Commentary Sexuality

Something Happening Here: Hip Hop’s Recent Wave of Support for LGBT Rights

Tanene Allison

There's a new trend emerging that deserves to be documented. Here we find ourselves – it is the summer of 2012 and the season of hip hop taking the lead in expanding support for LGBT equality.

At this year’s SXSW, a local Texas rapper, Adair Lion, approached me about his upcoming project – an ambitious pro-LGBT rights rap video. He was nervous about the response he would get. As a straight, Texan, Latino rapper, making such a statement was a bold move in his career. But he knew that the musical expression of support could make a difference, particularly to young people, and so he was determined to take on the project.

When the video dropped on May 1st, we were prepared for a range of reactions.

What happened was a shocking amount of coverage of what Gawker called “the world’s first pro-gay rap song.” (There is actually a number of LGBT hip hop artists who have released prior work. But on the ally front, Adair very well could be first.)

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Perez Hilton, Time, MTV, lots of local and LGBT outlets all embraced the song. But, at the same time, a number of hip hop outlets ignored the release and a few asked to be taken off of Adair’s press list. But the negative was far overwhelmed by the positive response. It was clear that Adair’s video hit sort of a zeitgeist moment where support for LGBT equality could spread beyond the more obvious backers.

And then, nine days later, President Obama came out in support of marriage equality. And then the NAACP endorsed marriage equality. And then the National Council of La Raza endorsed marriage equality.

Almost directly after President Obama made his announcement, Jay-Z said that the President’s move was “the right thing to do” and added:

“I’ve always thought it as something that was still holding the country back,” Jay-Z said, referencing the fact that same-sex marriage is not recognized nationwide. “What people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. It’s no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination plain and simple.”

And then Will Smith also came out in support of marriage equality, saying, “If anybody can find someone to love them and to help them through this difficult thing that we call life, I support that in any shape or form.”

As spring rolled into summer, on Independence Day, artist Frank Ocean made music news by releasing a statement where he beautifully describes his experience of falling in love with a man. Shaking the hip hop world again, and bringing about a new round of challenge and support.

Def Jam founder, Russell Simmons, released this statement on Ocean:

Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are.  How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean.  Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These type of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do, and because of that I decided to write this short statement of support for one of the greatest new artists we have.  

His gifts are undeniable.  His talent, enormous.  His bravery, incredible. His actions this morning will uplift our consciousness and allow us to become better people.Every single one of us is born with peace and tranquility in our heart.  Frank just found his.

Frank, we thank you.  We support you.  We love you.

And then there is the rapper, 50 Cent, who has previously rapped and tweeted a long list of homophobic statements, including encouraging gay men to kill themselves. And yet, this week he expressed a clear and specific new perspective, saying he supports Ocean, as well as marriage equality, and looks forward to a world where LGBT individuals can be out without discrimination.

While this was all happening, California straight rapper Mur donned a “Legalize Gay” shirt and released a new video where he plays gay and calls out the discrimination against the community.

And then this week, Seattle-based hip-hop artist Macklemore released a beautiful pro-LGBT track.

There is definitely a noteworthy thing happening here.

Lion’s video came out in May, and the response was excited surprise that a hip hop artist made a pro-LGBT statement. And here we are in July, in a whole other world.

I know that this article is a bit of a laundry list of happenings. I think this extraordinary and moving timeline needs to be documented in full. And by looking at the full picture of the dominos falling, the swiftness of the hip hop culture shift can be viewed in its full glory.

When Lion released his music video Ben, he also released a statement about how the video came to be, and where he expressed the risk he faced. Writing, “In the hip-hop world it’s not only accepted – but it’s actually cool to use terms like faggot, queer, homo and gay, in a derogatory manner.”

That history of the genre is true. But it’s also true, as Jenée Desmond-Harris wrote in The Root – while covering Jay-Z and Smith’s statements – that some of these announcements were almost starting the obvious. Talking about Smith, Desmond-Harris pointed out that, “commonsense tolerance isn’t really a shocker coming from someone whom we’ve never known to be in the business of discrimination.”

Desmond-Harris ends her article with the question, “How long until celebs have to start making public proclamations when they’re against equality?”

It might take some time until we get to that place in the public debate. But hip hop is getting us there quicker. As a genre, hip hop started as a culture originally rooted in positive community and making beauty, oftentimes out of struggle. Original hip hop was about moving things forward and telling truths otherwise unheard. In the commercialization of the genre, a lot of that original style has been replaced by more mainstream marketing considerations. But here we find ourselves – it is the summer of 2012 and the season of hip hop taking the lead in expanding support for LGBT equality. As just one member of the LGBT community, let me say to the hip hop community: the respect is mutual.

News Politics

Poll: Majority of Texans Favor Legal Protections for Their LGBT Neighbors

Andrea Grimes

A new survey of likely Texas voters shows that a majority believe that discrimination against LGBT Texans is either a "major" or a "minor" problem and that they would support a state law protecting LGBT Texans from employment discrimination.

A new survey of likely Texas voters shows that a majority believe that discrimination against LGBT Texans is either a “major” or a “minor” problem and that they would support a state law protecting LGBT Texans from employment discrimination.

These poll results come in a year that has seen Texas lawmakers propose nearly two dozen laws that single out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans for discrimination—in some cases even creating criminal penalties if transgender people use certain public or school restrooms.

