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The African-American LGBT community, otherwise referred to as the Black LGBT community, is part of the overall LGBT culture and overall African-American culture. The initialism LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. A landmark event for the LGBT community, and the Black LGBT community in particular, was the Stonewall uprising in 1969, in New York City's Greenwich Village, where Black activists including Stormé DeLarverie (who instigated the uprising) and Marsha P. Johnson (who was in the vanguard of the later pushback against the police) played key roles in the events.
Following Stonewall, the 1986 legal precedent Romer v. Evans also had a major impact. Ruling in favor of Romer, Justice Kennedy asserted in the case commentary that Colorado's state constitutional amendment denying LGBT people protection from discrimination "bore no purpose other than to burden LGB persons". Advancements in public policy, social discourse, and public knowledge have assisted in the progression and coming out of many Black LGBT individuals. Statistics show an increase in accepting attitudes towards lesbians and gays among general society. A Gallup survey shows that acceptance rates went from 38% in 1992 to 52% in 2001. However, when looking at the LGBT community through a racial lens, the Black community lacks many of these advantages.
Research and studies are limited for the Black LGBT community. Reasons given are resistance to coming out, as well as a lack of responses in surveys and research studies. The coming out rate of Black LGBT people is less than that of White LGBT people. The African-American population who identifies as LGBT are often considered to be a community of marginalized individuals who are further marginalized within their own broader community. Surveys and research have shown that 80% of African-Americans say gays and lesbians endure discrimination compared to the 61% of White Americans. Black members of the LGBT community are not only seen as "other" due to their race, but also due to their sexuality, so they always had to face both racism and homophobia.
The first African-American person known to describe himself as a drag queen was William Dorsey Swann, born enslaved in Hancock, Maryland. Swann was the first American on record who pursued legal and political action to defend the LGBT community's right to assemble. During the 1880s and 1890s, Swann organized a series of drag balls in Washington, D.C. Swann was arrested in police raids numerous times, including in the first documented case of arrests for female impersonation in the United States, on April 12, 1888.
Trans woman Lucy Hicks Anderson, born in 1886 in Waddy, Kentucky, lived her life serving as a domestic worker in her teen years, eventually becoming a socialite and madame in Oxnard, California, during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1945, she was tried in Ventura County for perjury and fraud for receiving spousal allotments from the military, as her dressing and presenting as a woman was considered masquerading. She lost this case but avoided a lengthy jail sentence, only to be tried again by the federal government shortly thereafter. She too lost this case, but she and her husband were sentenced to jail time. After serving their sentences, Lucy and her then husband, Ruben Anderson, relocated to Los Angeles, where they lived quietly until her death in 1954.
During the Harlem Renaissance, a subculture of LGBT African-American artists and entertainers emerged, including people like Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Moms Mabley, Mabel Hampton, Alberta Hunter, and Gladys Bentley. Places like Savoy Ballroom and the Rockland Palace hosted drag-ball extravaganzas with prizes awarded for the best costumes. Langston Hughes depicted the balls as "spectacles of color". George Chauncey, author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940, wrote that during this period "perhaps nowhere were more men willing to venture out in public in drag than in Harlem".
The Stonewall riots began when butch lesbian Stormé DeLarverie fought back against the police who were brutalizing her. DeLarverie was a Black/biracial singer, drag king and MC, who performed and hosted at the Apollo Theater. After the uprising was underway, African-American drag queens Marsha P. Johnson and Zazu Nova were "in the vanguard" of the pushback against the police.
It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn't no damn riot.— Stormé DeLarverie
In 1983, after a battle over LGB participation in the 20th anniversary March on Washington, a group of African-American leaders endorsed a national gay rights bill and put Audre Lorde from the National Coalition of Black Gays as speaker on the agenda. In 1984, Rev. Jesse Jackson included LGB people as part of his Rainbow/PUSH.
In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality," in order to show how different aspects of one's identity, including race, sexuality, gender, etc., combine to affect their life.
In 1993, Dr. William F. Gibson, national Chairman of the Board of NAACP, endorsed the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation and also supported repealing the ban on LGB service in the military.
