Out, Attitude and Advocate are three of the biggest magazines aimed at gay men. Over the past five years they have each had so few cover models who are not white that straight, cisgender men have outnumbered people of colour by nearly five times, as the pop culture website Fusion reported.
The gay community is not some sort of progressive paradise, and queer people of colour are widely erased and treated poorly. The horrible and paradoxical message LGBTQ media largely sends out is that queer people of colour do not exist, and that even when we do exist, we don’t matter. It’s worth noting here the extent to which LGBTQ people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds have one of the highest rates of depression, suicide and self-harm of any demographic.
Oxford’s gay scene is not miraculously better: if you talk to queer students of colour, you quickly rack up stories about feeling unwelcome and othered in queer spaces. The LGBTQ Society’s weekly drinks is one of the whitest spaces in Oxford, and I’m sorry to say that. I’ve been lucky in Oxford and I’m normally pretty comfortable in being a different ethnicity to the norm, but those drinks made me look at my skin colour and feel truly unwelcome.
Gay men – and I suspect not just men – have internalised and promulgate racism as much as any other group does. Telling me that I’m your friend’s ‘type’ because I’m brown, however you phrase that or joke about how problematic it is, is flat out unacceptable. As much as I welcome the break from being seen through the all too common (trust me) lens of ‘desexualised South Asian man’, objectifying someone via the skin colour that marginalises them in our society is unquestionably harmful on a wider level and, to be frank, personally.
The current president of the LGBTQ Soc is a woman of colour, and it’s great that she and anyone else finds that space to be theirs or manages to make it theirs. What’s not great is that her feeling of belonging is limited to such a small number of individual people of colour, and only the boldest and most outgoing ones. She admits that “not enough” has been done but hopes to move forwards productively over the coming year, and I, for one, have great confidence in her.
Being queer and happening not to be white runs not only against mainstream cultural expectations, but also against the supposedly rebellious and accepting gay scene. There’s a reason early queer liberationists picked the rainbow flag, but the LGBTQ scene in Oxford right now is a little less colourful.