Photos, video, and article by Jesús Ian Kumamoto
After decades of legal battles, gay and lesbian couples were granted the constitutional right to marry in all 50 states on June, 2015; one year after that, a gunman opened fire on a gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, killing 49 people.
Despite the tragedy in Orlando, members of the LGBTQ community enjoy more rights and public acceptance than ever before. AIDS is no longer a death sentence and pride parades are held in every major U.S. city. For the first time, a majority of Americans (55%) support gay marriage, according to the Pew Research Center.
But progress can be a double-edged sword. For a community that seems to be flourishing, figures suggest that the LGBTQ community continues to struggle in complicated ways. 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ, and gay people are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. In addition, LGBTQ people are twice or three times more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to run away from home.
The following piece is a multi-part journey through the hardships of a gay black man, a transgender woman, and a bisexual woman. Although the subjects are all young New Yorkers and part of the LGBTQ community, their experiences differ vastly. What they have in common, however, is overwhelming: they all feel, in one way or another, forgotten by their own community. They are young, queer, and left behind.
Queer People of Color
While the movement to combat the AIDS epidemic in the 80s focused largely on middle and upper-middle class white men, gay people of color have been historically active in gay rights movements. Christopher Packard, author of the novel “Queer Cowboys” and an expert on queer identity, references Audre Lorde- among the first prominent “out and proud” black lesbians- to understand how people of color might navigate contrasting, often clashing, identities.
Gay, Black, and Unwanted (New York City, 2017)
To be gay and to be black is to be unwanted, says Victor Leonard, a 20-year old N.Y.U. student.
He is sitting in his messy dorm room in the East Village, just a few blocks away from where a gay black man, Mark Carson, was murdered in 2013. But the trouble of the black gay community goes deeper than abhorrent hate crimes; 48% of all people diagnosed with AIDS in 2016 were African American. 1 in 2 gay black Americans will contract HIV in their lifetime.
But Victor isn’t necessarily thinking about the homophobia or the disease. In his mind, the gay community is destroying itself. With “unrealistic” body ideals and normalized bigotry- 80% of black people have experienced racism in gay dating apps- Victor feels neglected by the group of people who are supposed to embrace him.
“If you lined up people of every race and asked gay people to pick someone they wanted,” he says, “No one would choose the black person.”
Transgender people in the United States are becoming more visible in both positive and negative ways. Similar to gay people of color, transgender people have been activists for centuries; Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender black woman, allegedly initiated the Stonewall Riots that led to the gay liberation movement. But trans history goes beyond the 20th century.
Transgender, but Human First (New York City, 2017)
Alex Hoffmann is wearing a dress, contorting herself in front of the bathroom mirror to get a better look at her back. Sighing, she says her body still looks too much like a man’s.
Although Alex is taking hormones, she’s still too masculine. She hasn’t worn a dress outside of her small apartment on 44th street because she’s still too scared. In 2016, at least 22 transgender people were murdered in the United States. Even if trans people survive violence and abuse, 41% of transgender people have attempted or will attempt suicide in their lifetimes, compared to less than 2% of the general population. 50% of trans people experience sexual violence at least once, though a national movement exists to portray trans people as sexual predators.
For Alex, being transgender doesn’t define her. She likes to dance and considers herself a profoundly spiritual person.
“There’s a deep, deep part of us that nothing can touch,” she says. “Not drugs, not hormones. I want people that are thinking of transitioning to know that doing so won’t solve all your problems.”
Regardless, she wants surgery. Alex knows that it won’t fix everything, but she already feels happier ever since she started taking hormones. Her breasts are getting bigger. Her features softer. But even after she spends thousands on procedures and pills, her life and safety will be uncertain.
According to the Health Research Fund, 13% of women between the ages of 18-44 identify as bisexual, compared to less than 2% of men. Nonetheless, there are about 74 bars for gay men but only 3 bars that cater to mostly lesbians in New York City, according to Gay Cities. This means that many bisexual and lesbian women have fewer opportunities to meet other each other in the same types of spaces that exist for gay men.
Bisexual, but not Your Sex Toy (New York City, 2017)
Today, Patty Boutin has a boyfreind who doesn’t care about her sexual orientation; a few years ago, things were different. Boutin’s ex-boyfriend often asked for threesomes. Although Boutin always refused, he would constantly harass her until they finally broke up.
Although Boutin has dated women, she generally feels more comofrotable dating men.
“It’s just easier,” she says. “You don’t get the dirty looks and the dispproving head shakes.”