On February 16th, You Belong cofounders, Wade Davis and Darnell Moore, along with, GLAAD staffer, Tiq Milan launched the #ThisIsLuv Project campaign. According to the press release, the campaign is a “multi-media campaign highlighting affirming LGBT love in Black communities and families.” Sounds great, right? That depends. You have to unpack what the trio means by “highlighting,” “affirming,” and “LGBT love” to understand what this campaign is.
Davis, Moore and Milan have claimed, “There is a dominant and pervasive narrative within the US and internationally that the Black community is overwhelmingly more homophobic than other groups, but we know that this biased assumption is unfounded.” Whose dominant and pervasive narrative within the US and internationally? Among Black folks? White folks? Knowing who holds this narrative can tell us who the appropriate audience would be for this campaign. Davis, who identifies as a thought leader, provided an answer ,“Too many people within the Black LGBT community believe this myth and never allow themselves to be loved by their families.” So, according to the organizers of this campaign, Black LGBT people believe that Black community is overwhelmingly more homophobic than other groups.
Davis, Moore and Milan provide no evidence to back up this claim. They also do not acknowledge that some Black transgender people are not homosexual but are heterosexual and bisexual and therefore would be impacted by transphobia and biphobia; Black bisexual cisgender people would be impacted by biphobia rather than homophobia. But let’s ignore their dismissal of transphobia and biophia for a moment and say that Black LGBT people are all impacted by homophobia and think that the Black community is quite homophobic. According to Davis’s logic, Black LGBT people are responsible for not being more loved by their families. Does this blaming of marginalized people feel like love and affirmation to you?
We Are Just As Bad
The organizers of the #ThisIsLuv Project have another belief that motivates their campaign: “Homophobia exists in all communities. Black LGBTQ people often tell stories of affirmation and antagonism, which is no different than others.” Moore stated, “Many of us are loved by our families and friends and some of us have experienced alienation and hurt, but isn’t that the case for so many others?”
Based upon the logic of the #ThisIsLuv Project, because the Black community is just as bad as other ethnic groups in abusing, killing, and oppressing LGBT people, Black LGBT people should be happy and celebrate the mediocrity of our intolerance of LGBT life because this is love. Really? Even Oprah wisdom would take a skeptical look at this logic and affirm love doesn’t feel abusive.
Not Ready for Primetime
Continuing with the theme of ignoring biphobia and transphobia, Milan shared, “I, along with countless other Black gay and transgender people, have an amazing support system in my family. Their voices are constantly drowned out by the pervading idea that there is no room for Black LGBT people within our own communities.” Who is drowning out their voices? Is Milan talking about people like the Trans Women of Color Collective who have been calling for a #BlackTransRevolution in the face of the epidemic of murders of Black and Latino trans women?
A coalition of Black non-monosexual (e.g., bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, sexually fluid, and queer) leaders and allies have already called into question the #ThisIsLuv organizers’ commitment to full inclusion across the LGBT constellation by not reaching out to leaders in that community as partners in crafting the campaign. Our statement makes clear those concerns. But there are other structural flaws of the campaign that will need to be addressed regardless of any truth and reconciliation between the organizers and the Black non-monosexual community that may happen.
Key among those flaws are the questionable validity of the premises that underlie the mission of the campaign, lack of clarity in the intended audience, no apparent strategic goals or objectives beyond demonstrating social media activity, lack of a rationale (other than these are the people we knew already) for the chosen organizational partners based upon the articulated mission, and no sense of how this campaign fits into the larger movement for sexual and gender justice in, for and by Black people.
Many of us like to take pictures with our loved ones and share loving stories about them. Social media has helped to make those opportunities possible in new and interesting ways. That’s not a social movement nor a social justice strategy.
Update (March 1): In a couple of recent media appearances, Davis, Moore and Milan have shared that the original motivation for their campaign was a response to what they observed to be too many people focusing on the homophobia embedded within the relationship that the fictional characters Luscious Lyons has with his gay son Jamal Lyons in the new hit TV show Empire. They contend that not enough attend is paid to the supportive relationship other members of the fictional family have with Jamal. Given the details of the campaign, Davis, Moore and Milan believe that Black LGBTQ people are not sensitive enough to the dynamics in their own families and are so influenced by the media to believe that their families are much more hostile to having LGBTQ members of their family than they really are. They provide no evidence to support any of their assertions but who needs factual evidence when can use real people’s lives and stories to talk back to a television show.