In Ebony Magazine’s current Hot Couples issue, partners Yanette L. Freeman and Willa Walker discuss their sexual identities and the paths that led them to one another. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the pair share what makes their relationship special. The significance of this kind of inclusion — its type rare not only in Ebony but in other popular magazines as well — can be implicated to the broader societal issues of being black and out, specifically in popular media.
The article highlights the stories of each of the women, with particular attention to identity discovery and previous relationships. Yanette, an out lesbian, describes being attracted to girls since third grade, and despite her mother’s assertion that gay people were crazy, chemically imbalanced people, Yanette eventually became OK with herself and came out. As for dating women rather men, Yanette says that it’s still the same process of becoming “emotional” and “in tune” with one another — not somehow magically easier because they “both have vaginas.”
Yanette’s partner, Willa, does not identify as a lesbian, but feels that she gets the “best of both worlds” with Yanette. Willa, a mother, narrates her struggles with abusive partners, dating both men and women, and the friendship that turned into much more with Yanette.
That such an eminent black issues magazine is running a feature of a black same-sex female couple is refreshing and reassuring. Earlier this year, Essence.com featured their first lesbian pairing on the Bridal Bliss section of their website.
Few out black women have garnered substantial positive media attention and even fewer have been in publicly recognized relationships. Currently Wanda Sykes and Sheryl Swoopes are two of the most famous out American black women in high profile-status relationships, with Swoopes and her partner Alisa Scott initially having received backlash for being out in the WNBA. Jasika Nicole is another out black woman known for her role as Astrid on Fringe. Her partner, Claire Savage, was featured alongside her in a New York Times profile in 2009.
The fact that we can count the number of out female black celebrities — especially those in public relationships — on our hands is disturbing and perhaps suggests larger implications of the lack of safe space and support Black female LGBT individuals face, with the combination of race, gender and sexuality impeding success in the entertainment industry. As America as a whole inches toward greater acceptance of LGBT people through changed policies and attitudes, why do we continue to see a dearth of out Blacks and other people of color — namely women — in the entertainment industry? Is this the byproduct of preexisting racism and sexism in our society that forces many queer people of color to remain closeted, as the struggle to be straight and of color is hard enough in the industry? Is it the rampant homophobia and pressure to be ideal heterosexual women in communities of color as well?
Queer female couples of color, especially, have had limited publicity and inclusion in the media, so Ebony’s article moves us in a positive direction toward reduced homophobia and increased normalization of such LGBT relationships. What would you like to see happen in the black media when it comes to visibility?