Maikel Atez gets a rainbow flag painted on his arm at the Athens Pride Street Festival in Athens, Georgia on Sunday, September 10, 2017. (Photo/ Emily Haney, emilyhaney.com)

On Nov. 8-9, The Black Theatrical Ensemble debuted their Drama Troupe Showcase in the Cellar Theatre of the Fine Arts building. The organization’s mission of “shedding light on the Black experience” was certainly upheld through performances about sexual assault, rape culture, police brutality, homophobia and more.

The performances by black and non-black students were exceptional. A particularly moving performance was done by fourth year Entertainment Media Studies Major Jaquan Hutcherson from Columbia, South Carolina. In his moving piece, Hutcherson detailed how homophobia affected his life.

“My whole life inspired my performance,” said Hutcherson. “Being black is something you can't escape. You go out into the world and they see you as that. My sexuality is something that is so fundamental to who I am. It’s something I can’t get rid of. It’s an intersectionality that is really hard to navigate and that has affected my life in real ways. Homophobia in the black community is rampant.”

Through a poem, Hutcherson spelled out the struggles a young black queer person endures. He touched on suicide, finding inspiration from a nine year old boy who committed suicide.

“A nine year old boy felt so down and dark that he had to leave. He had to hang himself. That’s what people don’t understand. That’s what homophobia does. It kills you slowly over time. Even as a young child and we don’t all make it.”

Hutcherson has suffered from suicidal thoughts himself.

“I remember one time laying in bed and starting to choke myself, thinking ‘what would it be like if I just died right now? Would I feel better? Would I finally feel at peace resting in who I am in this identity and how ashamed my family is of me?’”

Hearing these words leave his mouth left me speechless. I felt his pain. His experience put into words captivated me. I finally understood how damaging homophobia can be. The dismissal of your very existence like Hutcherson said kills you slowly.

“To simultaneously be in a community but know that community doesn’t accept you fully is like splitting yourself. You don’t feel like you can authentically be yourself. You’re not respected and you are not treated fairly. For whatever reason, who you love and what you do in the bedroom matters to people even if its not with them. The best thing to compare it to is racism. Its an ‘ism’.”

According to a report from the University of Pennsylvania, there are only 21 out of the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the U.S. that have LGBTQ organizations on campus. Institutions that are fundamentally built under social justice and activism are not inclusive of all the identities within the black community.

Though riddled with the oppression of being black and queer, Hutcherson rises and finds beauty in his identity.

“To be black and queer is so magical. It's fantastic. It took a long time for me to love myself and I just want people to make a world where that doesn’t have to happen. We need that love and affection taught to us instead of being taught to hate ourselves. It’s not a curse to be  black and gay. It’s a honor and I wear it proudly. I just want the world to see us for who we are and not who they perceive us to be.”

Second year fashion merchandising major Maya Fordham from Ellenwood, Georgia echoes the same sentiment.

“In a world where it can be dangerous to be black and gay, being both gives me such pride in my identities because I know by simply living my life and existing without reservations it makes way for another generation of black queer youth to be whoever they want to be. I know that by just being myself it can be some form of activism because there are so many people who would wish harm on me simply for being black and/or queer.”

Tiya Sutton, a fourth year entertainment and media tudies from Los Angeles, however, had a positive experience being black and queer at UGA. But she does not let that diminish the struggles of others.

“Being black and queer can be hard, and not everyone is fortunate to have a positive experience,” said Sutton, “So it’s important to realize that and help those when you can.”

Sitting down with black queer students was truly an eye opening experience for me. As a student who is involved in several social justice spaces, I think of myself as an advocate for marginalized identities. However, there is so much we can learn from each other.

The struggles of queer black people are real and prevalent. They are suffocated by the the judgement of the world. It is up to us, to show up as true allies and speak to our peers to properly advocate for them. Let's support our black brothers and sisters.

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