Dividing Factors: Colorism In The LGBTQ Community

Whiteness has always been valued in many Eurocentric societies including the United States. Values in terms of family, religion, and societal structure were all designed to validate whiteness and white supremacy. Furthermore, beliefs in white supremacy also determined standards of beauty. That is, the fairer one’s skin, the more prestigious one was. Although much has changed in the world since the establishment of this ideology, the ideology itself still reigns and affects communities across the globe, specifically, the LGBTQ community.

Many people of color who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual/transgender, or queer report experiencing racism and sexism when it comes to the LGBTQ communities. Let’s take your average gay dating site for instance. Many profiles will show white men stating that they “strongly prefer to date someone of their own race” or will display slogans such as “No fats, no fems, no Blacks, no Asians.”

Additionally, lesbians and trans people are a scarcity in gayborhoods across the nation (although some entertainers in the gayborhoods are trans people of varying ethnicities). However, the discrimination in America’s LGBTQ communities extends far deeper than racial prejudice. In fact, some of the discrimination exists within communities of color themselves.

Google and social media often represent an indicator of the societal views. When you Google search gay men or look up lesbian, many of the images you see are of white people. Almost as though only white men and women can represent the LGBTQ community. (Search engine optimization is a helluva thing.) Taking this a step further, if you search Black gay men, Asian lesbians, gay Latinxs, trans people of color, etc., the majority of the images that will pop up are of people of color who range from very light skinned to brown skinned (although more recently do we see more darker skinned individuals in these pictures). Why is this? One word: colorism.

Colorism (what we hear in the Black community as light skinned vs. dark skinned conflicts), is a scarcely heard about yet highly visible subject within the LGBTQ community. Colorism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

Aside from the racism that LGBTQ people of color already face from their white counterparts, we must also contend with our lighter skinned counterparts. From comments such as “You’re pretty for a dark skinned girl” or “I only like light skinned guys” to images of gay Latinxs who are no darker than the golden olive toned gods of Mount Olympus, dark skin does not seem to be valued in the LGBTQ community. Why is this so? To answer this question, one must examine the roots of colorism.

As mentioned, Eurocentric values and standards seep into (and back out) of many societies around the world. Much of this stems from the twin periods of slavery and colonialism. During these periods, concepts akin to “white is right” became prominent and ingrained into the minds of many. Privileges were extended to whites that were not extended to people of color. Whiteness became synonymous with wealth, power, prestige, and beauty. (Note: class differences still existed but whiteness unified the masses.)

Conversely, darker skin became synonymous with poverty, subjugation, and negativity. Among people of color, this spurred a disturbing thought process: the lighter the skin, the better. The more Eurocentric, the better. (Note: not all people of color think this way; however, there is a significant number of individuals who do.) Modern pop-culture examples of this are seen in Lil Kim’s dramatic transformation and Sammy Sosa’s skin bleaching. There are even the stories of individuals of East Asian descent putting tape on their eyelids to give their eyes a more “European” look.

Back to the LGBTQ community. In 2014, HBO released the half hour drama series, Looking. The series follows three gay friends, and their gal pal Doris, as they search for themselves and love in San Francisco’s vibrant gay scene. The characters were predominantly white with the exception of Frank, Richie and Agustin. Frank was Black while Richie and Agustin were both Latinx. Score for diversity.

However, all three had fairer skin. In fact, at the start of the series, some, including myself, thought that Agustin, played wonderfully by Frankie J. Alvarez, was white. The connection? One could argue that the show inadvertently sends the message that the only way to belong is by having a relationship with someone who is white, and that the only individuals of a certain skin tone can be “allowed” into the scene. For young gay men of color who do not fit this mold, this can create a feeling of otherness, of loneliness, of being an outsider.

Colorism even reflects itself in the celebrities that are hailed within the community. Go into any gay establishment or visit gay pages on social media, you will hear at least one individual hailing Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, or JLo. Guarantee it. Beginning with Rihanna and moving to JLo, what do these four celebrities have in common? They are all of fair skin.

As beautiful as they may be and as much as they may celebrate their cultures proudly, part of their success in the gay community, one could very easily argue, stems from their fairer complexion. Singers like India Arie are not hailed in the bars and gay festivals and events. Sure, this has plenty to do with the tendency for the gay community to lean towards popular music. However, why do we not see more diversity in skin tones? Are there no Afro-Latinx pop stars? Are there no darker skinned musicians whose music would complement the atmosphere of local gay watering holes?  

One can even argue that colorism exists heavily in gay porn as well. Aside from other stereotypes that is. In mainstream porn, interracial scenes predominantly involve a Black top power drilling a white bottom with his BBC. The top is perpetually depicted as the masculine beast with the high sex drive while the bottom is seen as the risk taker who wants to see if he can handle a large penis. Reducing a human to their dick is, by definition, dehumanizing.

However, there are also scenes in which a white power top, or two, dominates an Asian twink. Aside from the stereotype of the Asian males being effeminate, there is also the overwhelming reality that many of these Asian bottoms are of East Asian and not South or Southeast Asian descent, and extremely light. Again, this subliminally passes the message that the only way to be seen as sexy or “fuckable” by a white man is to be as devoid of melanin as you can be.  

Examples of colorism in the LGBTQ community are endless. Although not as talked about as racism, it is prevalent and horrifying, to say the least. One can even examine the fame of drag queens such as RuPaul and see elements of colorism. But now that colorism has been openly acknowledged in our community, what do we do to stop it? What do we do to rid ourselves of these Eurocentric viewpoints that are hindering our progression in not only the gay community but our societies? What do we do next?


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