Unfortunately, black Americans as well as gay Americans have been mistreated throughout history, and the fight for equal rights has been going on for decades from both of these groups. However, several individuals who are both homosexual and African American, find themselves having to fight for the acceptance of two separate identities.
In the film “Brother to Brother,” this idea is explored through the life experiences of characters: Richard Bruce Nugent, an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and a young student named Perry. At one point in the film, Perry gets annoyed at his friend for being irrationally angry at a white guy, and says, “The same anger you feel towards white people is what brothers feel about me for being gay.” His point is valid; gays are often shunned from the black community. Perry’s friend from a different generation, Ted Nugent, has faced the same rejection from African American culture that Perry has. Many figures in the Harlem Renaissance disregarded his work because of his open gayness, arguing that he was too “radical” to be accepted into mainstream white culture. Unfortunately, this did not exclude popular black culture either, apparently.
Why is it that young gay men have to fight not only through white gay communities, but also black homophobic communities? In order to answer this question, the reasons that homophobia exists, and that racism exists have to be explored. Our society revolves around inequality. In order to maintain the economic power structure in America, we have created gender and race to control the class system. Both African Americans and women are oppressed, and the inequality of race and gender relations is what makes our system of economic power work. Similar to sexism being used as an excuse to keep women in a certain social place, racism is used as a tool to keep African Americans in a certain place, and control the economic class system in America. Beginning with slavery, oppressors have created and institutionalized race to justify enslaving and oppressing African Americans; leaving a just one slot at the bottom of the economic pyramid for blacks.
Being gay is different. Gender is also used as a tool to maintain class structure; men and women each playing a different part in the management of each household economy. As with race, there is systematic inequality in gender roles, but that exists between men and women. Any woman or man who ventures outside of the norms might be labeled as a lesbian or gay, so homophobia is sort of like an excuse; a tool used to control gender roles. It is not analogous to sexism the same way that racism is.
Culturally, homosexuality is taboo, because it threatens the idea of gender roles. This taboo is organized more clearly through Christianity. It is important to realize that although African Americans are generally forced to the bottom of the social hierarchy in America, the same familial values about gender role having to do with household economy exist as in African Americans as with all Americans, and Christianity outlines these social roles and values in an explicit way. In fact, those who are oppressed into the bottom of the pyramid rely more heavily on social roles (gender roles), as they are often the only means of maintaining any sort of economic structure within each family.
So, the reason that black, gay men have to fight against homophobia from other African Americans is that existing outside of gender norms threatens the social structure which exists in America. Although African Americans are oppressed, they remain a part of the economic power structure--generally at the bottom. Gays on the other hand, have no place in this structure, and therefore face a different kind of inequality. So, for Ted Nugent and Perry, fighting racism and fighting homophobia are completely separate things.