It's a wonderful time to be black and gay in Hollywood

  • by Vincent Holmes
  • Wednesday May 13, 2015
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Co-founders of Better Brothers Los Angeles Vincent Holmes,<br>left, and V. Scott Hamilton, right, with Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Photo: Courtesy<br>Better Brothers Los Angeles
Co-founders of Better Brothers Los Angeles Vincent Holmes,
left, and V. Scott Hamilton, right, with Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Photo: Courtesy
Better Brothers Los Angeles

Today, I'm overwhelmed; yet, excited. As a co-founder of Better Brothers Los Angeles, my organization, in conjunction with the DIVA Foundation, recently presented the first-ever Truth Awards in Los Angeles to a sold-out crowd at the historic Wilshire Ebell. Every year during awards season (from January through March), Hollywood is filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance because of countless honorees, nominees, and awards ceremonies, celebrating the best in show business, philanthropy and community service. However, as a black gay man, I always felt there was something missing " an awards show to honor the accomplishments of African Americans in the LGBTQ community. It was a no brainer to partner with Tony-nominated actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, the founder of the DIVA Foundation, who has been a tireless ally in the gay community for more than 20 years. She's been supporting HIV/AIDS awareness efforts with the "Divas Simply Singing!" benefit, gearing up for its 25th anniversary this year. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas supported the event with their presence and generous financial support.

The March 28 show was co-hosted by actress Cocoa Brown (Tyler Perry's For Better or Worse) and award-winning comedian Sampson McCormick. McCormick recently released his comedy album, That Bitch Better Be Funny: Live at the Howard Theatre , making history as the first openly gay comic to headline the historic venue in Washington, D.C. And that "bitch" was pretty darn funny. We all held our breath, not knowing what would come out of McCormick's mouth. Speaking to a room of more than 200 people, he cracked, "I didn't know there was this many gay people in LA?"

And that's precisely the point and main reason for the Truth Awards: to spotlight and celebrate the many openly black gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who are contributing to society in various areas, including the arts, entertainment, music, science, business, and health. That night, the gays came out in numbers. And the show ran long because we wanted to recognize so many people, including Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Jewel Thais-Williams, who opened Jewel's Catch One Night Club in 1972, making it the oldest black-owned gay and lesbian club in the country. We also presented reality star Wendell James (Raising Whitley) with a Philanthropy Award and gave a Courage Award to Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/producer B. Slade, formerly known under the stage name Tonéx. I could go on and on about the honorees, but to read more, feel free to visit the Better Brothers LA website at www.BetterBrothersLA.com.

With more portrayals of lesbians and gays on television, the tide may be slowly changing " that is, shifting the comfort level of black gay individuals to be open about who they are, and who they love. Across network television, there's been an influx of black gay characters, including Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollet) on Fox's hit show Empire ; Jeffrey Harrington (Gavin Houston) on the OWN's The Haves and the Have Nots; Mark Bradley (Aaron D. Spears) on BET's Being Mary Jane; along with gay athlete Michael Sam on ABC's Dancing with the Stars and the aforementioned James. Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, not only introduced its viewers to the lesbian character Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren (Uzo Aduba); but, it also upped the ante with the transgender character Sophia Burset, portrayed by Laverne Cox. Interestingly, both straight and gay actors are playing gay characters on television, like Spears, a father of five, who presented at the Truth Awards with his beautiful wife in tow. In Cox's case, she became the first transgender person nominated for an Emmy Award, and she's the new lead in the CBS pilot Doubt .

Outside of entertainment, other strides are being made like Judge Darrin Gayles, the first openly gay black man appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama; Violet Palmer, the first female referee in the NBA, who married her longtime partner of more than 20 years last year; CNN anchor Don Lemon, who made his own headlines when he went public in 2011; and of course, Jason Collins, the first openly gay basketball player in the NBA. By any measure, this is something worth recognizing.

I partly attribute the success of the Truth Awards to this great timing. In fact, a friend of mine remarked to me recently that it's a wonderful time to be black and gay in America. Certainly, Obama's stance in support of same-sex marriage, along with legislation and court rulings that favor marriage equality and gay rights has helped the cause. And with each new generation " that is, X and Y (Millennials) " societal and public attitudes toward homosexuality are becoming more and more accepting. Still, there remains a lingering challenge of acceptance for black LGBTQ individuals. Cultural and religious attitudes still make the coming out process hard for far too many of us.

For every example of progress, there are multiple instances of rejection, scorn, and hopelessness. I believe there are still far too many black lesbians and gays who choose to live their lives "off the radar," so as to not invite familial or public scrutiny or ridicule. Homophobic words are still strewn about in barbershops, family reunions, and church conventions with few, if any, rebukes. And black gay youth still disproportionately represent the homeless population, while struggling to survive on the streets. For those who choose to live their lives in secret; who are greeted with slurs; or find themselves rejected and homeless because of their sexual orientation, the "wonderful time" of being black and gay has not manifested itself ... yet.

The Truth Awards were created to inspire and affirm these individuals. The awards were born out of an urgent need " in a world that sometimes portrays us as one dimensional " to showcase examples of courage and leadership in the black LGBTQ community. I was proud to see black Hollywood and its allies support in full force at the inaugural event, publicly embracing the dynamic sheroes and heroes of the black LGBTQ community. The awards show acknowledged the trails blazed and the legacies left. One by one, each honoree took the stage and shared their truth about the trials and tribulation of being black and gay in America. By collectively showcasing their accomplishments and commitment to live an authentic life, we help change the conversation and influence how we are viewed in society.

We're making strides with the increased presence of openly black LGBTQ individuals in the fields of entertainment, music, sports, and other professions. With each step, we hope to refocus the prism through which same-gender-loving people in the black community are perceived. After all, everyone should feel wonderful about being who they are " whether it's straight, gay, bi, transgender, queer ... right? #BornThisWay

 

Vincent Holmes is the co-founder of Better Brothers Los Angeles, which was created to provide spaces for black gay men to network, socialize and be better " at life, love, and community. Find Better Brothers LA on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thetruthawards; or Twitter at @bbrothersla.