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Sexuality in Schenectady

September 20th, 2011

“I am gay and this is where I stay. We have ALWAYS been a part of this community.”

That was on billboards and the sides of buses in Schenectady, New York for at least a year. There might be a few of each still sporting the message. The people in the pictures are mostly black men. The intent is to promote HIV awareness and LGBT acceptance among the black community. And it’s really not been all that well accepted.

A black friend of mine was standing on our porch one day when a public bus drove by with the picture on the side. He turned around and saw the sign, then shook his head in frustration.

“Man, why they gotta put that shit on the sides of buses? Like I want [my kid] seeing that when he’s outside.” he said.

We live right on the bus line. The bus stops twice on each of our blocks, once on each side.

I looked at the bus and then looked at him, trying not to grin. One of his sons might be gay, a huge source of humiliation he discusses with few people but family and me. I’m white and open-minded so it’s “okay” for him to discuss this with me. And in turn, he answers my questions without getting insulted because he knows I’m curious and want to learn about him and his culture. The culture of a corner boy from New York City is very different from that of a teenage runaway who may have ended up in the ghetto, but originated in the suburbs.

“What is it about gay men that you don’t like?” I asked, trying to sound as diplomatic as possible.

“It’s just not right. A man’s not supposed to be with another man.”

“Why? Because it’s not ‘manly’?”

“Yeah. A man is supposed to take a wife, reproduce and provide for his family. Not be with another man.”

“I’m bisexual.”

“That’s different.”


“You’re female.”

“And I’m white.”

“And you’re white.”

“And that makes it okay?”

“No, it just doesn’t matter.”

“Cause I’m white.”

“Cause you’re white. And female.”

I try not to let the fact that he cares more about even the strangers of his color than he does for even his close friends of my color get to me. Racism is still an issue. His culture is important to him. And he’s old enough to have been growing up in a time when it was still disgustingly rampant in even the predominately black neighborhoods.

He noticed, but he didn’t apologize. He at least had the decency to be embarrassed.

But this is the culture in my neighborhood. This is the way. You’re either a straight macho man of color, or you’re with one, or you’ve got a ton of proving to do if you’re going to be anything more than the person everyone stares at without saying a word as you walk down the street. That he even calls me friend is an honor in his eyes.

If you’re a black gay man, you’re not even worth staring at. And you will find yourself on the shitty end of hate speech and maybe even homophobic violence. Though one could argue all sides of hate-related crime are the shitty end.

They were raised in a different culture and some of them want to protect it just as much as any other. And it’s hard, for me, to distinguish what’s right. Nonconsensual violence is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. But what about the culture? The right to formulate their own opinion and religious beliefs?

In some cases, you’re never going to convince these men that they don’t have to be straight or macho to be manly. Do we chalk them up as a body lost, or just keep trying? Do we even have the right or knowledge required to tell entire peoples that the values and morals and philosophies they’ve been raised with for the majority of their existence is wrong? I don’t feel qualified. What if I’m wrong? And so when my friend and I get into these discussions, I just ask questions and listen.

I suppose I could choose to let the pain of the black LGBT people (though it’s not just black people who demonize being gay) be my guide. If it causes them so much turmoil, it can’t be right. Right? How do we find the balance and protect the rights of everyone when some groups are exactly opposite in every sense of the word?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know that I should even participate in the discussion. I can’t even begin to understand their culture.

But what do you think?

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  1. September 21st, 2011 at 20:00 | #1

    sex, culture & doing-what’s right? Thanks for writing this. RT @insatiabldesire: ~ Sexuality in Schenectady http://t.co/xqcsNEbF

  2. September 23rd, 2011 at 04:27 | #2


    I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about this post and the questions it raises. Being a Christian who, for most of his life believed that homosexualality was a sin, makes this issue very real for me. In those days, being told how evil I was because of deeply held religious beliefs was anaethema to me; and it seemed the “liberals” were constantly trying to tell me just that. In fact, the idea of telling people that their belief systems make them evil is still repulsive.

    But, and this is a big but, how you act on those beliefs makes a world of difference. I don’t recall ever telling a gay or lesbian they were going to hell because of their orientation. I never took part in (nor approved of) hate-inciting rallies against gay rights. I’ve certainly never committed a hate crime. My beliefs are my beliefs; they influence my political choices, they are the framework of my choices in life, they arte the glue that holds me, as a person, together.

    After 52 years in this world, I’ve come to the conclusion that people should be allowed to be bigots–they should be allowed to believe anything they want about other people and base those beliefs on anything, no matter how sensible or stupid it is. That said, they should be held to account for any actions they take, even those spurred on by their bigotry. You want to believe that all gays are going to hell? Fine, believe that–but don’t you dare slander or do violence. You want to believe that God wants the entire world to believe as you do? Fine, you believe that–but don’t you dare try to force anyone there.

    Earlier I made rfeference to hate crimes. That was a little disingenuous of me. I don’t believe in hate crimes. The thoughts and emotions of the criminhal should have no affect what so ever on how that crime is investigated, prosecuted or punished. When we cross the line and tell someone that what you were thinking is a seperate part of the crime, we’ve entered the realm of thought control; a place I have no desire to live in. (note, this idea is different from judging intent, a valid judicial realm)

    Okay, I’ve gone on long enough.


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