Learning to love myself as a Black queer man in a Black Greek Letter Organization
The intersection of Queerness and Blackness is too important to ignore for the sake of masculine ideals
By George M. Johnson
There is no such thing as Blackness that doesn’t encompass Queerness, despite the attempts from toxic masculinity and those willing to protect its image at all costs to have you believe otherwise. This cost is paid in the form of transgender people murdered, young boys killed by their fathers over their gay identity, and the violent suppression of an LGBTQ community that has stood in the shadows waiting for safety in the sunlight.
My experience within a Black Greek Letter Fraternity has been no different, unfortunately. As my growing public Queer identity becomes a threat to the foundations of masculinity within my org, it has simultaneously become a bigger threat to my own safety.
In 2006, I decided I wanted to become a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity incorporated. As the oldest Black Greek Letter Organization established for collegiate life, we have long stood on the forefront of civil change, social activism, and upholding an image of the respectable negro. From the beginning, there were questions about my sexuality, which I lied about every single time it came up in conversation.
Knowing my identity could potentially prevent me from becoming a member, I did everything within my power to fake it until I made it.
In April of that year, I finally became a member of the organization, and nothing got easier for me. I was expected to be this hyper-masculine, nerd-type who was looking for the perfect woman with whom to settle down. Except, I was not attracted to women. Being a member of a BGLO came with the requirement of living in a closet, or doing your “dirt” after business hours. I hid my identity, keeping my sex life out of the spotlight and contained within my own personal circle of gay friends and “girl friends.” But this didn’t stop the rumors, and remained a main point of contention between me and several brothers who felt my suppression of myself still wasn’t enough for years.
I wasn’t alone. Many lived in this silence and secrecy along with me, admiring those who somehow existed in high positions within the organization while keeping their identity intact. This ability to navigate hetero-dominated spaces as a leader while being gay was a goal for me, or so I thought. But until I could accomplish that, I chose to find solace in the moments where my sexuality wasn’t an issue. Community service, brotherhood fellowships, conventions, and meetings became my normalcy, and my identity took a backseat.
This only worked until it didn’t. The child who always knew he was different was ready to show that, and not only in portions. By 2011, I made my Queer identity the top priority, and decided the momentary thoughts of others could no longer dictate how I lived my life.
Choosing to be publicly Queer with visibility and a growing platform was not easy, and made me a target for a lot of hate and discrimination. My voice on LGBTQ issues got louder, and as a journalist and activist I began challenging traditional Black organizations that only accepted me into the room absent my identity. I fought against the grain of heteronormative policies that my org was built on with the hopes of creating change around the views of Gay and Queer members.
That intersection was not an easy pill for many who called me brother to swallow. They pushed back and they pushed hard. I was requested to remove certain pictures of myself wearing paraphernalia of the organization if I was also going to be wearing crop-tops and sun hats. I was asked to minimize my femininity, and to think harder about the image of masculinity that took 100 years to build which I was potentially dismantling.
In this moment, I learned that some people in the organization’s greatest fear was not white supremacy, nor even a decrease in membership. It was and is the fact that the torch might be passed from our most well-known member, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to someone of a Queer embodiment. It was that they might risk losing the masculinity they so long fought to protect.
But the years of this being my concern are over. The intersection of Queerness and Blackness is too important to ignore for the sake of masculine ideals which continue to kill those at the margins of Blackness day after day.
The silver lining in my traumatic experiences are the teachable moments. Although many brothers knew who I was and how I identified, it took me publicly embracing my identity to present an opportunity to ask questions and see me for who I was in totality rather than to judge based on the parts of me they couldn’t understand. We learned a lot of lessons together around LGBTQ culture, the importance of intersecting queer issues with theirs, and what it really looked like to practice the “Love for all Mankind” motto many in our organization only pretend to uphold.
I was recently able to expand on this topic, shooting part of a docu-series for Slay TV in which I dived into the importance of Black orgs taking a stance behind Queer brothers. Queer folk are already within the org as leaders and members; the continued denial of our existence will only hurt any change we hope to make in the future.
There would be many more people openly among the LGBTQ spectrum if it weren’t so dangerous. Within Black Greek Orgs particularly, we haven’t made it safe enough yet. Still, I am a proud Black Queer member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, and nothing will stop my fight for Black folk̦—all Black folk—to be liberated.
George M. Johnson is a Black Queer Journalist and the Managing Editor of BroadwayBlack.com. He writes for EBONY, TheGrio, Teen Vogue, NBC News, Black Youth Project and several other national publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram