Beyoncé and Jay-Z Acknowledge Their Black Gay Family & Their Respective Struggles
Black LGBTQIA+ relations to their heterosexual counterparts is seldom part of the public narrative about Black LGBTQIA+ life, though their presence and relationship as bell hooks tells us in 1992’s Black Looks: Race and Representation has always been a seamless part of our collective community. Usually it’s Black women writers highlighting this truth in a way that does not problematize the presence of queer Black people in relationship to their families and communities, from Ann Petry and Gloria Naylor to Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, the Black LGBTQIA+ aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, sister, or mother are essential, even normative threads woven into the fabric of our community, if sometimes rendered a curious one. Which is what made Jay-Z’s affirming acknowledgment, as an elder statesman in hip hop, of his lesbian mother in 2017’s 4:44 and through subsequent statements and interviews so profound and yet…ordinary…in keeping with a long tradition that has been present among Black artists since the Harlem Renaissance. His mother Gloria Carter would go on to receive a GLAAD Award in 2018, where she was honored for her role in “Smile” from 4:44. Following Ms. Carter’s example, her son and his megastar wife, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, would go on to receive GLAAD’s Vanguard Award.
Beyoncé too would go on to make an impact statement of her own, honoring her Black gay uncle, Johnny, who apparently died of HIV-related complications in the years since helping support his niece in her rise to stardom. In 2016, when receiving her Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, she’d once before referenced her uncle as someone who worked with her mother, Tina, and grandmother in developing the costumes for Destiny’s Child when “high end labels didn’t really want to dress four Black, country, curvy, girls.”
In her speech she talked about her tour and again referenced the seamless way Black heterosexual and LGBTQIA+ people co-exists:
“I would say that one of the most beautiful memories of my tour was looking out from the stage every night and seeing the hardest gangsta trappin’ right next to the most fabulous queen,” she said. “Respecting and celebrating each other.”
While this news of respectful and celebratory co-existence may be news to those who hold fast to stereotypical anti-Black narratives of Blacks being more homophobic than other communities, it is not for those who reside in those communities…or rock with Bey. She went on to counter other expected narratives, specifically about stigma, sexual identity, and HIV as work already being done and only needing to continue:
“We’re here to promote love for every human being. And change starts with supporting the people closest to you. So, let’s tell them they are loved. Let’s remind them that they are beautiful, let’s speak out and protect them. And parents, let’s love our kids in their truest form. … I’d like to request that we continue to shift the stigmas in this community, especially the stigmas in black families towards queer black and brown men and women.”
She continued by dedicating the award to her uncle Johnny, who she called “the most fabulous gay man I’ve ever met.”
“He lived his truth. He was brave and unapologetic during a time when this country wasn’t as accepting. And, witnessing his battle with HIV was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever lived,” she said, becoming emotional and being comforted by her husband, urging her on.“I’m hopeful his struggles served to open pathways for other young people to live more freely. LGBTQI rights are human rights. To choose who you love is your human right. How you identify and see yourself is your human right. Who you make love to and take that ass to Red Lobster.” she said, referencing 2016’s “Formation.”
While it was the first time of note that Beyoncé had reportedly revealed her uncle’s plight with HIV and subsequent passing in such a public forum, it was not her first time describing how instrumental he was as one of a trinity of people who made Beyoncé who she is today.
During her 2016 CFDA speech, Beyoncé had this to say:
“So, to my mother, my uncle, my grandma, thank y’all. Thank for showing me that your presence is far more than the clothes you wear and your physical beauty. Thank you for showing me to never take no for an answer. Thank you for showing me how to take risks, work hard, and live life on my own terms.”
It is the lesson we hope every child takes from every Black gay family member just living in their truth, right along with the rest of the family, with unapologetic pride.
May Johnny, like so many he represents, uncles, brothers, sons who are no longer with us as a result of HIV, rest in peace and continued glory.