This paper describes the efforts of black gay intellectuals and activists to curb the spread of AIDS through consciousness-raising and the affirmation of same-sex desire among African American men. Through the New York City writer’s collective Other Countries and the black gay men’s social and political advocacy group Gay Men of African Descent, they challenged dominant black gender and sexual norms as well as race blindness among gay whites by publicizing black gay identity through their work, arguing that the invisibility of same-sex desire among African American men led them to engage in behaviors that put them at risk for contracting HIV. Composed of writers such as Essex Hemphill and filmmaker Marlon Riggs, Other Countries turned out the anthologies In the Life and Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS, while Gay Men of African Descent produced an HIV prevention public service announcement that showcased same-sex intimacy among black men specifically to counteract the absence of representations of gay men of color from the mainstream media. Furthermore, these artists and activists looked to African spiritual tradition to affirm the place of same-sex desire within contemporary African American life, and to the work of anti-imperial writers like Frantz Fanon to understand and challenge their own marginalization as both racial and sexual minorities. Thus, they articulated a radical sense of black gayness distinct from both mainstream white gay men and the straight black community, looking beyond more conventional HIV prevention measures such as condom distribution and safer sex education to issues of identity and consciousness as a means to stem the rising tide of the AIDS epidemic.
Presented by Daniel Royles, CHR Dissertation Fellow, Nov. 2, 2012 at the Center for Historical Research, The Ohio State University Department of History.
The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research in the Department of History provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.