Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Quinton E. Baker, February 23, 2002. Interview K-0838. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

African American community's treatment of homosexuals prior to desegregation

Before desegregation, Baker recalls, the African American community did not openly persecute gay men, and he remembers knowing several men who in retrospect he recognizes were probably homosexuals. He hypothesizes that desegregation caused the hardening of anti-homosexual feelings for many blacks.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Quinton E. Baker, February 23, 2002. Interview K-0838. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So, was Lester the first openly, well, I wouldn't—gay person, I was going to say openly gay person that you ever remember interacting with?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
No, because there was a teacher that was commonly known that he was, "Funny" there were people in the community. It—I don't think the lines were as clear and as sharp as they are now. I mean everyone says how homophobic the African American Community is. I think that the African American Community appears more homophobic since desegregation than prior to desegregation.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Yeah, I remember reading this.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
I don't recall the kind of things that people do now, when I was growing up. I mean, the, this particular teacher was also the choir director at the church. He was kind of swishy, but he was never really ostracized. He may have been talked about being, "funny" but no one really cast him out. They took advantage of his abilities to teach and his abilities to conduct a choir. So that, you know—and Lester—the only reason that Lester was pointed out was because he was so flamboyant and he was flaunting. It was more of his feminism than it was the fact that he was in fact gay. I think that was the fact of it. So, it is hard for me to think back to, "Well, when do you first interact?" Because I interacted with people who were gay, who may have been gay, or who I later discovered were gay all of the time in terms of that community, but there was not, we were not segregated in our community as a little click of people.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Right, there was not the gay people in the black community.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
That's right, it wasn't the gay people that were in the black community.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
They were just there—
QUINTON E. BAKER:
They were there,
CHRIS McGINNIS:
They were there and people did not massively care.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
People knew, people did not make a big deal about it, but somebody may have talked about it behind somebody's back. Oh, they would taunt, other kids taunted, you know, the way kids do—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Right—
QUINTON E. BAKER:
—but it wasn't it wasn't a political or social issue that created an element in our community or culture that was either outcast by the rest of the community, you know. "Oh, you can't deal with them because they are gay. Oh, you can't talk to this person, or you shouldn't be involved." I didn't experience any of that.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Do you think that, could you say after desegregation, this may have made more, do you think that religious right played a role, and the movement of the religious right played a role in that ‘ostracization’ of gays within the African American community, or the representation of homophobia within the African American community, or the representation of homophobia within the African American Community?
QUINTON E. BAKER:
I am sure that that probably happened and that had something to do with it. I think that what, and it is very hard to think about this. I think that as deep segregation took place and there was more interaction between African Americans and whites, I have noticed that African Americans have taken on more of the cultural standards that whites had. Being anti-homosexual, I think, was stronger in the white community than it was in our community and we have gotten—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
More mainstream—
QUINTON E. BAKER:
More mainstream, and because of television and a whole number of things, all of those kinds of things have come to play, and I think that the African Americans are expressing. I still don't, maybe I am naive, I still don't think that African Americans are as anti-gay as people think they are. I think that there is more of a tendency to—for instance, I—we interact with some older African American members of communities that I worked in. And many of them, I think, most of these people know I am gay, it is not something that they want to talk about, it is not something—but I am a dearest friend. There is nothing that they wouldn't do for me. So, the question is, you know, given where they are coming from, given their level of understanding, to what advantage is it to me to force this issue on them. They know I live with Ron. They know where we live, they know the house, they come here and do things, they know we do almost without each other, so what, who are we fooling? [Laughter]
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Right, exactly, exactly. It is an unspoken thing.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
It is an unspoken, sort of, it is about me, it is about us as people as people rather than about us as sexual beings.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
I have seen that generally, I think that that may be a southern standard too, because as long as you don't talk about it, it is all right. Now, if people become gay activists in the sense of continually fighting for gay rights, and you are talking about it. One of the biggest things, I think for people in the south, is not that people are asking for those rights as much as they are actually talking about this thing that is best left unspoken, which most sexual things are in southern societies.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
Right, most sexual things. Anything that is different is left unspoken in the south. [Laughter]
CHRIS McGINNIS:
People don't talk about it.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
You know, I mean, I think that it is evident in terms of what is going on with the Latino/Hispanic population, and that is the Southerners have a lot of difficulty dealing with difference, regardless of where that difference is, we would rather you pretend that there is no difference there than you to call attention to the fact that you are different.
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Right
QUINTON E. BAKER:
So, that seems to be what I experienced. But I just think that, you know, it is—there have been gay choir directors in African American churches since—
CHRIS McGINNIS:
From the beginning of time.
QUINTON E. BAKER:
As long as I have been black. [Laughter] And so it is not, even with ministers in terms of who say that we have not gay people in their church. I mean, obviously they can't even possibly think, if they turn around and look, and many of the ministers themselves are gay so, you know, I don't know what that uncomfortablness is, but I do think that there is, there is a negative reaction to what I think African Americans think as being white. Being gay is more a white thing. Even identifying or using ‘gay’ to describe who you are, comes from a white culture and not for an African American culture. [Laughter]
CHRIS McGINNIS:
Right, okay [said in a contemplative way]
QUINTON E. BAKER:
—and so, you know, I think that is part of what you are getting at.