While Black History Month celebrates the legacy of Black trailblazers, some advocates say many accomplishments and contributions made by Black LGBTQ+ people are often overlooked, resulting in a lack of community supports and inclusion.
Robert Ball, of the Black Gay Men’s Network of Ontario, told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday that there was “very little” support for Black gay men living in Canada until his group was created in 2018.
“Our network form[ed] because there were different health organizations that got together and said, ‘What are the issues?’ And unfortunately the stats say that HIV is increasing in youth from 18 to 25 and a 2019 statistic said that one in two Black gay men will contract HIV in their lifetime,” Ball said.
Ball said the LGBTQ+ community is “very fragmented” in Canada, and says the community doesn’t always acknowledge or connect with Black people. He says this results in a lack of health supports, events and overall inclusion for Black LGBTQ+ members.
“What we realized in these dialogues is that the entirety of the person is not being addressed,” Ball said.
“In the Canadian landscape, we are basically non-existent on the larger scale in terms of that intersection of being Black and being gay,” he added.
Ball said this even applies to visual representation. For example, he explained that young, Black men rarely see themselves in gay imagery for Pride events where a lot of the publicity is “shots of a white, muscly, blonde haired, blue eyed” males.
Despite this, Ball said there are many notable Black LGBTQ+ members in history — including American poet and writer James Baldwin, Canadian gospel singer Billy Newton Davis, and Toronto drag Queen Michelle Ross – whom he says do not get enough recognition.
“[James] was writing about the intersections of being Black and gay, and sexuality in the ’50s, and speaking about it long before that, so he’s a significant character that we need to be speaking more about,” Ball said.
He noted that some of Canada’s first drag queens like Ross have been working to create a safe space for Black members within the LGBTQ+ community for nearly 40 years.
“A lot of people will acknowledge the fact that Michelle Ross was one of the first times they saw themselves; saw a Black person in drag,” Ball said. “And it’s important that we acknowledge people like Michelle Ross, especially now the drag is such a phenomenon.”
Ball said acknowledging the LGBTQ+ history of Black trailblazers will help push the community forward and provide better support for Black gay men. He says he would like to see to more community engagement to help the next generation of Black LGBTQ+ people further embrace their sexuality.
“We can’t just be spoken to or addressed in a singular sense. So not just in terms of our health, but in terms of our mental well-being, in terms of creating space safe spaces for us, and that has to do with physical space, it has to do with cultural spaces, events and activities, and dealing with the entirety of the person,” Ball said.