In recognizing Black History Month, GSBA is working to amplify Black voices and histories by celebrating the undeniable impact Black LGBTQ activists have had on the LGBTQ civil rights movement, shed light on the specific intersection of Black and LGBTQ identities, and continue the crucial conversation about racial injustice in Washington State. As a part of this work, several GSBA Scholars who identify as Black and LGBTQ have generously shared their stories, thoughts about intersectionality, what Black History means to them, and about what actions make for a strong allyship.
First-Year GSBA Scholar Astro Pittman (He/him) was born in Italy, raised in Texas, and calls Austin his hometown. Astro has lived in Seattle for over a decade, and is in his junior year at Seattle Central College, pursuing his Baccalaureate in Applied Behavioral Science/Social Work. His focus is on the LGBTQ+ recovery community, specifically those struggling with active substance use disorders and addictions. A recovered addict himself, he seeks to be a beacon of hope while helping others recover.
GSBA: What is your favorite thing about being Black and LGBTQ?
Astro: Communities of color have long been proud of their own separate cultural identities that aren’t reflective of the homogenous society that the White patriarchy seems to encourage. There is a strength of character that comes with being fiercely proud of - and standing unwaveringly in - your own unique identity. As a Queer man of color who defies the stereotypes that others have tried to imprint upon me, I have learned to revel in my own individuality. I have no need to assimilate into expected, predictable roles. Instead, I celebrate the parts of me that my naysayers have tried to suppress. I don’t have to choose the path that others have tried to lay out for me. I get to blaze my own trail, as so many brave souls before me have done.
GSBA: What’s a misconception or stereotype about being Black and LGBTQ that you would like to call out?
Astro: Many people approach being Black from the “one drop” perspective, which says that anyone who has even a drop of African blood should automatically identify with being Black more than with any other facet of their ethnic makeup. I disagree. I happen to be multiracial, and so, I celebrate my multicultural and multifaceted identities as all being equally essential components of my self-awareness and identification. I have taken from each part of me the beliefs, values, and expressions I love most, and woven them together into an amalgamate that makes me feel complete and vibrant. Part of that includes being a fiercely defiant and unique Queer man of color.
GSBA: In what ways would you like to see people honor Black lives, histories, and experiences throughout the year, and not just in February?
Astro: I would like to call attention to the environmental racism that many people of color experience every day. In their neighborhoods and communities, people of color are commonly subjected to poor air quality, lack of healthful foods, and toxins and pollutants. There is also the still all-too-prevalent stigma around Black men, crime, and incarceration. We know that the prison pipeline is set up to keep men of color in a revolving door of discrimination through recidivism and lack of opportunity, and once a person gets trapped in this cycle it is extremely difficult to escape it.
We need to support young Black people, especially young Black men, being given the opportunity to receive higher education and better options for their future than the ones they often see in their immediate environments. We need to mentor and inspire them to rise into their full potential. If these young people don’t have better role models, they will not strive for and achieve more than what they see reflected back at them in their communities.
(Editor's note: Learn more about the school-to-prison pipeline here and the fight against environmental racism in Washington here.)
GSBA: As an LGBTQ+ person of color, what are some of the behaviors and principles of a good ally which you appreciate and would like to see people do more of?
Astro: I am a firm believer that the future of Queer people of color will partially rest in the hands of our allies, and so we need more of them, and we need those we have to be more vocal about standing with us. I would ask that our allies give LGBTQ+ people permission to have a different truth than the one you expected. Listen to us. Don’t make assumptions. Assumptions suggest a power dynamic of one person knowing better than the other, and unhealthy power dynamics (like slavery, incarceration and other forms of oppression) are a large part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Let us be the experts of our own lives.
We, as fellow human beings, need to stop letting our differences get in the way, and start celebrating our similarities. We need to stop fostering division and factionalism within our communities. Although it is important that we all feel seen and have an identity and a community, these things should not come at the cost of unity with one another. If you see or hear someone mistreating, denigrating or slandering an LGBTQ+ person of color, say something! The only way these behaviors will cease is if our allies make it very clear to mainstream communities that these behaviors are unacceptable and will be stopped if they are witnessed. We are mighty when we stand united.
Thank you, Astro, for taking the time to share your story and dive into these crucial issues.
February is Black History Month, and we encourage all GSBA Members to celebrate Black lives, culture, and history not only this month - but all year long
. You can dine and shop intentionally by supporting the Black-owned small businesses in our community. Check out this guide
by GSBA Member Intentionalist of Black-owned businesses throughout the Puget Sound, including several GSBA Members.
The GSBA Scholarship Fund is one of the oldest and most active LGBTQ scholarship programs in the country. The scholarship program works to empower students with marginalized intersectional identities within the LGBTQ+ community and provides not only financial support for LGBTQ+ students, but a network of support, skills-based workshops, and a yearly three-day leadership immersion camp. In 2019, $500,000 was invested in 50 LGBTQ+ and allied students, 46% of whom identify as trans and/or gender diverse, and 72% who identify as students of color. This year, we are proud to invest $600,000 in 60 scholars for the GSBA Scholarship Fund's 30th year. Meet your scholars and hear their stories during the 2020 Scholars Dinner on Friday, May 15. If you are unable to join us, please consider investing in our future leaders.