LGBTs mark Black History Month
February is Black History Month, and LGBTs in the Bay Area are among those reflecting on what’s happened and where things are going in the broader community.
An upcoming event at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center will mark the month and celebrate the lives of figures who have paved the way.
Generations: Black LGBT Experiences will run from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, February 18 in the center’s ceremonial room. The center is located at 1800 Market Street.
Anthony Philip, the center’s health and wellness director who identifies as black and gay, said, "I think it’ll be a great event" and something that will impact the community, "particularly for the black LGBT community," to see "who got us where we are today and how far we still need to go."
People such as the late writers Audrey Lorde and James Baldwin will be among those recognized.
At the Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco, the congregation has recently been seeing the first African American to serve as their pastor.
The Reverend Dr. William H. Knight, who’s gay and is serving on a provisional basis, returned to San Francisco recently after previously living in the city from 1968 to 1970.
"San Francisco was the epitome of where everyone who was gay or bisexual or whatever came in order to be able to live an open and free and non-discriminated-against life," said Knight, 67. "There was such a sense of joy and a sense of freedom" for black LGBTs, he said.
However, "That all started to become impacted when the virus became as deadly as it did," said Knight, referring to AIDS.
"Now, I think there’s a whole new generation that didn’t grow up having their ranks decimated by the virus, who didn’t grow up having to fight daily just for the right to be, and it’s interesting that their issues are very different," said Knight. "Their issues are issues of being able to be self-confident and self-reliant, and that’s a very different reality."
He said that before, "We were in a position where the wrong move could very easily result in either great injury or, in fact, loss of life."
However, Knight said he’s encouraged by the new generation’s "enthusiasm for life and by their willingness to just embrace life without labels."
Stewart Shaw, the manager of the African American Center at the San Francisco Public Library, has done several LGBT programs there.
"I think there’s always been an interest" in black LGBT programming "on some level," said Shaw. He said the programs have been well attended.
Shaw, who’s 47 and identifies as same-gender loving, was born and raised in Berkeley and has lived in Oakland for more than 20 years.
Shaw said a big issue now is that "the larger gay community doesn’t always see communities of color as their allies, or vise versa." In addition, he said, "Internal homophobia is still pretty large in the black gay community."
Still, "I think the black LGBT community is speaking out more," than they had been, said Shaw. "... We’re not afraid to be seen. We’re out there doing things."
Karen Roye Hiles, a 50-year-old out lesbian who is African American, is director of San Francisco’s Department of Child Support Services. She’s lived in the city since 1990.
She said that her job includes working with couples who are same-sex, African American, white, and others, "who are struggling with the same issues that everybody else struggles with."
Besides her city work, Roye Hiles is also the recording secretary for the San Francisco branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
She said when it comes to race and orientation, what’s changing is that "more and more people are seeing that they’re not separated" and they have "equal weight."
"It becomes more apparent as we begin to talk about civil rights in new ways, when you talk about hiring practices, for instance. The law says you can’t discriminate against sexual orientation, gender, or race," said Roye Hiles. "These are three significant conversations that are in the same sentence," she said, adding, "And that’s my life."