For years, rumors of Queen Latifah’s sexuality have swirled around the talk show diva, but she’s continued to sidestep them with vague and neutral language, prompting many to wonder if she’ll ever answer the questions head-on and either come out as a lesbian or put the rumors to rest. Recently, the debate was once again reignited when Latifah—along with Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Madonna, and Mary Lambert—officiated the marriage of 33 gay couples at the Grammy award celebration during the performance of “Same Love.”
While many heralded the moment as groundbreaking and moving, others wondered why Latifah was involved given her coyness around her sexuality and the fact that she keeps her private life under wraps and never discusses it. As a matter of fact, she said last year, “I’ve never dealt with the question of my personal life in public. It’s just not gonna happen.”
Friend and fellow writer, Cameron Johnson took to Facebook to air his frustration: “When Latifah refused to come out, Ryan Lewis literally took her mic and ushered her offstage.”
His comment led me to ask, “Why does she HAVE to come out? Maybe she just wants to keep her private life private. If she came out publicly there would be a collective shrug.” Which led us to have a longer exchange about whether or not Black celebrities have an obligation to make their sexuality public.
As a Black gay man, Cameron argues that Black gay celebs have a responsibility to disclose their sexuality publicly to help fight stereotypes and normalize homosexuality in our community. And while I understand his reasoning, I’m not quite sure Black gay celebs should be tasked with such a responsibility in the first place.
What follows is a conversation that we hope will open a wider, equally respectful dialogue.
Britni Danielle: Since the film Set It Off there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not Queen Latifah is gay. She played her role as Cleo so convincingly, many just assumed she was. I’ve never met Latifah, but L.A. is a small town and I’ve obviously heard rumors that she is a lesbian. Despite all of the talk and pressure from the LGBT community to come out, she has been very guarded about her private life. In previous interviews she has mentioned wanting to settle down and have kids, and I vaguely remember her talking about getting married…to a man…but this was back in the 90s when being gay, let along Black and gay, was much more taboo than it is today.
While I understand (sorta…perhaps not fully, as I’m a hetero woman) what having Black celebs come out publicly (which does not mean they’ve been living closeted lives AT ALL, btw) may mean a lot to those in the Black LGBT community, stating that ALL Black gay celebs “have an obligation to have a press conference and come out,” as you argued on Facebook just seems a bit much.
I mean, my first reaction is to say, why does Latifah need to come out via a news conference in 2014 when most people assume she’s gay anyway? What would her putting her romantic life on public display actually accomplish?
Cameron Johnson: So, here’s the thing: there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that points to Queen Latifah being a lesbian. There’s no need to go into too much further detail, but by describing the gay rumors as the result of her performance in Set it Off, you’re painting the picture in far grayer terms (unlike her performance at the Long Beach Black Gay Pride parade) than they truly are (like this). The point here isn’t necessarily that we need to spend time speculating about her sexuality. That is, as you said, her business, but my point is a different one.
Specifically, it’s this: statistics show that the primary factor in the reduction of homophobic views like antipathy towards gay marriage and rights of equal protection and violence towards gay people come from knowing and/or loving a person who is gay. We black people love our role models, and as a black woman who has starred in movies, sold millions of records and has her own TV show, Queen Latifah has the opportunity to be an excellent one. She has the chance to say, “I’m gay, that’s normal and I’m just like a person you care about.”
More than that, by staying silent in public, she takes advantage of rights and privileges that people have fought and died for since Stonewall, yet does nothing to support them. By doing that, she laughs in the face of every black gay child who has attempted suicide or sat in a church and wondered why God would condemn them to for simply loving who they want to love. For the sake of her privacy, she giggles at every person who has ever marched, sued or advocated for gay rights. Is it a responsibility? Of course. Is it fair? Absolutely not. But much of life isn’t fair, and as a celebrity, her visibility comes with increased accountability for her actions.
I don’t need her to talk about it all the time or make it the crux of her existence, but if she’s going to officiate a series of same-sex marriages, I need her to say quickly, quietly, “I, too am gay, and these are my rights we’re celebrating, too.” But if she won’t, then I’m going to need her to step her black ass to the side while courageous people are willing to do what she is scared to.
So, does she have to take on the responsibility? No. All she has to do is stay black and die. She has every right to shirk it, but it sure would be nice if she were brave.
Britni Danielle: Again, I fully acknowledge my hetero-privilege and the fact that I don’t know what it’s like being a Black gay person in need of role models, so perhaps what I say has no merit at all. I understand wanting more gay Black celebs to publicly come out in order to serve as role models for others, the thing I have an issue with is the idea of “obligation.”
On Facebook, you said they are all “obligated” to come out via press conference, but I don’t think we should apply the burden of putting a public spotlight on one’s romantic dealings when the end result may very will be a collect yawn, particularly for Queen Latifah (as it was for Anderson Cooper).
I am also not particularly clear on what rights Latifah has inherited as a result of Stonewall short of being able to be public with her girlfriend and/or wife if she ever chooses to do so, in which case she wouldn’t need to “come out” via press conference because it will be evident. Which, I felt, is what Latifah was doing when those photos of her and Jeanette Jenkins popped up back in 2010. One of my points about Latifah not needing to come out then was that, look, she’s on a boat loving up on her woman–isn’t that enough?
I empathize with the need to have more Black gay celebs out that may be able to normalize being a Black and Gay in our community. My heart aches for the kids who are struggling to reconcile who they are with who they’ve been told to be (by their parents, their faith, their community). I’m just really not sure what having XYZ Black celeb coming out would do to comfort a teen who sits in a church Sunday after Sunday hearing that they are an abomination and will go to hell.
Also, what will it mean if Latifah, or some other celeb, says, “Fine, fine, I’m a lesbian…” but then never discusses it in public again?
I will concede that Latifah marrying gay couples and performing at Pride Festivals continues to stoke rumors of her sexuality, but in practical terms, whatever she’s doing now is probably what she’ll be doing if/when she comes out–keeping her private life private. And other than confirming what most people believe already known, I’m not sure her announcement, if it ever happens, comfort anyone because it will be met with a collective groan of “What took you so long!”
Cameron Johnson: Press conference may have been too strong, but obligation wasn’t. Even if she’s only out in her private life, that means she takes advantage of the increased levels of acceptance that have come as a result of brave people coming out over the past few decades. All that not getting beat up or overtly discriminated against for being gay she may be experiencing is as a result of my sweat and the work of those who lost far more than I ever did. The Pride parade thing is a particular point of contention because those were literally created in order to raise gay visibility. Besides, she may also be taking advantage of things like palimony, domestic partnership, property rights and anti-discrimination laws that we just don’t know about because the documents aren’t public.
I think our difference is this: you seem to be looking at this from an old-school, traditional “Live and let live it ain’t nobody’s business” point of view. I understand that, but I also know how that attitude kills people. How that attitude of “love the sinner, hate the sin” makes public homophobia okay, and how that attitude creates icy silences over dinner tables that just never seem to end. Not every gay person agrees with me, but to me, it’s dangerous, and the only way to end it is to say the words.
So, yes, it’s her business, and if she ever does come out, we’ll all laugh for a moment that it took her so long, but she will have done it. And fortunately, the “what took you so longs” matter, too.
What do you think? Do Black gay celebrities and public figures have an obligation to come out publicly? Weigh in on the debate!
Cameron Johnson is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and creator of the web series Try This Instead, which is a “satirical web-series on how to avoid racism in the modern world,” premiering February 18th. Head over to Facebook for more details on the show and find him on Twitter at @CameronJAwesome.