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Black Gay Men and Gay Black Men

Men who are both black and gay live scattered throughout New York City. To find a community of such men could have been a vast undertaking. But with a little ethnographic foraging, I was able to identify two general groups: those who live scattered throughout the city and who socialize by and large in mainstream gay areas (that is, black gay men); and those who live and socialize within the geographic confines of a black neighborhood (that is, gay black men). My research focuses on the latter group.


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Black men are a highly visible component of New York City's large gay population. Their presence in the gay social life of New York City has been long-standing and prominent, especially in such milestone events as the Stonewall riots on Christopher Street[40] and the formation of the Third World Gay Revolution,[41] both in 1969. Today their participation in annual gay pride parades in New York, their involvement in the formation of exclusively black social organizations, and their continued presence in mainstream gay social life, in the bars and discos and gay social clubs of the city, is ever increasing.[42] What is important to note is that most of these men live in the Village, Brooklyn, the Bronx, or nearby New Jersey cities—Jersey City, Hoboken, and Newark in particular.

Today, black gay men are becoming organized in many ways in New York City. Several branches of national gay organizations, such as Men of All Colors Together (MACT), have large numbers of black gay members. Black gay men have also infused many other city-based organizations—for example, Maranatha, a church group; the Lavender Light Black and People of All Colors Lesbian and Gay Gospel Choir; and Friends and Neighbors of Brooklyn. Black gay men have become important social leaders in fundraising organizations such as Men Who Cook and in providing the essential services at the Minority Task Force on AIDS. Black gay men have also established an organization, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), that boasts some Harlem members, although most are from Brooklyn, Newark, and other New Jersey cities.

As well, this population has set about creating its own artistic expression. News publications and journals such as BLK, BGM, B&G, Blacklight, Blackheart, and Black/Out have emerged around the country. Art exhibitions around the city and poetry readings at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and the Studio Museum in Harlem have promoted their presence in both the gay and the black communities. A writers' collective, Other Countries, has risen to prominence in the literary world in New York, publishing an excellent first anthology (Johnson, Robinson, and Taylor 1988).

However, I decided to label the population in this study "gay black men" because they reside in a black community and their social network members and sexual partners are also black, choices that enable them to affirm their identity as black men—black men who are also gay. Although I met black gay men from all over the metropolitan area—indeed, from all over the country—who used to live and still


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occasionally socialize in Harlem as well as black gay men who live in Harlem but socialize in Brooklyn, Newark, or New Rochelle, the informants I eventually selected to concentrate on for life history collection had to meet certain criteria: they had to live in Harlem, socialize in the gay scene in Harlem, and prefer black men as sex partners.


previous chapter
1— "He's Family": An Introduction
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