race and class disparity are often at the root.
"People who are oppressed are not immune to oppressing and having feelings that would allow them to discriminate against other people," Bailey notes. In other words, a lot of people - even (or especially) those near the bottom or oppressed themselves - enjoy putting down still other classes of people.
Elliot Tiber, whose "Taking Woodstock" was made into a film by Ang Lee, is currently researching a project that has taken him into online gay chat rooms. "In the rooms that people are looking for friends or lovemaking," he quickly discovered, "You don't see the hatred."
It's mostly in the site-specific rooms where he finds outright prejudice. There elitist attitudes are tied to physical appearance and age are much more common than overt racist overtures. Even so, "whites only" - as antiquated as that might be for restrooms or water fountains - is not all that uncommon. Nor is the alternative "brothers only" or "men of color only." Asians come in for particular outright prejudice.
"So much of what I see is just talk and fake," says Tibor. "Much of what you see is fantasy and role play. But based on their need to do that stuff, I deduce that it must be real for quite a few. By lashing out with hatred, in some way they feel better for a while."
Tibor sees such exclusionary tactics as the result of "an enormous amount of lack of self worth in the gay community." So a large part of it is defensive. By lashing out, some people feel better about themselves. "Of course," he adds, "it doesn't work that way."
Can a gay man (or woman?) be a racist?
Simma Lieberman is an organizational development consultant and, presently, co-chair of the San Francisco Regional Council of Out and Equal. She draws on years of experience facilitating dialogues and discussions on racism within LGBT communities.
Among Caucasian gays who exhibit racist behavior, "people seem to think they can't be racist and what they say doesn't matter," Lieberman observes. A strong sense of identity from which we derive perceived status or self-worth, she suggests, carries with it an overblown sense of entitlement.
Those who come by racism in this manner may actually be easier to understand and eventually come out of their situation. Those who believe in what they do "because of lack of contact" with the group they hate "are easier to work with," according to Lieberman. "The ones that are 'just gay, white racists' may not have any interest in changing."
For those with exaggerated sense of self-worth, however, Lieberman has "had good responses from people who attend workshops and interact with people who are from different races - if they interact in a meaningful way as human beings."
The hardest people to treat (in terms of coming out of their inherent racist beliefs) are those who are aware of their racism and don't even want to acknowledge it.
"They want to keep their beliefs," says Lieberman, "because they need someone to blame - 'The black person got the job I would have gotten' - or feel totally entitled to have everything. If they weren't gay they, would be members of right-wing groups, but can't get in them now."
Gay racists, outcasts of outcasts
The irony of the gay racist who longs for acceptance yet is a natural target of those who might otherwise be allies was documented in the Fall 2000 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2000/fall. The article, "The Fringe of the Fringe," examined the phenomenon of gay white supremacists/neo-Nazis who networked on the Internet and drew the ire of their fellow racists.
With more irony than sympathy, the report observed, "Talk about a sect within a sect. The members of this tiny subculture on the radical right - mainly men who inhabit Web chat rooms like "Gay Aryan Resistance" - just can't seem to get any respect."
It was a posting on the GAR site, from a lesbian, that perhaps best articulated the conundrum of gay racism. Quoting her posting, the report demonstrated the perspective that "Even if you are gay and white, or retarded and white, YOU ARE WHITE. BOTTOM LINE! Instead of letting the white race go extinct because of worthless races such as the african [sic] race or the mexican [sic] race popping out literally millions of babies a day, we have to fight this fucked up shit they are doing. They are raping our country."
Ten years later, the most virulent and widespread examples of gay racism continue to emanate from the skinhead/neo-Nazi community - where the line between fascism and fetish is often blurred beyond recognition. Bailey notes "People begin to adopt those sorts of behaviors, costumes and dress, thinking it's somehow sexy. They become obsessed with the brown shirts or the Aryan Nation with the Aryan type as a normative."
Nicolo Donato's film "Brotherhood" - opening in New York City on August 6 and in Los Angeles on August 20 - looks at racism, unrequited love, closeted sexuality and homophobia within the neo-Nazi movement. Donato says he was inspired to write the screenplay after seeing the film "Man Heroes and Gay Nazis" at the Danish Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
He says his characters represent people who "try to find some confidence in being a social group where they feel strong because there are more people with the same opinion, and therefore don't feel suppressed."
In the film, a man named Jimmy joins a Nazi group in search of personal security, but grows increasingly attracted to Lars. "A conflict within himself starts because of the love that flourish between them," says Donato.
Once this element of his character's dynamic begins to surface, the film explores what Donato describes as "an inner fight between right and wrong that's being pressed down over our head from our outer environment, families and friends."
Bailey notes that, like the characters in Donato's film, "Closeted gay racists deny who they are and project onto other people their own self-hatred or self-loathing." These people, who struggle to "manage externally their own internalized oppression," can be dangerous to themselves, our community and others.
Bailey notes that such individuals most commonly arrive to deal with depression or work/relationship problem. "I've worked with racists," Bailey recalls. "Racists don't walk into treatment saying 'help me to stop being racist.'"