On February 2, 2009, the first episode of RuPaul's Drag Race aired, normalizing and promoting drag, and winning many awards.
On May 19, 2012, the NAACP passed a resolution in support of same-sex marriage. That same month and year, President Obama became the first sitting president to openly support same-sex marriage.
In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement was established by three black women, two of whom identify as queer. From its inception, the founders of Black Lives Matter have always put black LGBT voices at the center of the conversation.
In 2019, Atlanta's mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms became the first elected official to establish and host an annual event recognizing and celebrating the black LGBT community. Also in 2019, Spelman College which is part of the Atlanta University Center, became the first historically black college or university to fund a chair in queer studies. The endowed chair is named after civil rights activist and famed poet Audre Lorde and backed by a matching gift of $2 million from philanthropist Jon Stryker. And also in 2019, Chicago's mayor Lori Lightfoot became the first openly queer black person elected to lead a major city.
"Ball culture", "drag ball culture", the "house-ballroom community", the "ballroom scene"or "ballroom culture" describes a young African-American and Latin American underground LGBT subculture that originated in New York City, in which people "walk" (i.e., compete) for trophies, prizes, and glory at events known as balls. Ball culture consists of events that mix performance, dance, lip-syncing, and modeling. Attendees dance, vogue, walk, pose, and support one another in numerous drag and performance competition categories. Categories are designed to simultaneously epitomize and satirize various genders and social classes, while also offering an escape from reality.
The culture extends beyond the extravagant events as many participants in ball culture also belong to groups known as "houses," a longstanding tradition in LGBT communities, where chosen families of friends live in households together, forming relationships and community to replace families of origin from which they may be estranged.
In the United States, down-low is an African-American slang term specifically used within the African-American community that typically refers to a subculture of Black men who usually identify as heterosexual but actively seek sexual encounters and relations with other men, practice gay cruising, and frequently adopt a specific hip-hop attire during these activities. They avoid sharing this information even if they have female sexual partner(s), they are married to a woman, or they are single. The term is also used to refer to a related sexual identity. Down-low has been viewed as "a type of impression management that some of the informants use to present themselves in a manner that is consistent with perceived norms about masculine attribute, attitudes, and behavior".
A "Kiki" is a get-together of friends for gossiping and chit-chat.
Several major cities across the nation host black gay pride events focused on uplifting and celebrating the black LGBT community and culture. The two largest are Atlanta Black Pride and D.C. Black Pride.
Voguing is a style of dance that arose from Harlem ballroom cultures, as danced by African-American and Latino gay/trans people, from the early 1960s through the 1980s. The drag competitions that began during this time eventually shifted from elaborate pageantry to vogue dance battles. Inspired by the style of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs and the famous images of models in Vogue magazine, voguing is characterized by striking a series of poses as if one is modeling for a photo shoot. Arm and leg movements are angular, linear, rigid, and move swiftly from one static position to another.
Dance competitions often involved throwing "shade," or subtle insults directed at one another in order to impress the judges and the audience. The competition style was originally called "presentation" and later "performance." Over the years, the dance evolved into the more intricate and acrobatic form that is now called "vogue".
It has been asserted that the African-American community is largely homophobic. Reasons for this include the image young, black males are expected to convey in the public sphere; that homosexuality is seen as antithetical to being black in the African-American community; and the high association of the African-American community with the church in the United States.[excessive citations]
African Americans disagree with LGBT civil liberties more than their white counterparts; some theorize this is because of conservative churches' role in advocating for African-American civil liberties and that this advocacy has expanded into the LGBT population. African-American LGBT people tend to identify more with their racial/ethnic category rather than their sexual orientation as a main identity reference group. Black LGBT people are often hesitant about revealing their sexuality to their friends and families because of homosexuality's incompatibility with cultural gender roles.
Education has an impact on homophobic attitudes and views of sexuality within the Black community. This follows a nationwide trend; more educated people are likely to be more accepting of non-heterosexual sexuality. Better education typically means less affiliation to conservative religions or denominations, which limits the influence of socially conservative ideas.
