Jay-Z, Denzel, Peyton, and the Gay-Marriage Issue

“I’ve always thought of it as something that’s still holding the country back. You know, what people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. It’s no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination plain and simple.”

“I think it’s the right thing to do, so whether it costs him [Barack Obama] votes or not — again, it’s not about votes. It’s about people. So whether it costs him votes or not, I think it’s the right thing to do as a human being.”

Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, age 42, on Obama and gay marriage.
May 14, 2012. As told to CNN.

I know this to be a big deal.

Perhaps my feelings on this are skewed because of the 25-year Black People Immersion Program that is my life, but I’ve long considered blacks to be a noticeably intolerant group with regard to homosexuality. A good deal of this is rooted in the various religious faiths that commonly link themselves to black populations, some of it is related to long-term discrimination that somehow fuels the need to discriminate against others, and a significant chunk is simply not being comfortable with lifestyles that make you uncomfortable. Regardless of the reason, I’ve long thought about what options were out there, outside of simple generational shifts, that could expedite the process of many blacks tolerating, or even accepting, gays. And for better or worse, my answer has always been linked to some form of celebrity movement, announcement, or revelation.

Expanding the scope for a second, when it comes to the public’s perception of gay people, my theory has long been if a certain type of celebrity came out, it could potentially make a believer out many long-time discriminators against gays. Whenever I’ve had this conversation (internally or with others), it’s always come down to that famous individual being (1) a male, (2) a MAN (in the most stereotypically “macho” sense of the word), and (3) an extremely famous athlete, actor, or musician. And up until recently, the way this conversation usually ended was the same: If Peyton Manning were gay, America would explode with equality. But Peyton isn’t gay, so that hasn’t happened yet.

Thinking back more closely on the black population, there are only a handful of options who might have the same impact. If Denzel Washington announces tomorrow that he’s gay, everything is different. For good. I promise. Same for Michael Jordan in his prime. 50 Cent? Absolutely. If Biggie and/or Tupac had suddenly come out while they were alive, again, there is no doubt in my mind 2012 would be a more tolerant America. It would have made people do complete 180s, with individuals saying to themselves, “Well, if ________ is gay, it can’t be that bad. Right? Right?” This is how I assumed it would eventually have to occur for rapid, widespread change to take place. But for some reason, it was always someone coming out of the closet, and never someone simply endorsing the lifestyle. It just didn’t seem possible.

Since I’ve been in college, I’ve identified myself as an “ally,” a term commonly used for straight people who openly support progressing gay rights. One thing that I’ve noticed by putting myself in this position — which is a reason so many people probably aren’t — is that the second you come out in favor of gay rights, especially as a man, and especially as a black man, a common assumption is that you’re probably gay. That’s the very reason why I never assumed it was even in the cards for a straight rapper to do something like express his or her support of gay marriage. Only someone in a position of irreversible power and influence could pull it off, and there are only a handful of people who fit that description in the storied history of hip-hop.

The fact that Jay-Z made this statement yesterday was a surprise, but in some ways it almost had to be him. He’s not the first rapper to come out and support gay marriage (according to the always-to-be-trusted-on-these-sort-of-facts creative collective Ego Trip, there have been three others: El-P, Chuck D, and, of course, Fat Joe), but at this very crucial moment in the discourse, if anyone was “allowed” to truly express themselves on an issue that their line of work has long not supported, it was Shawn. And conversely, if anyone were less concerned with the potential fallout that will inevitably come from supporting gay marriage (just take a look at the video’s comment section for a brief taste), it’s Shawn.

Yeah, this is definitely a big deal. While it’s not as shocking as a prominent rapper/mogul coming out, it’s groundbreaking in its own way because it shows you don’t have to be gay to support gays. Like so many other times in Jay-Z’s trendsetting career, I hope the masses follow suit.

Filed Under: Jay Z

Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ rembert