“My last ex was black.”
“I’m just not into black guys.”
“You don’t act Latino.”
These are only a few examples of the racism that exists within the LGBTQ community and are much more common than many think. According to the LGBTQ charity Stonewall and YouGov, half of LGBTQ people of color have experienced discrimination or poor treatment from others in their local, queer community because of their ethnicity.
The survey of LGBTQ folks found that while nearly 32 percent of LGBTQ people have experienced some form of discrimination, that number rises to 51 percent for those who are black, Latino, Asian, or belong to another ethnic minority. An additional three out of five black, LGBT people said that they had experienced prejudice on account of their ethnicity.
These prejudices translate into online dating as well. According to data released by OkCupid, white, gay men respond to messages from other white men 44 percent of the time but respond only 37.3 percent of the time to men of color.
White, gay men also respond less frequently to messages in general than gay men of color. On OkCupid, white, gay men respond to messages from all races at an average rate of 41.4 percent, but gay men of color respond to messages from all races at an average rate of 49.3 percent.
Ironically, even though white, gay men respond to messages in general less frequently than gay men of color, they fail to attract the highest rate of responses to the messages they send. Middle Eastern gay men, on average, will receive about 48 responses for every 100 messages they send, while white, gay men will receive an average of 45. Black, gay men will receive about 36.
It can be difficult to find your place in a community where you’re too often shut out by people who believe that exclusion is harmless, and even natural, as these queer men of color can attest to.
Marquise Netters has not received a message on Grindr in more than a week. He’s not logging in every hour, but when he messages a potential date or hookup, he’s met with a few varying responses.
“Sometimes they just ignore me; sometimes they ask about my BBC, sometimes they tell me they aren’t into black guys, and sometimes they block me,” Netters said. “The last message I got from someone, they told me, ‘My last ex was black.’ It’s made me cut back on dating and focus on myself.”
Netters is currently a gym rat, working out every day to perfect his physique. It makes sense, considering his main income comes from working as a go-go boy at Charlie’s Nightclub—Denver’s country-themed gay bar. A job that he said has helped boost his confidence.
On any given weekend, patrons of the gay bar can see Netters proudly displaying his body on the go-go stage or in the new shower feature by the main bar. As folks come up and give him dollars, they often admire his body. However, he feels that some of the people shoveling him dollars are objectifying him. This is something that he has tried to brush off.
“You can always tell in their eyes,” he said. “For some, it is an appreciation. They see the hard work that goes into how I look, and they appreciate it. Other people seem like they are trying to buy my affection. That they fetishize my body and my color. They expect me to be and act a certain way, but I grew up in white suburbia.”
Netters grew up in Aurora. As soon as he turned 18, he started going to Tracks on college night. The first time he walked in, he felt like he was entering a whole new world of freedom but quickly came to realize that the LGBTQ scene was very segregated by body types and physical characteristics.
As he grew in muscle mass, he noticed that gay men expected him to act, dress, and present in a certain way. He often felt fetishized by them and slowly stopped going out for pleasure.
The first time he went to Pride was when he really noticed how segregated the community was. This problem, for him, has only grown in recent years, as Denver draws in mostly white, queer transplants into the Mile High City.
“I’ve only been to Pride in Colorado, but the lack of diversity really turned me off,” Netters said. “I used to be obsessed with the show Noah’s Arc, and after re-watching it, I’m currently trying to get out to L.A. to see if I can experience a more diverse gay culture. I have to get away from these basic, white boys.”
Josue Ledezma, a Denver transplant, only has one sexual preference.
“You have to be hung,” he said. “I’ve never been into a specific race, so when people ask me what my type is, I just say ‘hung.’”
Ledezma was born in a college town in Mexico. His father was studying to be a pastor for an international church, and when he graduated, he moved his family around for a while before landing in the U.S. Shortly after turning 18, he met a man named Richard at a bar. Richard was very wealthy and known to only date Latin boys.
“At first, it feels cute. I felt admired,” Ledezma said. “So I went along with it, but as it went along, I felt more and more fetishized. He was definitely into the fact that I was Latin more than anything else. He wanted me to be submissive and basically a kept house boy. But I was independent, made my own money, and was very outspoken.”
After that relationship ended, Ledezma continually ran into that same stereotype as he navigated the gay dating world here in Denver.
“People would sometimes tell me, ‘You don’t act Latino.’”
“You always run into people with specific ‘preferences’ or ideas about who you are when you’re looking online,” Ledezma said. “Is it annoying? Yes. Do I block them? Yes. Do they block me? Probably. You can have your preferences, just like I have mine. Does it make it right? No.”
Jovan Bridges (Yvie Oddly)
Denver native Jovan Bridges, better known by his stage name Yvie Oddly, had experiences surrounding race before he even understood the concept. Both of his parents are mixed race and came from interracial households. Both sets of his grandparents were revolutionary in their marriages and helped fight for civil rights in Denver.
“Even if you don’t experience direct racism, we are all living in a world that favors people who aren’t POC. Especially in our culture—I’m going to speak very bluntly here.”
Like Netters, Bridges catapulted himself into Denver’s LGBTQ scene by going to Tracks once he turned 18. That was when he started to experience discrimination. Running around in a crowd of people with the same body type, fashion senses, and age range, Bridges’ “little group of twinks who knew our attractiveness and worth” started a competition of who could sleep with 100 guys first. The group eventually lost count, and the competition was cancelled, but the it had some serious ramifications on Bridges.
“We would all act the same way and dress the same way; they ended up getting more attention, and people would look right through me, ignoring me,” he said. “At best, they would see me as a way to get with my white friends.
“This is so destructive to people who come out to this space that is supposed to be embracing of everything you are. We’ve already had to fight to prove that you deserve the same chances for love that everyone else does.”
Bridges continued, “It has affected me in a way that when I look in the mirror or see myself in a photo, I know I’m an attractive person. But as soon as you get me with someone else, I desexualize myself and close myself off. I don’t want to hear anymore, ‘I’m just not that into black guys, or I’m really glad we’re close, but look at how beautiful this white guy is.’ It’s weird to know I’m playing by a different standard.”
For Bridges, when he sees racism within our community, he follows in his grandparents footsteps and calls it out. He wants to illuminate the actions that are going unchecked.
“I know other people have had better or worse than me, but by speaking about my experiences and feelings, I’m hopefully making this community better for the rest of the brown 18- and 19-year-old queers that are just now coming out to play.”