Barack Obama acknowledged homophobia within the African-American community and said; "If we are honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to Martin Luther King's vision of a beloved community ... We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them".
Hip hop has long been one of the least LGBT-friendly genres of music, with a significant body of the genre containing homophobic views and anti-gay lyrics. Attitudes towards homosexuality in hip hop culture have historically been negative. Gay slurs like "no homo", and "pause" can be heard in hip hop lyrics from the industry's biggest stars. According to the Los Angeles Times, these slurs were used to put "queerness as a punchline". Artists like Lil Nas X and Kevin Abstract have been changing the face of hip-hop to make it more inclusive. On March 9, 2021, Lil Nas X released the song and music video for the song "Montero." Both the song and music video depict the struggles of being gay while within a homophobic culture and society.
The current federal law, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, prohibits employment discrimination. The federal law specifies no discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. The current federal law does not specify sexual orientation. There is legislation currently being proposed to congress known as the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that would include hindering discrimination based on sexual orientation, too. And most recently, the Equality Act. However, current policies do not protect sexual orientation and affect the employment rates as well as LGBT individual's incomes and overall economic status. The alone Black people in the United States of America as of the 2010 consensus is 14,129,983 people. Out of that, it is estimated that 4.60 percent of the black population identify as LGBT.
Within the Black LGBT community many face economic disparities and discrimination. Statistically black LGBT individuals are more likely to be unemployed than their non-black counterparts. According to the Williams Institute, the vast difference lies in the survey responses of "not in workforce" from different populations geographically. Black LGBT individuals, nonetheless, face the dilemma of marginalization in the job market. As of 2013, same-sex couples' income is lower than those in heterosexual relationships with an average of $25,000 income.
For opposite-sex couples, statistics show a $1,700 increase. Analyzing economic disparities on an intersectional level (gender and race), the black man is likely to receive a higher income than a woman. For men, statistics shows approximately a $3,000 increase from the average income for all black LGBT identified individuals, and a $6,000 increase in salary for same-sex male couples.
Female same-sex couples receive $3,000 less than the average income for all black LGBT individuals and approximately $6,000 less than their male counterparts. (Look at Charts below) The income disparity amongst black LGBT families affects the lives of their dependents, contributing to poverty rates. Children growing up in low-income households are more likely to remain in the poverty cycle. Due to economic disparities in the black LGBT community, 32% of children raised by gay black men are in poverty. However, only 13% of children raised by heterosexual black parents are in poverty and only 7% for white heterosexual parents.
Median Incomes for African American Individuals
Chart of unemployment percentages of couples and single African American individuals.
African Americans and Same-Sex Couples
Comparatively looking at gender, race, and sexual orientation, black women same-sex couples are likely to face more economic disparities than black women in an opposite sex relationship. Black women in same-sex couples earn $42,000 compared to black women in opposite-sex relationships who earn $51,000, a twenty-one percent increase in income. Economically, black women same-sex couples are also less likely to be able to afford housing. Approximately fifty percent of black women same-sex couples can afford to buy housing compared to white women same-sex couples who have a seventy-two percent rate in home ownership.
Black transgender individuals face higher rates of discrimination than black gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. While policies have been implemented to inhibit discrimination based on gender identity, transgender individuals of color lack legal support. Transgender individuals are still not supported by legislation and policies like the LGBT community. New reports show vast discrimination in the black transgender community. Reports show in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey that black transgender individuals, along with non-conforming individuals, have high rates of poverty.
Statistics shows a 34% rate of households receiving an income less than $10,000 a year. According to the data, that is twice the rate when looking at transgender individuals of all races and four times higher than the general black population. Many face poverty due to discrimination and bias when trying to purchase a home or apartment. 38% of black trans individuals report in the Discrimination Survey being turned down property due to their gender identity. 31% of the black individuals were evicted due to their identity.
Black transgender individuals also face disparities in education, employment, and health. In education, black transgender and non-conforming persons face brutish environments while attending school. Reporting rates show 49% of black transgender individuals being harassed from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Physical assault rates are at 27% percent, and sexual assault is at 15%. These drastically high rates have an effect on the mental health of black transgender individuals.
