Not Suicide, Then Homicide. Not Homicide, Then Homeless. Not Homeless, Then HIV: On Being Black and LGBTQ
I’ve had a lot of time to think since the death. . . Since the murder of young Giovanni Melton.
Giovanni Melton was murdered at the age of 14 for being nothing more than himself. A young black gay man trying to find his way in the world when the world told him that it couldn’t accept him as he was. That world: his father – the person who was supposed to be there to protect him and care for him. That person, however, ended up being his biggest abuser. But what if he survived that? What else was right around the corner for him?
“I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.” Those were words his father often uttered before they became an action against his own flesh and blood.
And yet, I sit sometimes and wonder if his death was the cutting short of a life that ended far too soon, or if it was the preventing of a life of hardships and statistics that many of us live under today. For many young black boys, they aren’t even making it to the age of 14 for many other reasons. Hangings and suicides have skyrocketed to three times the rate for young black boys ages 5-14 over the past 20 years, and we aren’t doing enough to stop it. We aren’t talking about it enough. The pressures of being a young black man in this society, which already has us burdened by oppression before we even exit the womb.
Nevertheless, we aren’t discussing what that means when you are black, a man, and non-hetero – an intersection that puts you in the crosshairs of white supremacy and the trickle-down effect of that which taught our own people to treat us unjustly. Patriarchy and conditioning are placing us in the dangerous path of our black LGBTQ existence and is being threatened from the moment we leave the house; or, in Giovanni’s case, while still in the home. Suffice it to say, what is a life as a black LGBTQ person if nothing but another obstacle or series of obstacles.
You survive death at your own hands only to face it from someone else who is supposed to love you unconditionally. You face death from someone in your own community as an indirect result of whiteness’s conditioning, or death by the hands of white supremacy against your blackness and your queerness. You survive that to just become another statistic. Homelessness is one of the largest problems looming overhead for black LGBTQ people, with an estimated 40% of us living in it.
The problems with homelessness is that it makes you vulnerable, and potentially unable to utilize services available to you from local, state, and federal entities. In America, being homeless comes with a catch-22. You are homeless so you typically don’t have an address, especially for those living in shelters, or on the street. If you are “couch surfing,” you typically won’t use that as an address either as it’s typically temporary. The requirement for local, state, and federal assistance programs is that you have an address. So, you can’t get any assistance because you don’t have an address, and you can’t get an address because you aren’t eligible for assistance without one.
This makes many black LGBTQ people vulnerable to the system of “survival” that creates a pipeline of criminalization and coping mechanisms. That criminalization could be anything from petty larceny to sex work, which are often done as means of survival. Many black LGBTQ youth have criminal records before their 25th birthdays for only trying to survive a system hell-bent on their extinction. Sex work makes one a higher risk for the contraction of HIV and other STIs; in addition to the potential to be sleeping within shared sex circles, and as a transaction for being housed. Many of these factors are part of why the CDC states that 50% of gay men and MSMs (men who have sex with other men, but who do not identify as “gay”) will contract HIV over their lifetime. This is a system that is all interconnected from childhood through adulthood; a lived experience many of us know.
It’s important that Giovanni’s tragic death be used to connect the dots for us. We often silo these conversations and ignore the interconnectedness that oftentimes creates the system that murdered Giovanni. The system that took another life; that of Gemmel Moore who died at the age of 26. It wasn’t that Gemmel just overdosed on Meth. It was a life system and a pipeline that specifically placed him and many others like him in harm’s way and on this very path. This is the system we must work to dismantle. While we are working to fight and end this epidemic in our communities, we must begin to work on where it originates and how we can’t keep fighting symptoms and not fighting the root of it all.
This fight will be ongoing long after you and I are gone. But now is the opportunity to put the framework in place for others after us to ensure the completion of the task. We must do better to protect the Gemmel Moore’s and Giovanni Melton’s of this world. We must do better to protect each other.