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Researching survival among Black LGBTQ+ communities

What gives Black LGBTQ+ people around the world the strength to survive, considering the struggles they often face? Black sexual minority populations in Europe, the US and Canada often have to contend with racialised homophobia and

Black LGBTQ+

What gives Black LGBTQ+ people around the world the strength to survive, considering the struggles they often face?

Black sexual minority populations in Europe, the US and Canada often have to contend with racialised homophobia and conflicting cultural norms. Those living in countries that are predominantly Black can risk imprisonment and even death for identifying as LGBTQ+. While Black LGBTQ+ communities face wide-ranging opposition around the world, very little research has been done to explain what they do and who they turn to in order to cope, survive and thrive.

Lourdes Delores Follins, Associate Professor at City University of New York, is one of a few researchers in the world attempting to answer a mammoth, but almost entirely neglected question.

“I’ve been working with Black LGBTQ+ populations since the mid-late 90’s because these are my communities,” says Lourdes. “But we had to search high and low, we had to turn over rocks to find information. There is some, but by and large, it’s done here in the States. Many governments are invested in funding the trauma, the drama, the angst – which is real. We need to understand what that’s about, but moving to a strength-based perspective and looking at resilience is more challenging to get funding for.”

In an attempt to open the door to a better understanding of resilience among Black LGBTQ+ communities, Lourdes is launching a book project, collating the first-hand accounts of people outside of the US. It will be made up of five sections, broken down by regions where there are large populations of people of African descent. The chapters include Canada, the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Europe, and will all be written by people who identify as Black and LGBTQ+.

“The book is supposed to give voice to people around the world to put a different light on them,” explains Lourdes. “What are people doing just to survive? What are people doing to take care of their spirit? What are people doing to take care of their mind, their body? What are they doing to take care of their loved ones? How are people coming together? I want this to be a tool for people both in these communities, as well as those who work with them and support them and advocate on their behalf.”

Each chapter will detail how LGBTQ+ people build resilience and the coping mechanisms that work best for them, whether that involves connecting with religious communities, turning to loved ones for support, or seeking each other out, either in their cities or towns to create their own small spaces.

“Different people do different things,” says Lourdes. “Whether it’s just being able to look within themselves and just say, so that group has said that I shouldn’t exist, that I’m an abomination. However… I can imagine something greater for myself, and I’m still going to get to that.”

Growing up in America, Lourdes is all too aware of the inequalities that Black LGBTQ+ people in her own community face, and how this can have a hugely negative impact on mental health.

“Our government is really effective at keeping us repressed and pitting us against each other,” she says. “But Black people in this country make up about 13% of the population, so nobody can treat us like we don’t matter. Despite that, anywhere where there are negative stereotypes of you, and there are no images of what it’s like to be a queer person of colour is going to be challenging. That the U.S. and U.K. share, regardless of numbers.

“It breaks my heart, it keeps me in a constant state of rage. I’m an angry black lesbian, and I’m okay with that because there’s a lot to be angry about. However, I have hope and faith that people continue talking to each other and not let themselves be divided. That they realise that although there are groups of people that have power over them, they’re still powerful. They still have power within.”

Lourdes’ book will be published next year. To read more about her research and background, click here.

heenalivpatel@gmail.com

Heenali Patel is Editor-in-Chief for 1000women, and is a passionate campaigner for women's rights. She also works as the Communications Officer for feminist charity The Fawcett Society, and has a Masters in International Journalism.

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