IDAHO(T) May 17 – Silk Shirt & Tight Pants
To celebrate IDAHO(T) 2013, Polari Magazine is publishing stories from its writers about their experiences of homophobia and transphobia. Some tales are funny, some are shocking and some are sad.
Jason Carson Wilson writes about the double bind of racism and homophobia, and how that lost him his job.
Living as a gay person of color comes with many challenges. We’ve got two strikes against us in many situations. Racism and homophobia mix together to create a powerful cocktail. Obvious – and even subtle -racism is more often frowned upon. Sometimes, homophobia provides smoke and a mirrors to disguise racism.
Homophobia hit close to home for me. Coming out at 27 doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of signs. My White great-grandmother practically raised me, thanks to an ill-equipped alcoholic mother and absent father.
Her efforts to give me a male influence led to attending a conservative non-denominational house of worship in Urbana, Illinois, from age 3. It was more conservative than anything Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson could conjure up. There I learned about what I dubbed the “gay uniform”: silk shirt & tight pants.
Given my naiveté then, I’ve only realised recently that my youthful fashion choices inspired the revelation. So, fellow church leaders and “family” members could tell I was different and tried to stifle me. It took me years to wean myself from the church, if only to satisfy Grandma. I’d attend two churches simultaneously, however, for a bit.
Being gay didn’t ultimately force me from my childhood church—being forced to come out did. I was only halfway out when I met my now ex-partner (we were together for nearly 10 years). We become inseparable almost instantly.
After failing to call Grandma (with whom I usually attended church), her immense worry (what I’d come to learn was the early stages of Alzheimer ’s disease) prompted my childhood pastors to file a missing person’s report. My apartment was searched. Of course, the search revealed all my “homosexual paraphernalia”.
I’d learn about the missing person’s report and apartment search during a conversation with Grandma. She directed me to call one of my pastors. During that phone call, he demanded to know about my whereabouts and grilled me about the other church I’d been attending.
“You know what they preach there, don’t you?” he said.
Well, duh! That was the reason I attended Wesley United Methodist Church on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. My partner and I would eventually have our commitment ceremony there on May 8, 2004.
Given the “May-December” flavor of our relationship (he’s twice my age), my work took us to Pekin, Illinois. The “sundown” town was not only racist, but homophobic. Teen boys would consistently ride past our car yelling homophobic slurs.
The choice to work in small, rural towns exposed me to more racism and homophobia. A liberal and enlightened media is a great concept. However, Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal are proof that liberal ideals don’t permeate the industry.
The former editor of a Freeport, Illinois daily newspaper routinely subjected me to racism, homophobia and sexual harassment. Newspapers generally measured in inches. My editor found it amusing to find a correlation between the length of my story and the length of my … well, you know. Of course, that’s when he wasn’t labeling me the “angry Black man” EVERYTIME I shared an opinion.
That’s why I understand, firsthand, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act’s importance. My coverage of the African-American community, particularly four stories about people dying in police custody, infuriated the police chief. Add to that, the mayor was planning to run for Congress.
So, my stories weren’t well-received. Therefore, the mayor, police chief, my former editor and former publisher orchestrated my ouster. Contacting the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission brought no relief. Illinois is an “at will” state. You can be fired for any reason.
My former editor was a conservative Republican from Wisconsin. I believe both my sexuality and race played factors in my downfall.