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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 10:53 GMT
Black Britain urged to accept gay men
Campaign: Posters discuss responses to homophobia

The UK's leading HIV and Aids charity is beginning a campaign against homophobia among black communities - saying enough is enough.
"I told my brother and he didn't talk to me for four months. Now he keeps asking about my girlfriend. Well I tell him about relationships - but there's no girlfriend and he knows that. It's just his way of blanking it out."

I know my Mum would never accept me ... she's not prepared to talk about it and would never speak to me again if I told her.

James is young, bright, black and gay. When he was 19 he tried to kill himself, partly because of the fear of telling his family he was gay.

It was a conversation about that incident that led him unintentionally to tell his brother he was gay.

The reaction was hostile and James (not his real name) is even less likely to tell his mother.

Among black men, his experience is not unusual. The Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK's leading HIV and Aids charity, is launching a campaign to tackle homophobia within black communities.

It was a shock when my mate told me he was gay. I've known him since school and I'd never guessed ... I was angy that he'd never told me - but how could he? I can't say I completely understand yet, but I do know I'd really be missing out if he wasn't around

Terrence Higgins Trust campaign poster
"The mentality of a Jamaican or black family is completely different on this one," says James.

"If you are gay, you do not want them to find out. Many won't accept it. But you can't hide it forever as the simplest thing can give you away.

"My sexuality was a major part in trying to take my life. It was stupid. But there's not a lot of people you can trust.

"I thought that my brother would be one of the ones able to understand, or at least accept. I didn't expect the reaction I got."

Since then James has told one other family member, an uncle. He was sympathetic but warned him not to tell anyone else in the family.

"My Mum would never accept me," said James. "She tells me to avoid bad company. Well I knew she means gay men because she obviously suspects.

"But she's not prepared to talk about it and would never speak to me again if I told her. How can you raise it when your own grandmother sits there and calls people 'poofs'?"

The Terrence Higgins Trust says for men like James, enough is enough - it is time for the black community to accept.

It warns the long-term impact of persistent homophobia will be a worsening HIV and Aids situation as men remain afraid to come out.

Married men

Simon Nelson of the trust says it is difficult to get black men to be open because of a culture totally opposed to homosexuality.

Simon Nelson of the Terrence Higgins Trust (Pic copyright THT)
Simon Nelson: Difficult campaign
"Most of the men I try and reach are married or have girlfriends. Because of the homophobia among black families, these men would never openly identify with being gay."

Mr Nelson says these men face explicit or more subtle homophobia in all parts of their communities, particularly in black churches.

Older generations or siblings would often take a "Victorian" attitude towards sexuality, passed down through the inherited social conservatism of the Caribbean or Africa, says Mr Nelson.

"The black community rarely gets an opportunity to discuss the issue. Many people automatically associate homosexuality with white middle class men."

Mr Nelson says he has struggled to persuade well-known gay black men to come out because they fear a backlash.

Justin Fashanu: Committed suicide in 1998
Within the arts, the singer David McAlmont (one half of the duo McAlmont and Butler) has long been one of the few who has made a stand for his sexuality.

In sport, footballer Justin Fashanu faced a highly public split from his brother John, when he announced in a newspaper that he was gay. The story didn't end happily: He killed himself in 1998 after being accused of a sexual assault in the USA.

The lack of positive public figures reinforces homophobia among the young, says Mr Nelson.

"The most worrying aspect is that a lot of the homophobia in Britain is coming from young black men. There's black music with homophobic lyrics. And because it isn't challenged they think it gives them the right to be homophobic."

Health fears

Mr Nelson said organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust struggled to educate many black men on HIV transmission. Men who fear they may be infected were often afraid to seek help.

"There's been a problem in the UK of health promotion campaigns failing to recognise black or African men have sex with other men. But if we are going to deal with HIV and Aids then we have to talk about the routes of transmission.

"The sad thing is nobody is talking about it. It's not passed by a butterfly landing on people. It's total denial."

Future hopes

James is one of the many men who the Terrence Higgins Trust and other organisations have succeeded in reaching.

Since settling in London, James says has been able to concentrate on his studies and is looking forward to starting his career after university. But he still feels he cannot be fully open.

"I like that fact that I can walk down the street and do what I want. But I'm still not prepared to do a lot of things that a typical man in his twenties would.

"But I'm happier. I guess I'm still finding me."

Your comments:

It's about time this issue was addressed amongst my community but I fear it will take a very long time for us as a people to feel comfortable with it. The campaign is a step in the right direction though.
Sonia, UK

Throughout my teens I was tormented and taunted mainly by fellow black classmates about my sexuality. Now in my late twenties and working in Hackney I have received the same abuse mainly from the black community. I am a white man. God knows how a black man/woman must feel. I can only describe what I went through as hell. My support goes out to black gay men & women - being gay and black is no fun, and people need to be educated.
Dan, London

I don't believe that homosexuals in the black church should be made to suffer in silence. But neither do I think that Christians should be expected to dilute their beliefs. Aren't people entitled to their beliefs and opinions - or must Christians be constantly afraid to give their views?
Rachel, London

I think it is fair to say the black community is more homophobic than the white community. That is my experience. I do not think I am racist but this problem breeds racism in return from the gay community.
Richard Pattison, UK

The issue of black homosexuals in the US is quite interestingly portrayed in Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus." It's only one of many themes in the film, but it may bring some insight into the issues in your country.
J Smyczek, United States

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