As a Black gay man from Columbia, S.C., I have always felt like an outsider in the gay community. While I am very proud and happy that we are gaining more equal rights throughout the country and the planet as a whole, I can no longer be silent about the prejudice and the lack of inclusion and self-awareness visible in modern gay communities.
During my 20’s, I lived a life filled with travel and music, as a concert flutist for the United States Navy Band. I had a soft coming out for the lack of better words, meaning I was out to myself and anyone I met at a club but I was not out to my family and anyone in the military except for one person at the time who was a gay woman and my best friend. I had a small group of friends whose sexual orientations varied. I rarely dated but thought it was because I was just not trying hard enough. I worked on my external look to help attract other men, and I had what would be called “the body” for almost 20 years of my life.
Receiving attention from people was never an issue for me. Women at straight bars flocked to me, and there was still an attraction to women on my end. But heading out to gay bars yielded different results. No one would barely look at me. Striking up conversations seemed futile, and would usually lead to nowhere. This routine repeated itself over and over again for years. Thank god for the straight bars and the women in them who always made me feel appreciated and loved, which instilled in me that a life devoid of women even for gay men is a life I can honestly say would be unlived, meaning I would not be here today without them.
After years of trying to meet someone, I developed a deep depression. I was living a life of a professional concert musician in my twenties performing for Presidents and Heads of State in orchestras, concert bands, and quintets but I was miserable because I was lonely. The gay bars were supposed to be my safe space to meet and socialize but they were hardly that for me. I was groped in the front and back of my private part. I would then turn around and a group of guys would be looking as if nothing was wrong. If this happened in a straight bar and I was a woman, I could easily report it and action would be taken. They could review the cameras and see who it was. It would be taken very seriously. I said something to the bartender and the response was, “welcome to a gay bar.” Unfortunately, this type of scene happened many times in different gay bars over the years. It always made me feel uncomfortable, so I always ended up just hanging out near the bartenders for protection.
As a Black man, I got used to dating white guys not necessarily because I loved them. White guys gave me more attention than the Black men that I was attracted to, so I naturally dated what liked me back and through the years I’ve become accustomed to dating white men. But that doesn’t mean interracial dating in the gay community is something that doesn’t come with its own share of issues. And for what it’s worth, I still love Black men and I’m open to dating Black men. Tyrese and 50 cent types to the front of the line.
I remember Sean, a French guy I was interested in who I formed a friendship with. Shortly after I disclosed that I wanted more, in a matter of fact way, he replied he could never date a Black guy. He also mentioned something about how he was raised but I just blocked everything else out once he said those initial words to me. By this time, I was falling in love with Sean. I went into a deep depression after but luckily I had other more important things to keep me busy like finding a new job at the time. By this time in my life, I had retired from being a musician. I was far from my flutist days and had been working as an executive assistant helping run a commercial real estate firm near Malibu.
I went on to open my own company and experienced mild success. I then decided to try online dating after a few failed years of dating. I thought maybe I wasn’t just many people’s type. I was willing to come up with any excuse other than the obvious prejudice answer. My first foray was a site called Adam For Adam, the first popular gay dating site in the early 2000s. I can’t count how many unsolicited nude photos I was sent. Then there were the racist messages where I was called the n-word. I noticed I would rarely receive messages but when I did, they all asked me the same question over and over. How big are you? I would not get a hello back or even how are you, what is your name. The first question was always about the size of my penis.
After a few months of that abuse, I decided to go back to the bars. I noticed the atmosphere becoming more and more sexual in nature and less about the community. I also noticed more and more drugs in the bars and I must admit I also occasionally participated. I had a good time some nights but would almost always end up alone and I would wake up alone. After a few bad racist experiences, I left the gay bar scene.
When it comes to gay bars, I do believe they have a positive purpose within the gay community. However, based on my experience, I do feel that we need a stronger moral compass not just within the gay bars but the gay community as a whole. The drugs are becoming rampant and unchecked, and not addressed within the gay community in any meaningful way. Gay bars should steer more towards a community environment in which we take care of each other and not have every single promotion or party be geared around finding sex or getting drunk. And most importantly, we must address prejudice being tolerated and masked as a physical preference.
If you don’t like someone because of their race, you have issues! And our community must do better at making it clear that if you don’t like someone because of their race that is indeed a prejudiced thought, which does not go away overnight. I do have a feeling if a light is shed on this subject many would be very surprised that the gay community is more prejudiced when it comes to dating than the straight community as a whole. We must address this by acknowledging there’s an issue, then figuring out why this is and how to solve it.
I’m sure I’m not the first Black gay man who has experienced these issues or the last. But until the gay community comes together as a whole to address these issues, can we really consider ourselves supportive of each other?
Peter Ferguson is a former Navy soldier and hospitality executive in Los Angeles. Follow him on Instagram at @Peterla19.