I’ve encountered many people recently who believe the gay (or more accurately, queer) rights movement is nearing its close. The U.S. Supreme Court is ruling on marriage equality, and America is statistically moving closer toward queer acceptance. While this certainly signals progress, we cannot forget that gay marriage and a trend toward acceptance doesn’t signal victory in the movement. We still see examples of blatant homophobia.
Recently, Lil Wayne and Birdman, owner of Cash Money Records, have feuded regarding Lil Wayne’s release of “Tha Carter V.” The rapper has cited feeling like a prisoner to his recording company, implying the delays are restricting his creative freedom.
Regardless of whether Lil Wayne really is a prisoner, what’s more noteworthy and problematic is Birdman’s reaction to this criticism. In response, Birdman has publicly announced that Lil Wayne is “a homosexual,” that all music detailing Lil Wayne’s sexual encounters with women is a façade to maintain his reputation, and that Lil Wayne has expressed sexual and romantic interest in Birdman, Rick Ross and, in particular, Drake.
Whether or not these accusations are true, they point to the perpetuation of same-sex attraction as an undesirable trait that can elicit shame and embarrassment.
If Birdman’s statement is true, it shows his disrespect and disregard for the difficulties and oppression that come from a queer identity, especially when considering the homophobia in the hip-hop community. While I cannot understand the experience of being queer and a hip-hop artist, rappers can provide depictions that certainly provide me perspective and empathy. For example, Angel Haze, a queer, female hip-hop artist who remixed “Same Love,” has gone on record saying that being gay in hip-hop is still stigmatized.
Additionally, T-Pain, a straight-identifying hip-hop artist, has spoken out about the realities of homophobia. He also identified that it’s harder for queer-identifying artists to feature on songs, saying that gay-identifying artist Frank Ocean isn’t welcome in certain scenarios. “I know (artists) that will not do a song with Frank Ocean just because he is gay, but they need him on the fucking song.”
Given these insights into the community, I can’t imagine the difficulties of Lil Wayne navigating a queer identity. Beside the disadvantage of losing work, he would have to continuously perpetuate a persona to maintain credibility. It’s a mask that he would have to wear proudly, regardless of how much this defies his internal desires and passions. And the heartache of developing unrequited love for your peers who never reciprocate must also be excruciating. Developing romantic feelings for your fellow artists and peers, only for them to continuously and disgustedly reject you, must strike a chord in the most painful manner. It is, without a doubt, not Birdman’s place to publicize this pain. His ability to frivolously out an artist demonstrates homophobic undertones at the least, and full-blown prejudice against queers at worst.
However, there’s also the possibility that Lil Wayne doesn’t have a queer identity, and Birdman falsified this statement in an attempt to hurt his label’s artist.
If it is a lie, it’s still a portal into intense homophobia. Out of every lie Birdman could use, he landed on same-sex attraction. This indicates that he views gay-identifying people with a heightened level of disdain — perhaps even as a personification of evil. It’s not just an insult he could make up to hurt his fellow recorder, it’s the insult. The one with the most poisonous bite, the most painful sting. That’s unacceptable.
Birdman’s homophobia doesn’t exist within a vacuum in the hip-hop community. As I’ve previously discussed, it’s an example of the systematic homophobia present in today’s culture. We see examples everywhere. Rapper and actor Lord Jamar used the negative connotation of the term “queer” to reference Kanye West wearing a skirt to a benefit concert. Even Tyler, The Creator, who openly advocates for LBGTQ rights, undermines queer-identifying people by using the term “faggot” in some of his music.
Homophobia isn’t just a problem in the hip-hop community. Many subcultures contain an anti-queer bias. LGBTQ students in rural areas report less safety associated with revealing their identities. Religious communities frequently utilize their religious texts as a means to equate queer with sin. Many queer people of color also experience increased homophobia within and outside their ethnic communities.
These community biases come together to show that the queer movement is far from finished. We’re seemingly moving in the right direction, but there’s so much progress left to make besides legalizing gay marriage. Though it could be the final homophobic barrier for those living in accepting subcultures, many still exist in communities that are fighting for equal levels of respect. If Lil Wayne truly is gay, his sexuality is the root of a huge scandal and internal strife. If he’s not, other closeted and non-closeted artists are. And many others, particularly those in homophobic rural, religious and/or ethnic communities are also suffering.
What about their lived experiences? What about the oppression they face? We must continue recognizing prejudice so we can continue crushing it.
Michael Schramm can be reached at email@example.com.