This month I’ve been sharing candid stories of people in the LGBTQIA+ community, like my nephew Jalen and my own story. Today I’m honored to share my conversation with black activist and educator, Jamal Taylor. You might know him as @lemmeeducateyou on Instragram or from his So Informed podcast or live streams with Jess Natale from @so.informed. Pictured below are a couple of his recent posts from Instagram.
For years, I have adored following Jamal on social media as he fearlessly elevates important political and social issues while operating from a place of love. He says endearing things like, "I love you on purpose," and he continuously reminds us of our fundamental right to exist unapologetically.
I am so grateful to Jamal for chatting with me in the interview below. As with all of the stories in this blog series, I hope you or someone you know in the LGBTQIA+ community finds them to be enlightening and empowering.
Before we dive in, please note that this interview may contain triggering content for those who have experienced sexual assault.
Tell us about your personal LGBTQIA+ journey.
I don’t know that I have ever actually thought about my sexuality. There was no moment where I thought, “I’m gay.” I just knew I was gay when I was dancing to Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis.
Being a gay black boy in the South (Louisiana) was a very precarious thing. It meant that I didn’t feel comfortable coming out. When I was growing up, my Mom asked me if I was gay once and I told her no. It was always just easier for me to hide it.
I didn’t start to become comfortable with my own sexuality until college. During that time I really started having feelings and emotions and actually acting on them. I was probably 30 years old before I became comfortable with other people knowing my sexuality. I felt like I was doing a disservice to every other gay person that I knew by not sharing that part of me.
When I started coming out to my friends, they all knew already. As for my family, my two sisters have always been ferociously protective of me. My one sister would defend me in high school when people called me gay. My Mom doesn’t agree with it—she wasn’t happy and reminded me that she asked me before and I said I wasn’t gay. She was always afraid of the stereotypes around HIV. But I’m her child and she loves me so she respects it. I’m thankful for that. As far as my extended family, I don’t really have the type of relationship with them to talk to them about it.
How has your identity (and/or coming out) impacted your mental health?
First of all, I have other reasons to be fucked up besides being gay. I’m a sexual assault survivor. I was sexually assaulted by two of my family members when I was younger. Statistically the LGBTQ+ community experiences higher rates of sexual assault. For me, I’m cis-presenting but my mannerisms are soft and they took advantage of that; it was a power grab. Some of the damage has stayed with me. I’m very guarded with people and that certainly impacts my relationships. I have to tell every guy I’m with that if they sleep over they can’t touch me in my sleep. I’m happy to cuddle and things like that, but assault on a child does lasting damage.
I go to therapy weekly, I’m not ashamed of that and I talk about it all the time. I talk to my therapist about my sexuality sometimes, but it’s not a major topic. It’s more about how I need to actually leave my house in order to find someone to date.
You’ve talked about being Christian on social media so how does your identity affect your relationship with religion?
I’m Christian but not necessarily “religious.” I have gone to Catholic, Baptist, and non-denominational churches. I am a believer in a higher power. I’d much rather believe in a higher power and find out it isn’t real than not believe and find out it is real. There are some religious people that try to tell me and others in the gay community how to think, feel, and behave. It benefits people to manipulate religion for power. But I’m an educated person and can read and understand scripture on my own. I don’t give stock to people and their nonsense. I’m never going to say that I have to change my life because the Pope said XYZ isn’t acceptable.
I respect other people’s right to have their beliefs as long as that belief isn’t weaponized against me. Buddhists, Atheists—these are all people. And I choose love above all things. If I take anything from scriptural teaching it’s to love unapologetically. Do I have to like you to love you? No. Can I see myself in you even with all of your faults and flaws? Probably, yes.
Have you faced any unique challenges or discrimination in forming and maintaining relationships?
For a long time I wasn’t sure of myself. The discomfort of others made me uncomfortable. With age (36) and seasoning, I realized that people are entitled to whatever emotion they want to have, but it’s not going to regulate who I am or what I do. I’m going to be myself—joyously myself.
I’ve experienced discrimination and hateful comments. People have called me a “faggot” or “sissy,” behind my back. Never to my face of course because I’m a bigger guy—6’3”. And whenever someone tells me what someone else said about me, I always counter with, “Well, what did you say when they said that about me?” because it’s important for people to speak up.
I get it wrong sometimes too though and have had to teach myself how to engage more thoughtfully, even within the LGBTQ+ community. Hate is taught. People grow up in racist or bigoted communities their whole life and that’s all they know. They grow up without any black people or gay people near them and don’t understand. So I think grace should be extended to everybody. I had to do a lot of my own unlearning as well.
In my line of work, my greatest joy is when I post something or say something and someone will message me and say that they can now see how something they were saying or doing was hurtful. Or they’ll say something I said really resonated with them and they appreciate it. I love those messages the most because it’s a reminder of my humanity and theirs.
What are your thoughts on LGBTQ+ representation in media, society, and pop culture? Have you found role models or individuals who inspire you within the LGBTQ+ community?
The media creates hate just to perpetuate hate. Their portrayal is horrible and skewed. They’ll weaponize almost anything so I think people in our community should exist freely but be aware of what could create risk or harm to others. I’m always cognizant of the media and try to be thoughtful about how I present myself and certain topics.
Sometimes I’m bothered by the portrayal of gay black men in shows and movies. There seems to be very limited cis gender masculine-presenting gay men. I want my sisters and brothers that are more feminine and trans to have the spotlight, but I don’t see a lot of me out there. There aren’t a lot of healthy gay relationships being portrayed. I want to see more than commercials about HIV prevention. I want to see regular gay people living regular lives. The only gay black person I saw growing up was RuPaul and I didn’t want to be a drag queen so who was I supposed to create myself from? How was I to learn to exist and be comfortable with my sexuality? How was I to know what a healthy relationship looked like?
As for role models, I think of Bayard Rustin as someone who gives me hope. He was a black gay activist who was a close advisor to Dr. King. He was heavily involved in the church and an advocate for nonviolence. Look him up—he makes you think about what it means to exist and show up authentically even with so much against you.
How would you define pride?
Pride means being unapologetically and authentically yourself without condition or restriction. To participate in Pride is to show up as your true self without the reservation of what other people will think about you.
Thank you so much to Jamal for opening up about his LGBTQIA+ journey. Although it might be hard not to let others steal our joy, Jamal reminds us of the power of living authentically and extending grace and love whenever possible.
If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it. Each of our experiences holds immeasurable power, capable of inspiring and empowering others. Whether it's a triumph, a struggle, or a moment of self-discovery, your story deserves to be heard. Please share it loudly and proudly!
Happy Pride Month!
Social media: @alisonrosevintage