I was eating dinner with my girlfriend’s best friends. Her besties are a gay male couple—a white gay male couple.

Truth be told, I’d never hung out with gay people before. Not any I knew that were openly gay. It wasn’t because I never wanted to; it was because my circle of friends were heterosexual for the majority of my life. Like, extrastrength heterosexual. My crew consisted of jocks, cool guys and lady-killers (despite the fact that I was the biggest nerd this side of Steve Urkel for much of my youth. I thank my friends for allowing me to tag along with them). I simply never had the opportunity to meet and roll with any gay men or women.

Now, I knew gay people in my orbit, and I heard rumors about a few friends and acquaintances throughout the years. And I had jobs and went to college, so I worked and studied with people who were homosexual. I just never partied at length with anyone  who was openly gay.

Until this particular night my lady and I were eating and talking with her friends, and becauses I am a natural observer, I observed this openly gay couple.

I was astounded by what I heard and saw from them. These two men were proud. Scratch that—they were bold. Passionate. Curious. Powerful. They talked about how wonderful their careers were. They impressed us with the details of the planned renovations of their house. They thrilled us with their description of the big vacation they were planning to take. They completely bowled me over.

And then they made me wonder about two things: Why the hell did it take me so long to have a night out with anyone who was gay; and how come I’ve never been around anyone who was Black and gay, and out and free as these guys were?

I have known of and know Black openly gay people, including  a few family members and good friends of mine. and I don’t know much about their lives as gay people, so I don’t know how “open” they are. But I do know I’ve never seen any homosexual Black person as “free” as my girlfriend’s friends are.

And that troubles me.

It really troubles me when I think about the possible reasons why Black gay people aren’t as open with their sexuality as their White counterparts. I belong to two “Black-themed” groups on Facebook, and both of them post content that isn’t kind to the gay community. There are lots of comments and talk about the “gay agenda” that’s being forced upon the Black community by some shadow cabal. There’s a fear of the feminization of young Black boys by America pop culture. And mostly, there’s condemnation by the more Christian Black folk of anything gay—you know, Leviticus and all.

Here’s my “duh” moment: The Black community has to embrace its gay members for who they are, and let allow them to openly contribute to the collective with their divine gifts just like we do with our straight Black citizens. It’s really that simple.

For starters, the cultural exclusion of Black homosexual males, (I’ll get to the lesbian population soon) has more than likely created the MSM: men who sleep with men or if you used to watch Oprah, down low men. These are Black men who have sex with other men, but don’t identify themselves as gay. Now, the MSM population isn’t exclusive to the Black community, but the reasons for its recent emergence is.

Here’s what David Malbranche, MPH, M.D., had to say about this social development in this piece he wrote for the American Psychological Association:

“The truth is, what influences sexual identification among Black MSMs may be a complex mix of racial and racist life experiences, gender norms, religious beliefs, and masculine socialization…expectations of manhood for Black men often focus on physical attributes, heterosexual prowess, athletics, and entertainment. Expectations of homosexuality, on the other hand, are often associated with “gay” identification and political alignment, effeminate behavior, assimilation with the white community and HIV…Black MSMs are presented with two very different sets of expectations regarding their racial and sexual identities, and when society asks them to prioritize one over the other, the problem arises.”

To put it all in layman’s terms, many Black gay men feel ashamed of who they are because of possible scorn and exile from the Black community. This is turn can lead to not living their truth as openly gay men, but they also may not care to get the health information or treatment they may need due to such shaming. And if you like to stay up on current events, you know that HIV infections are really high in the Black community, especially among the Black gay/MSM population. This excerpt from a CDC article mentions the possible plight of Black gay/bisexual men:

“Published research does not provide definitive answers about why new HIV infections among young, Black/African American gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) have increased. However, Black/African/American MSM of all ages experience racial disparities in health and are more likely than other gay and bisexual men of other races/ethnicities to encounter broader social and economic barriers [1]. These and other factors place Black/African American MSM at higher risks for HIV.”

Imagine if these gay Black men could live their truth in the open in the Black community. They may not (presumably) end up becoming MSM/down low men, and they may fully embrace their identities. This could lead to them having better knowledge, societal and healthwise of their lifestyle, instead of staying in the cultural dark, and living in fear of being seen in the light.

As for gay LGBTQ+ Black women, the Black community could treat them better, too. Actually, America could treat Black lesbian/bisexual women better. The tragic saga of the New Jersey 4  is outrageous and sad. Within the Black community, LGBTQ+ Black women face more than a few intrasocial difficulties. Writer Jarune Uwujaren, who is gay, talked about the social roadblocks that LGBTQ+ women face within the Black American collective:

“Being Black and queer myself, I understand the difficulty Black LGBTQ women face when coming out to their Black friends and family. There’s an unstated rul in a lot of Black households that community comes first, and coming out threatens this community ideal for some. Being LGBTQ seems to break with the traditional roles and expectations of Black family and religious life, and queer women too often have to deal with being labeled selfish, rebellious, or white acting after coming out.”

Imagine if Black gay women could come out with no judgment. Or, maybe an effort at acceptance from straight Black people that would come after sudden judgment (I am talking about humans after all). Maybe there wouldn’t be such huge numbers of runaway teenage girls, and/or girls that get shunned from their families because they are gay. Maybe there wouldn’t be as many physical attacks and murders of gay and trans Black women as there have been in recent years.

There will be Black people who read this piece and say, “He’s right!” There will also be Black folks who will read this and say, “F*** that!” and “F*** him!” For those of you who don’t agree with me, that’s cool. You have that right.

But I’d like to point out to you just a few Black LGBTQ+ people who’ve helped shape Black History for the better:

Bayard Rustin

Audre Lorde

Keith Boykin

Langston Hughes

James Baldwin

Alvin Ailey

Angela Davis

and possibly, Harriet Tubman.

That’s an awesome list. One that I’m proud of. And so should the entire Black community be.