As the debates over homosexuality, gay marriage and the rights of homosexuals continue to be a hot topic in the black community, particularly since President Obama’s recent support of gay marriage, there is also a fierce debate about making comparisons between the gay rights struggle and the black struggle from the 60s Civil Right era. Some see similarities in the two struggles, while some label homosexuality “the new black” and still others dismiss any comparisons between the two. Do blacks and gays experience discrimination equally or in the same way?
I don’t plan to offer any opinions on this topic but with discrimination obviously affecting both blacks and gays, where does that leave black people who happen to be gay? When they face discrimination is it due to their racial classification or their sexual orientation? I suppose it will always depend on the particular case, but recently, an incident involving 90’s Brazilian sister singing duo Pepê and Neném gave us an example of how one viewer saw the issue.
The identical twins sisters are most known in Brazil for their 1999 hit songs “Mania de Você” and “Mais Uma Vez” before falling on hard times in later years. The sisters were recently featured on the SBT network television program De Frente com Gabi hosted by Marília Gabriela. In the interview the sisters revealed that they were both gay and that they had been gay since they were children.
“We have been gay since we were children. Both of us. At ten years of age, I fell in love with a girl,” says Neném. “We have never dated men. And we also don’t go beyond our boundaries, we have never flirted with the daughter of a businessman and we have never gone out with a fan. Never. Above all, we’re professionals,” added Pepê.
The sisters physical appearance was apparently what mattered to one viewer who took to her Facebook account to express her opinion. Seeing the duo on TV, university student Jessica Suellen wrote that “Gabi is interviewing two actresses from the ‘Planet of the Apes’!” (Gabi tá entrevistando duas atrizes de ‘Planeta dos Macacos’!)
Over the past decade, Brazil has had quite a few problems with its citizens expressing racist, anti-Semetic or homophobic sentiments on social networking sites like Orkut, some of which have led to penalties and punishment. Upon discovering the racist comment, the black women’s group Geledés expressed the view that it is necessary to take stronger measures against people like Suellen who use freedom of expression rights to express sentiments of racist content or bad taste. They also suggested that the student be held accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law.
Based on the information at hand, it is impossible to know if the student heard the sisters affirm their sexual orientation or she simply turned the channel and saw two black women talking without even hearing their comments. If she heard them say that they were gay and still compared them to apes, it is clear that their racial classification took precedence over their sexual orientation as the comparison of black people with apes and monkeys is common in Brazil as it is all over world. On the other hand, the viewer may not have immediately known that the sisters were gay based solely on their appearance without having heard the interview. Thus, if the latter is the case, it proves one point: When a person’s racial classification is obvious and cannot be withheld, affirmation of this classification is not necessary. While a person can face discrimination and assault if someone assumes he or she is gay (true or not), if this person is gay but doesn’t fit the perceived gay stereotype, this person minimizes or completely eradicates the possibility of discrimination based on sexual orientation. In this sense, discrimination based on sexual orientation or racial classification cannot be compared.