Black, Gay, and the Struggle with Marriage Equality

Black, Gay, and the Struggle with Marriage Equality



By Devin Barrington-Ward

As a black gay man I find myself in a constant struggle as it concerns my loyalty to the mainstream LGBT agenda, specifically on the subject of gay marriage.

On one hand, I see the benefits of fighting relentlessly for the fundamental right to marry whomever your heart so desires. Those benefits are displayed in sweeping marriage equality victories in Maine, Maryland and Washington last November giving millions of LGBT people their right to marry. Those benefits are further displayed in the unions of beautiful couples like Ravi Perry and Paris Prince, the first black gay couple to be featured in Jet Magazine. There is a certain level of pride knowing that their union and the unions of so many other loving LGBT couples are honored by the nine states along with the District of Columbia that recognize gay marriage. And with President Obama and even some prominent republicans like John Huntsman urging the Supreme Court to rule on the side of marriage equality, all this progression does bring about certain sense of excitement. These advancements are largely attributed to the hard work and dedication of national LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and countless others.

However, that joy is always immediately met with anger, sadness and disappointment when I am reminded of the realities of being an LGBT person of color. While many LGBT people of color would love the opportunity to get married and take part in the “America Dream,” we are consumed with shouldering much of the burden of disturbing socioeconomic, civil rights and public health disparities experienced with both gay life and the further disenfranchisement that minority communities suffer. Thus I have little to no desire to fight for marriage equality. We are already fighting an uphill battle for survival, and our plight does not seem to be a priority of any large civil rights or gay rights organizations. It is for these reasons I find myself constantly asking, “Why should I be loyal to an agenda that is not loyal to me?”The stakes for us are high. In 2009 the Gay Lesbian, Straight Education Network found that 80% of LGBT students of color experienced verbal assaults due to their sexuality, and a daunting 50% of Native American LGBT students said that their harassment was of a physical and violent nature. The Williams Institute at UCLA discovered that same year that Hispanic lesbian couples earned $3,000 less than their straight counterparts, black gay couples earned $20,000 less than their white gay counterparts and black lesbians earned an astonishing $10,000 below black gay men. Couple these statistics with poverty rates between 11.8 to 21.1% for Asian, Hispanic, Native American and Black gay and lesbian families, along with 26% of black transgenders people being unemployed. Homelessness is disturbingly high for Black LGBT youth, according to the report, 44% of black gay youth and 62% of black transgender youth are homeless. And sadly our plight does not end there. As these socioeconomic conditions worsen for LGBT communities of color so does the growing HIV/AIDS situation, especially among my demographic of young black gay and bisexual men. Experts at the International Conference of AIDS this past summer in Washington, DC concluded that if the current infection rate of 2.8% continues, black gay men as a whole would be looking at 50% of the community being infected with HIV/AIDS in less than a decade. Our rates of infection in some U.S. metropolitan areas have surpassed rates of those found in underdeveloped countries in Africa. One can reasonably conclude that this situation which has moved beyond a mere crisis but a full blown epidemic, is only exasperated by these high rates of unemployment, homelessness and poverty along with homophobia and violence.I often find myself pondering whether the LGBT movement is becoming one based on entitlement and privilege. While I would never demonize those who fight so passionately for the right to marry, I would be remiss if I did not remind the greater LGBT community that we have a moral responsibility to fight for the less of these, especially within our own community. In Illinois, where the lobbying effort for the passage of gay marriage is expected to attract big dollars, organizations like the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimated that of the nearly 11,000 homeless youth that as many as 40% of them are LGBT. Where is their lobbying effort? Where do they find themselves in the agenda? Are they not important too? It is an unconscionable injustice that the minority, young and poor in our community is experiencing a unprecedented socioeconomic, public health and civil rights catastrophe and we still do not have a gay agenda that is a true reflection of the entire needs of the community. We must ask ourselves will this movement just serve the needs of the privilege, while ignoring the needs of those suffering the most?I challenge mainstream LGBT and human rights organizations in 2013 to take notice to this epidemic with more than lip service but meaningful and swift action and advocacy, the same used to win our community the right to marry in some states. And fortunately national LGBT organization will not have to address this monumental task alone. Minority LGBT leadership and student organizations like the National Black Justice Coalition, Gay Asian Pacific Alliance, Hispanic Black Gay Coalition, the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative, Spelman’s Afrekete and Morehouse’s Safe Space are all waiting in the wings to be engaged but not as axillary factions but as full and meaningful partners to help save the constituencies we are all responsible for fighting for. The gay rights agenda as it stands marginalizes those who need us most. Our beloved community must alter the current agenda, not to abandon the fight for marriage equality, but to advance it. To show the world that our fight for marriage equality comes from the pure belief that our community is a family, a family united by struggle, and a family who takes care of their own.


Devin Barrington-Ward is a 22 year old Atlanta based Political Strategist, Human Rights Advocate & Racial Politics Commentator. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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Devin Barrington Ward
Devin Barrington-Ward is a 23 year black gay political strategist, communications specialist, and government affairs expert based in Washington, DC. Devin has a strong commitment to progressive politics and ensuring that the voices of the youth, people of color, and historically disenfranchised communities are heard in this country's political dialogue. In 2008, Devin served as the Campaign Manager to Georgia State Senator Ronald Ramsey (D-Decatur) and was instrumental in a decisive victory in the general election with nearly 84% of the vote. Since then Devin has had the pleasure of serving a multitude of elected officials and organizations in numerous capacities, including as Chief of Staff to Georgia State Representative Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), the nation's second lesbian African American state legislator. Currently Devin serves as the Director of Communications to DC Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), along with participating in a national fellowship program with the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition -- focusing on working with state and local government officials around the country to roll out new biomedical prevention methods, such as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and Treatment as Prevention to help reduce the rate of infection in urban communities hit hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.


  1. As a person that has never really connected well with the African-American community I always feel like the outsider with it comes to this particular discussion. I’ve never been dismissed by traditional (white) organizations, in fact I’ve always been embraced with open arms, invited to the table and challenged to task. When it comes to the black organizations I am met with jealousy, disdain, judgement, drama, hypocrisy, promiscuity and more. I wish my experience were different but I don’t have a single experience that differs from my accounts. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Atlanta two years ago, I thought if I immersed myself in the culture and the people of this black gay mecca I would have new experiences that would change my outlook, sadly I was sorely disappointed.