Should Frank Ocean be the spokesman for ‘Down Low’ brothas?

    On Independence Day this year, Frank revealed that his first love was a man.

    "4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too," Frank wrote in an open letter posted to his Tumblr earlier this week. "We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. Sleep I would often share with him."

    The singer didn’t understand the depth of his feelings for this man until it was too late. "By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless," Frank stated. "There was no escaping, no negotiating to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with.”

 Frank’s eloquent letter to the world about his sexuality was raw and honest. He didn’t make his sexuality a spectacle. He was just being himself and for that I will forever have the highest level of respect for him.

    For many people within the hip-hop community, Frank’s revelation was welcomed with open arms and free of judgment. But after surfing the blogs and reading the comments, I kept seeing: “I hope Frank’s coming out party can show A LOT of these brother’s who are on the LOW to come out!"

    Since when did Frank Ocean go from talented singer-songwriter to the new poster boy for Black men coming out of the closet? I didn’t see Anderson Cooper, who also came out recently, becoming the new face of GLADD overnight. 

    There are "DL" brothas in every culture, but in the Black community, being on the DL carries a stigma.

    A guy on the "down low" hasn’t (or won’t) admit that he’s gay or bisexual and continues to be in relationships—often sexual—with women. With the severely high numbers of HIV/AIDS cases in the Black community, men on the "DL" have been shown to transmit HIV to their unsuspecting female partners in disproportionate numbers. Check out these stats from a CDC study published in 2003:
        •    “African American men who have sex with men (MSM), but who do not disclose their sexual orientation (nondisclosers), have a high prevalence of HIV infection (14%); nearly three times higher than nondisclosing MSMs of all other races/ethnicities combined (5%).
        •    Confirming previous research, the study of 5,589 MSM, aged 15–29 years, in six U.S. cities found that African American MSM were more likely not to disclose their sexual orientation compared with white MSM (18% vs. 8%).
        •    HIV-infected nondisclosers were less likely to know their HIV status (98% were unaware of their infection compared with 75% of HIV-positive disclosers), and more likely to have had recent female sex partners.”

    The members of the Black community—especially those with strict religious beliefs—have a long history of alienating young Black men for being gay or bisexual. Make note, this can apply to men of all races. But within the Black community, particularly within the hip-hop community, proving your masculinity is an important factor in establishing your identity.

    Our community refuses to promote discussion and dialogue on sexuality, gender, race and AIDS. Black homosexual men have been stereotyped as pathological liars and cheaters, a danger to women and a threat to masculinity. No wonder they’re forming violent gangs, taking weapons to schools for protection, and compelled to lead double lives.

 We’ve made tremendous progress toward LGBTQ rights in the U.S., but we still have a ways to go within our own community.

    Frank’s story should be used as a platform to begin the discussion on how to move forward in addressing LGBTQ issues and rights within the Black community, homosexuality and religion, and how we can disregard the stereotypes that are associated with the labels "gay," "bisexual," "transgendered," and "on the down low." Let’s educate, not hate. 

Frank wrote in closing, “I don’t know what happens now and that’s alright. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore."

    —Malaika Nicholas



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