In the often hyper-masculine and desensitized world of the hip-hop industry, anti-gay attitudes are commonplace in the lyrics and public persona of today's rap artists. There is very little that can send shock waves like rumors of someone allegedly being gay. Just the mention of the word "gay" in this environment can unleash a furor of condemnation and panic among performers whose livelihood depends on projecting straight identities, even at the cost of denying their true self.
Straight artists who boldly initiate dialogue about the topic of gay people in hip-hop do so courageously. This is why recent comments made by platinum-selling artist The Game during an interview with DJ Vlad, creator of the popular hip-hop video news site VladTV.com, have caught people's attention.
The Game's comments have been met with both praise and criticism -- and rightly so. When asked if he believed a gay rapper could ever reach Eminem status, he responded: "I think there are several rappers that are in the closet and gay, and see those are the type of gay people -- the only type of gay people that I have a problem with. I don't have a problem with gay people... "
The Game is among a growing number of rappers and hip-hop moguls including Kanye West and Russell Simmons who have been very vocal in their support of the gay community. But while The Game's progressive approach towards the acceptance of people regardless of their orientation is commendable, his call for closeted gay rappers to come out is both welcomed and misguided.
The unfortunate fact remains that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people, especially LGBT people of color, face discrimination and violence at astounding rates. The lack of legal protections put everyday people who simply want to take care of themselves and the people they love at risk. For instance, in 29 states, a person can still be fired for being gay.
But in The Game's call for closeted gay rappers to come out, he fails to address the pervasive and deeply ingrained intolerance among his peers that have caused gay and bisexual rappers to lock the dead bolts on their closet doors. Lyrical hate speech disguised as art is not only accepted, it can be critically applauded. Such is the case of rapper Tyler The Creator, a recent MTV Video Music Awards winner for Best New Artist, whom, according to NME Magazine, uses an anti-gay slur and its variants a total of 213 times in his album. This complacence about using such language contributes to a hostile climate, and makes it challenging for gay rappers to come out.
To date, there hasn't been a single mainstream rapper to publicly state that he or she is gay or bisexual. Like society, the hip-hop industry has to ask itself why in 2011 are we not affording all of us to peacefully co-exist and earn a living without leaving a part of our identity behind. There are real consequences for perpetuating the lie that so many gay and bisexual men in and out of hip-hop are forced to live. The Game attempted to address this in the second half of his remarks to DJ Vlad, although well-intentioned, he deserves criticism for relying on stereotypes and urban myths to give dramatic effect to his statement:
Be gay, you can do that. Game don't have a problem with gay people. Game has a problem with people that are pretending not to be gay and are gay... because the number one issue with that is that you could be fooling somebody and you could give them AIDS and they can die... so that in the closet sh** is real scary. So we've got to get into the real seriousness of it and it's just not fair to other people. Then that sh** spreads because that girl that you might be fooling might leave you and go find another dude who ain't gay and give him the disease. And he goes and cheats on her, so it's an ongoing thing.
Are we still in 2011? The Game's logic around gay men and HIV/AIDS transmission may not have raised any eyebrows during the onset of the epidemic in the early 80s when very little information was known about how the virus was transmitted, but there is no excuse to perpetuate false information, especially to his core audience of African-American young adults who are the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. AIDS is not a gay disease; it's a people disease.
It can be argued that it's increasingly becoming a "black disease" if we're to believe recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) data. African-Americans only make up roughly 12 percent of the population but represent nearly 50 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS. Black gay and bisexual men caught up in the hysteria of the so-called "Down Low" have been unfairly and inaccurately labeled predators who view black women as their targets. Personal responsibility and accountability is important for both partners. According to Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of the CDC for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention, "HIV/AIDS among black women is being fueled by heterosexual black men with multiple partners." Let's not ignore facts and look for a convenient scapegoat for this complicated crisis.
The Game is taking a step in the right direction when he says, "It ain't cool to be in the closet. If you gay, just say you gay. Be gay and proud." However, I would add: It's not cool to be homophobic. If you want to know who among you is gay, create an environment where it is safe for them to come out and thrive. Ultimately, this is the way to offer solutions, instead of contributions, to the problem.