HThe story took place last week when top Hampton University student-athlete Byron Perkins became the first openly gay Division 1 football player at a historically black college or university (HBCU). .
While the many headlines surrounding Perkins’ decision to come out signal progress, his decision to go public with his sexual orientation is far from a perfect moment, according to a prominent member of the LGBTQ community who dated a HBCUs.
George M. Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and alumnus of Virginia Union University and Bowie State University, wondered why it had taken so long for a player to HBCU football to feel comfortable sharing their journey with the rest of the black community and society at large.
“When we talk about the first person to do something, it always has to come with the caveat of why it takes so long for that person to be the first,” Johnson told NewsOne this week in an exclusive chat. “So as important as it is, as important as it is, we also have to understand that the fact is that this is happening right now in 2022, which still speaks to a much larger issue.”
Perkins expressed a similar sentiment during an interview with Outsports in which he officially came out as gay.
“Especially in an HBCU, young black gay men need an outlet,” Perkins said. “They need a support system. There hasn’t been a single gay soccer athlete in an HBCU. I want to end the stigma of what people think. I want people to know they can be themselves.
Perkins added: “It’s about this kid who goes to see this and thinks he can be himself too.”
Members of the LGBTQ community have faced significant barriers and discrimination in this country. For the black LGBTQ community, in particular, these barriers and discriminations are coupled with racism and the stigmatization of homosexuality in some black communities, which can make their journey even more difficult.
The data shows that a significant portion of African Americans believe homosexuality is “always wrong,” according to the National Institutes of Health. But this attitude is not limited to blacks alone.
“Homophobia exists in all communities, so it’s not just a black community issue, but it’s one of the issues within black communities,” explained Johnson, who said he hoped that Perkins could embolden others to follow in his footsteps.
However, Johnson suggested that if history is any indication, progress on this front may not be as rapid as some would like.
“We can only hope that in [Byron Perkins] being the first to do it, that it will break up space and allow others to be able to do it,” Johnson added. “But we’ve also seen where history … has seen many black people be the first and we’re still waiting for the second. So, as historic as it is, it also signals to us as black communities that we still have a lot of work to do specifically around acceptance.
HBCUs have specifically been epicenters of Black advancement and Black excellence where students can feel comfortable being authentic themselves. However, for Black LGBTQ students like Perkins, there is an additional level of awareness they need to have. Specifically for Perkins, that awareness will be even higher now that he’s been pushed to the forefront of the gay community in HBCUs.
Johnson, who faced adversity as a public figure in the gay community, had his book of personal essays about his experience as a gay person banned in nearly 30 school districts. He said he understands the weight and importance of the position Perkins finds himself in.
“There are times when you know you’re grateful that you can amplify an important message that you really want to get across to the world. But the other side of that is you become a target,” Johnson said.
“You become the target of hatred. You become a target of perfection in many ways where, you know, because there’s such a magnifying glass and a spotlight on you, you feel like you can’t go wrong. You feel like you can’t be human in many ways and you lose a sense of humanity because you go out in public. If people recognize you, they look at you differently. They treat you differently. And I think that’s the other side of the coin.
Johnson said Gen Z already identifies between 15% and 20% LGBTQ. He predicted that players like Perkins are likely to be far from anomalies in the future.
Society needs to reach a point where gender identities and sexuality don’t play a role in how we treat each other, Johnson added, and said he understands how far society still has to go. to be able to create a sustainable environment of acceptance.
“Athletes need to feel comfortable identifying that they are gay and not be criticized or demonized for it,” Johnson said before asking, “How do we make sure there’s a second and a third and a 10th and a 20th? [openly gay HBCU football player] and that we finally arrive at a number where we no longer count?
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