By Joel P. Engardio
A nation with same-sex marriage and a South Carolina without a Confederate flag at the statehouse seemed inconceivable for decades. Then both happened two weeks apart this summer.
Many Americans celebrated by sharing a popular Facebook meme that showed a Confederate banner coming down a flag pole and a rainbow replacement going up.
Yet encapsulating these historic events in one illustration raised some important questions. Will the gay community, victorious in its quest, help address the equality gap that African Americans continue to face? Where does this leave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color?
Even in San Francisco -- a city synonymous with social justice and LGBT pride -- the intersection of race and sexual orientation/identity can be complicated. Consider the Facebook page “Friends of Gayview-Homos Point” from several years ago that aimed to connect the growing number of LGBT people moving into the historically African American neighborhood of Bayview-Hunters Point.
While African Americans were 13 percent of San Francisco’s population in 1970, they comprise less than 6 percent today.
Outrage over the “Gayview” Facebook page was fueled by a story in the Bay Area Reporter, a LGBT-focused publication, extolling how the Bayview was “transforming into a safer, more accessible and stylish community.”
“The backlash was complex,” said Tyra Fennell, 35, a Bayview community leader who identifies as straight and African American. “It was partly about gentrification. It was partly about gay being synonymous with white, male money. And it was partly about black LGBT people who already live in the Bayview feeling excluded. We need to be careful in assuming that the gay culture is welcoming.”
Julius Crane said he experienced racism in the gay community firsthand.
“I remember being asked for two or three pieces of ID to get into Castro bars. People of color were never welcome there,” said Crane, 55, a Bayview homeowner who identifies as gay and African American. “That’s why it would be nice to know who is gay in the Bayview. A social group for gays of all colors is long overdue.”
Fennell investigated the “Gayview” Facebook page and found it wasn’t exclusively white. She saw a diverse LGBT membership and decided to organize an event to bridge the divide. She called it “Gayview Night Out.”
“I thought, ‘Lord Jesus give me strength.’ I was scared,” Fennell said. “But sometimes you have to just run through the storm when it’s the right thing to do.
The meet-up was a big success and grew this year to become the “Pride in Bayview” celebration.
When Xan DeVoss opened the Fox and Lion Bread Company in an empty storefront on Third Street this summer, she experienced lots of community support -- including an 80-year-old woman and lifelong Bayview resident who visits to talk grains.
“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” said DeVoss, 44, who identifies as lesbian and white. “It’s still affordable to open a store here and the Bayview needs a bread bakery.”
While DeVoss lives in the Haight, she has been working with the Bayview Underground Food Scene and its Pop-Up Market for two years to help alleviate the neighborhood’s “food desert” problem -- a lack of grocery stores and organic offerings abundant elsewhere in San Francisco.
DeVoss hosts a pizza and wine social on Friday evenings in her bakery, which is part of the Butchertown Gourmet Marketplace and Gratta Wines.
When Crane recently attended, he was initially the only African American in the mixed LGBT and straight crowd. But he didn't mind.
“I didn’t feel threatened,” Crane said. “If you know how to come in and start a business, bring in a tax base, benefit and beautify the community -- I’m applauding that as a positive. I don’t care what color you are.”