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Being Black and Out

Exploring homophobia in the black community in Nova Scotia

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

Panelists Chris Cochrane (Left), Robert Wright and Clemon George spoke at BlackOUT, a panel discussion on  sexual orientation, gender identity, and race in Nova Scotia.  Photo: Hillary Lindsay
Panelists Chris Cochrane (Left), Robert Wright and Clemon George spoke at BlackOUT, a panel discussion on sexual orientation, gender identity, and race in Nova Scotia. Photo: Hillary Lindsay

"There is a homophobia in the discourse," noted Robert Wright.   "But often love and acceptance in the relationships."  

Wright was speaking on a panel exploring sexual orientation, gender identity, and race.  Dozens of people crowded into a room at Dalhousie University on November 30 to take part in the discussion, and a question had been posed about homophobia in black communities in Nova Scotia.  

"The homophobic ethic that we think pervades the black community seems to be rooted first in the black church," said Wright, a social worker and self-described "church man" who grew up in the black Baptist tradition.  

"The church has not been a friendly place for gay folk," said Wright.  "At the same time, I think that black folk have a real history of being loving and accepting of everyone in the community."

Catherine Meade, a lawyer in Halifax and moderator of the discussion said she had a similar experience.  Growing up, Meade's father was a Baptist minister, and she still attends church regularly.

"I sit in church..and really wonder what people are thinking to my left and right," said Meade.  On the other hand, she continued, she has never doubted the love of her parents or other family members.  

Meade described an occasion where she and her partner were worrying about whether or not they should tell Meade's 81 year old aunt that they were getting married.  They needn't have worried: "Well praise the lord," her aunt replied happily.  

Chris Cochrane is a transgender woman who goes by the stage name Elle Noir as a performer in Halifax.  Cochrane found that her mother was accepting of her for who she was, first when she came out as a gay man and later with her desire to no longer be a man.  

"I didn't have any problems as a gay individual being accepted in a small community," said Cochrane, who believes that the accepting attitude is partly rooted in the fact that women are often considered the head of the family in the black community, rather than men.    

"The black gay often finds the love of their mother is not overly confused," said Wright. 

Nevertheless, he added, "The discourse is homophobic. It makes being in the black community and having those kinds of relationships a little crazy making."

"It is awfully hard to sit in the pew in a community where you know people love you on one level, but they're still trying to chase the demons with you on the other hand," said Wright.

"Amen," agreed Meade.

For a full audio recording of the event, go here.


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