One man’s journey of reconciling anti-Blackness & bias as an LGBTQ individual to find true belonging

Topics: Art & Culture, Biases, Black Lives Matter, Discrimination, LGBTQ, Personal Effectiveness

outspoken

“I’m just trying to be the man God wants me to be and hold onto singing that way,” says Alex Bertrand in describing how he struggled, on one hand, with his LGBTQ identity growing up in a faith community, while on the other, finding a sense of belonging through music and song. “When I finally hit the age where I started realizing I liked different things, like guys and dancing,” explains Bertrand, “all of that was shunned because it was not God-like. Yet, when it came to the singing, all of my flashiness, all of my fun and expressiveness was celebrated.”

Tragically Alex Bertrand’s story is an all too familiar one for queer, Black, faith-seeking people. As a youth, Bertrand found partial acceptance within his faith community so long as his sexual orientation remained obscured from the public eye. As an adult, even after coming out, it took time for Bertrand to find “his people” thanks to anti-Blackness within the LGBTQ community. At age 42, now employed as a math teacher at a prestigious private school in New York City, Bertrand recalls his formative years within a predominately Black community in Buffalo, New York where transplanted Southerners sought employment opportunities during the 1960s and 1970s. “I grew up Southern Baptist and very Black to the point where it was one of those churches where you have something going on every day of the week,” recalls Bertrand. “I was in church all the time. The beautiful thing about it is that it was very musical with a rich youth department, and we were always doing fun things.”

When he was 18 years old, in his first year of college, and able to fully embrace his LGBTQ identity, Bertrand came to understand how to separate church as an institution from his own personal beliefs. As a first-generation college student, he learned to “write papers and interrogate texts,” including Sacred religious scripture. As a result, Bertrand “finally started to hear God for [him]self versus hearing it through the mouth of [his] mom or senior pastor.” “I started to ask,” explains Bertrand, “‘What kind of man do you actually want me to be?’” — an existential question resulting in a “bromance” Betrand has “always wanted.”

Outspoken

Alex Bertrand

As a young, Black, Christian gay man living in NYC during the first decade of the 2000s, Bertrand found an online rapport with other believers across the country, but again struggled to find an in-person connection. Bertrand recalls how he experienced a lot of anti-Blackness within the gay community, including being called the “N-word” in gay bars. He also found difficulty in dating, often experiencing microaggressions. Indeed, at one point, on a first date in 2004, he was told, “That was the best date I’ve ever had with a colored man.”

From Bertrand’s perspective, once marriage equality was passed, many white LGBTQ constituents assumed that equality by and large had been achieved and the community’s oppression had ended. For LGBTQ people of color, nothing could be further from the truth. Explains Bertrand: “It not just about your sexuality. It is about this stuff you are carrying around and not recognizing in this world called ‘white.’”

Fortunately for Bertrand, his decades-long quest for camaraderie reached its end within a welcoming community of diverse believers from all races, sexualities, belief systems and classes in New York City called Middle Church with the tag line, “Just Love.” Even more special for Bertrand is the group of queer Black men within the congregation. He recalls how, during the first meeting, everyone was crying because they “realized this is what we didn’t have growing up… somebody who we could just sit with in this room being very gay in our own different ways and being very Black. So that is something that I never thought I would see in my existence.”

To address the anti-Black racism within the LGBTQ community and amongst society at large, Bertrand offers the most insightful analysis about the need for letting go of the fear he perceives many have about Black people, which, he emphasizes, is completely wrong and false. “I think people are fearful that we are about revenge and we are not. That is not where God is. The Black community is one of the most faithful and God-believing communities in this country. And people think, ‘Oh, because we did all this to you, you should want to do all this to me.’ I have no desire for that. To me, that is death, and it is ugly. I think people need to let that go.”