“The Other Side” is a monthly column I write covering issues faced by gay people of color for Outlook Columbus, Central Ohio’s premiere LGBT publication.
“A tiny all-white church in the rural South has voted to ban interracial couples from joining its flock, pitting members against each other in an argument over race. Members at the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Kentucky voted Sunday on the resolution, which says the church ‘does not condone interracial marriage.’”
When do you think the Associated Press printed the above story? 1952? 1975? How about 1986? Nope. It was December 1, 2011. Just four days after the story surfaced it was reported that the pastor declared the vote null and void because “the vote was not only discriminatory, but it was against the law.”
As someone who grew up in predominately white, rural Delaware, Ohio, I’m well aware of the fact that racism is still alive and well in America, but I was still taken aback by this story. The landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia declared interracial marriage legal nearly 45 years ago in 1967, yet the jury of public opinion still seems to be out on this issue.
This led to me to ask, what about gay multicultural relationships? Racial disparity is definitely still a major issue within the LGBT community. As a black, gay male I definitely feel the sting of double discrimination on occasion. But are couples in multicultural gay relationships dealing with a “triple layer” of injustice?
I’m in a new relationship myself with someone of a different race, so personal curiosity paired with a professional propensity toward analyzing social trends led me on a quest to search out gay couples in such situations to see how they navigated the world of multicultural love.
When Ken Battershell met Anthony Vinson at Interbelt Nite Club in Akron nearly 16 years ago, he knew he’d found his soul mate. Anthony, however, wasn’t so sure. A 23-year-old college student at the time, he knew he liked Battershell, but could someone who grew up knowing only two people of color in his small, white, conservative neighborhood handle Vinson’s Filipino /African American background?
“[Being in a multicultural relationship] is definitely a struggle and something you shouldn’t enter into lightly,” said Vinson, now 39. “We argued a lot from the beginning. He was very attentive and wanted to know more about my culture, but sometimes some of the questions he’d asked were borderline racist…there were times when I just didn’t want to be his African American or Filipino teacher for the day.”
But despite their differences, they quickly fell into a relationship full of love and commitment. Both licensed social workers, the two moved to Columbus together 12 years ago to cultivate their professional endeavors in a more accepting environment. (As of this issue’s publication they’ve moved to Boston where they plan to legally marry.) The relationship continued to blossom, but not without some serious struggles from Battershell’s family.
“My family just doesn’t accept Anthony as my partner, they still refer to him as my ‘friend.’” Battershell said. “They weren’t very supportive when I came out and me being with a black man just adds insult to injury in their eyes.”
Vinson said a few of Battershell’s friends have also fallen by the wayside because they didn’t agree with him dating a black man, but mostly the issues they face within the gay community arise from men who don’t agree with their declaration of monogamy.
“We both really had to fight for us to work,” Vinson said. “When you’re in a relationship with two different cultures, sometimes one dominates the other and someone can feel like they lose their identity. You just have to make sure there’s always communication and no subject is taboo.”
Vinson and Battershell began their relationship in the mid ‘90s, just after the Rodney King beating and the instituting of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but Tommy McClure and Arend Schuring met online around 2004, a slightly different time.
McClure and Schuring said they definitely still deal with prejudice, but not typically within their inner circle of family and friends. McClure, 34, and Schuring, 33, both grew up in Texas but after a year together Schuring’s job transferred him to Columbus. Realizing that nothing was really keeping him in Dallas, McClure followed Schuring to Ohio. But moving to the conservative Midwest came with a few caveats.
“I’m half Thai and half white, but people just assume I’m full Asian, and there’s still a lot of prejudices against Asians in the gay community,” said McClure, a local actor/model and founder of Fashion Week Columbus.
McClure said growing up in a mixed family made race a non-issue for him when it came to partner selection. But he was raised in a small, mostly white town where he said it was typical for him to be the only Asian in the room. Prejudice was a concept he was forced to come to terms with early on.
“People will say things about Asians having small dicks (a stereotype he claims is completely false), or I’ll make a comment on a subject and someone will respond with, ‘Oh, shut up Asian.’ I don’t understand why people still think this is OK. It’s one of the last prejudices that exist in our country,” he said.
Schuring, a white corporate consultant, grew up in Houston and said he’s never seen race as a barrier when it comes to relationships.
“Some people will call me a ‘rice queen’ when they find out I’m with [McClure], but he’s the only person who’s Asian that I’ve dated and I’ve been in relationships with people from many different ethnicities. I just like hot guys,” Schuring said.
Head down another generation and you’ll find that gay interracial love being something other than the norm is a foreign concept.
Evan Robinson, 25, a black graduate student studying social work, and Brandon Hellemann, 26, a white eighth grade science teacher met at Union Café just eight months ago. Acting on liquid courage, Hellemann struck up a conversation with Robinson and a typical bar pickup quickly became much more.
“I don’t typically do things like that but I just noticed that he was hot and someone I wanted to talk to,” Hellemann said. “The fact that he was black never crossed my mind.”
Both said they’ve had experience with interracial relationships in the past that were somewhat of an issue with their families but after open conversations about the topic it’s simply become a non-issue.
“My sister Kendra and I had already broken the family into interracial dating,” Robinson said. “They didn’t really care that my partner was white, what they had to get over was seeing the holding hands and putting my arm around another man’s shoulder.”
These three couples exemplify three very different perspectives and their stories may not offer any definite answer on the topic, but each said that being in a multicultural relationship in some way strengthened their bond. It forced them to experience life from the eyes of another, to learn something about a culture different from their own – information they may not have sought out otherwise – and it gave them a more enriched outlook on life.
There was a study done by Time magazine a few years ago that said because of the popularity of interracial love, in the next century everyone would be biracial and the idea of race as we know it would no longer exist. Are we, as a society, on that path now? Or do cases like the church in Kentucky mean we still have a long way to go?
~from Outlook Columbus