Texas Wins, a statewide coalition “committed to demonstrating true Texas values and protecting all Texans from discrimination,” on Wednesday released the results of the poll, which surveyed 800 Texans who identify across the political spectrum.

Close to 80 percent of respondents said that religious freedom “does not give any of us the right to harm others.”

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More than 64 percent of the voters surveyed said that they were “not very” or “not at all” convinced that same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom, and more than three-quarters of respondents said that “religion is extremely or very important to them.”

Terri Burke, the ACLU of Texas’ executive director, said in a press release that “Texas lawmakers are too busy perfecting a discrimination playbook to notice that their constituents have left them behind.”

More than half of the respondents would also oppose a proposed modification to state law that would provide more protections for Texans who discriminate against others based on their own religious beliefs, according to G Squared Public Strategies, which conducted the polling and worked for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Of the 800 likely voters surveyed, about 51 percent “identified as conservative,” and nearly 53 percent were women. Seventy percent said they were white, with Hispanic or Latino Texans making up 16.4 percent and Black Texans making up 8 percent of respondents.

Commentary Human Rights

We Are the Ones We Are Waiting For: The Promise of Intersectional Solidarity

Tanene Allison

Something new is starting to happen. The last two months have hosted a collection of headlines where one group has stepped up in active support of the rights of another group. Any movement – whether old or new – has only succeeded when actively embraced by allies beyond the most targeted group. What are the possibilities of this new road we’re walking down? What does it mean for all of us to “build that circle of our common safety that all of us deserve”?  

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for – or so we’ve often been told. But where that line was first spoken was in a poem written by the always prophetic June Jordan. As Jordan ended a poem about South African women in the struggle against Apartheid:

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for

Jordan passed away in 2002, but was ahead of her time in so many ways.

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One of her favorite topics to write about was “standing up.” And who stands up with or without that sweet company.

Over the last month, one of the most precious visions Jordan had started to dominate national headlines.

In an essay about Jordan, a bisexual Black female poet, joining with the Jewish community in Berkeley after a series of recent attacks and threats, she wrote:

And maybe the unity of resistance to hatred that will stop that hatred seems improbable. Maybe an orthodox Jewish congregation will never stand in protective vigil outside a gay and lesbian community center, or the clinic of an abortion provider. Maybe a Black student organization will never rally for Asian American Rights. And maybe gay and lesbian activists will not boldly interpose themselves between a synagogue and a “Phineas Priest.”

Maybe none of us will ever recognize that all of us are wrongfully, equally, condemned: The Spawn of the Devil.

Maybe. But, meanwhile, I am moving on an irrepressible wish that all of us will: All of us will build that circle of our common safety that all of us deserve.

The above quote came back to me when I read the recent New York Times article about new collaborations between African American rights groups and LGBT rights groups.

Swiftly following President Obama’s declaration of support for marriage equality, the NAACP issued a statement in support as well. And then a collection of national LGBT rights groups announced that they would march in protest of “stop-and-frisk,” a police tactic in New York City that unfairly harasses the Black and Latino communities.

Something new is starting to happen.

And then we see the theme continue. In large part due to the diversity and bravery of Dream Act students in the United States, there has been on-going collaboration between the Latino and LGBT communities on passing protections for undocumented youth. As soon as Obama announced his policy change on this topic, the National Center for Lesbian Rights released a statement of strong support.

And then, just days later, the other NCLR, the National Council for La Raza, released the huge and important news that their board voted to unanimously support marriage equality.

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for

June would be thrilled had she lived to see this time in history.

This trend goes beyond large-scale organizations and policy announcements. While thinking about this beautiful happening, I came across this recent Ill Doctrine video, made by the always-insightful Jay Smooth.

Here is Jay giving a tutorial to men – or anyone in any particular position of privilege – on how to respond in defense when a woman – or anyone in any particular position of not holding privilege – is attacked online.

In Michigan, where a female legislator was banned from the State House floor after mentioning the word “vagina” during a debate on abortion, women around the country and world took note. Eve Ensler flew out to host a performance of the Vagina Monologues on the State House steps. In the crowd of the protest, you could see some men standing in support, including one holding a sign that read “Team Vagina.”

What are the possibilities of this new road we’re walking down? What does it mean for all of us to “build that circle of our common safety that all of us deserve?” What meaningful and beautiful power could that possibly hold?

I think Jay Smooth’s video has a lot to teach around this more expansive responsibility and opportunity. Any intersectional alignment requires a sense of awareness beyond your own interests. And an awareness that extends out to realize where whatever power you or your community holds could impact or protect a community who will benefit from it. Embodied in this awareness is also an openness and appreciation of diversity. Of reaching beyond the spheres of those who identify most like you, and embracing a sense of humanity that may not be as directly familiar to you.

And then there’s the action component. The literally putting of bodies on the line, in the form of white allies during the civil rights movement, in the form of LGBT community members marching to protest abuse against African Americans and Latinos. It comes in the form of a straight person speaking up among friends when a homophobic remark is made. It comes in the form of Veteran “Patriot Guard” bikers riding in solidarity to block Fred Phelps’ hateful protest from being seen at funerals.

“And who will join this standing up/and the ones who stood without sweet company” – are the lines which introduce the answer of “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

The future is upon us in this fresh collaboration of voices. Any movement – whether old or new – has only succeeded when actively embraced by allies beyond the most targeted group. Jordan’s “irrepressible wish that all of us will: All of us will build that circle of our common safety that all of us deserve” – is coming true and changing the potential of, and for, all of us.