Friday, October 21, 2011

The Down Low Made Me Do It!

As a black man, I've been very blessed to have an amazing career working as a producer in television. For more than three decades, I have worked for some of the biggest names on some of the most popular shows in television history.

I've seen it all -- from producing for local television stations to working on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The View. I've been to every award show red carpet possible through my years with Extra, E! News and Access Hollywood, just to name a few.

And more often than not, I have been the only black male on the team. And as a double whammy, I am almost always the only openly gay black man on staff.

So, when the media first became infatuated with the idea of the "Down Low" back in the late '90s, for me the issues and topics were magnified because it hit so close to home -- not because I was in the closet hiding anything, but because as the token gay black man, my straight colleagues assumed I had all the answers.

But they weren't asking the right questions. All over the tube, from Jerry Springer to CNN and everything in between, everyone was talking about the Down Low.

There were books and documentaries, newspaper commentaries and radio shows. The Down Low was everywhere.

 It was so prevalent that even the straight guys on my camera crews looked up from their sports pages to ask me about it.

As the only black gay rep on the staff, I got asked, "Why are so many black gay men in the closet?" "What is it about the black community that won't allow black gay men to come out?" "Is it true that these closet cases are spreading HIV/AIDS to black women?" (This is a huge myth, and according to the CDC, it's the prevalence of intravenous drug use that is to blame.)

Then, the discussion turned to my personal life. I got asked, "When did you decide to come out? Was it difficult for you?"

And that's when it hit me. I realized my story was still new to them because my experience as a gay black person is never seen in the mainstream media. I realized that even folks in the liberal entertainment industry needed to be educated.

 I was an anomaly; they were used to seeing gay people who looked like the characters on Will & Grace or, in today's world, like Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family.

And when they do see black gay men in the media, it's usually a discussion of the mysterious men on the Down Low.

Why are these nameless, faceless people who are creeping, so to speak, getting more media attention than the black same-gender-loving (SGL) people who are open and honest and living in their truth?

Where are the black SGL role models who are productive members of our communities? Where are the television segments, talk shows, newspaper articles and stories that feature people like my friends and me?

I realized that black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are the invisible people. Like Wanda Sykes has said, "There are no black gays. We're like unicorns. We don't exist [in the media]."

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