As a result of high assault/harassment and discrimination, suicide rates are at the same rate (49%) as harassment to black transgender individuals. Employment discrimination rates are similarly higher. Statistics show a 26% rate of unemployed black transgender and non-conforming persons. Many black trans people have lost their jobs or have been denied jobs due to gender identity: 32% are unemployed, and 48% were denied jobs.
There has historically been a lot of racism and racial segregation in lesbian spaces. Racial and class divisions sometimes made it difficult for black and white women to see themselves as on the same side in the feminist movement. Black women faced misogyny from within the black community even during the fight for black liberation. Homophobia was also pervasive in the black community during the Black Arts Movement because "feminine" homosexuality was seen as undermining black power.
Black lesbians especially struggled with the stigma they faced within their own community. With unique experiences and often very different struggles, black lesbians have developed an identity that is more than the sum of its parts – black, lesbian, and woman. Some individuals may rank their identities separately, seeing themselves as black first, woman second, lesbian third, or some other permutation of the three; others see their identities as inextricably interwoven.
The gender relations perspective is a sociological theory which proposes that gender is not just a state of being but rather a system of behavior created through interactions with others, generally to fill various necessary social roles. Same-sex-attracted individuals are just as impacted by the societally reinforced need for these 'gendered' roles as heterosexuals are. Within black lesbian communities, gender presentation is often used to indicate the role an individual can be expected to take in a relationship, though many may also simply prefer the presentation for its own sake, assigning less significance to its association with certain behaviors or traits. According to sociologist Mignon Moore, because black lesbians generally existed "outside" of the predominantly white feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s, the community was less affected by the non-black lesbian community's increased emphasis on androgyne as a rejection of "heterosexual" gender norms.
Instead, they adapted the existing butch/femme dichotomy to form three main categories:
This section needs to be updated.(June 2017)
Black LGBT individuals face many health risks due to discriminatory policies and behaviors in medicine. Due to lack of medical coverage and adequate medical treatment, many are faced with heath risks. There is no current legislation fully protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination in the public sphere concerning health care. President Barack Obama has recently written a memo to the Department of Health and Human Services to enact regulations on discrimination of gay and transgender individuals receiving Medicare and Medicaid, as well as to permit full hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples and their families. The United States of Housing and Urban Development proposed policies that would allow access and eligibility to core programs regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is currently working to be inclusive, as courts have recently passed interpretation of the ACA to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals and gender non-conforming persons.
One of the greatest concerns in the Black LGBT community is sexually transmitted diseases, and one of the greatest STDs affecting the Black community is HIV/AIDS. Black people account for 44% of new HIV infections in both adults and adolescents. Black women account for 29% of new HIV infections. For black LGBT male-identified individuals, 70% of the population accounts for new HIV infections for both adults and adolescents. The rates of HIV for black LGBT men are higher than their non-black counterparts. One of the major factors that contributes to higher rates of STDs like HIV/AIDS is lack of medical access. Rather than a high prevalence of unsafe sex, it is caused by a low usage of antiretroviral therapy in non-white communities.
African-American LGBT culture has been depicted in films such as Patrick Ian Polk's Noah's Arc and Punks, Dee Rees' Pariah, and Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, which not only has the main character as a gay African-American but is written by an African American and is based on a play by black gay playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney.
|Adodi, Inc.||1986–Present||Adodi is one of the oldest Black gay organizations in the United States. It was founded by Clifford Rawlins.||National|
|Association of Black Gays||1975–1979||The ABG was a radical gay activist group that used education, political engagement, and grassroots activism to improve conditions for the city's African American gays and lesbians.||Los Angeles, Ca|
|At the Beach LA||1988-||At The Beach, Los Angeles (ATBLA) is the organization that promotes and administers the Los Angeles Black gay pride.||Los Angeles, CA|
|Arkansas Black Gay Men's Forum||Arkansas Black Gay Men's Forum's mission is to empower, uplift and unite same-gender-loving men through interactive dialogue on pressing economic, health, and social issues.||Little Rock, AR|
|Atlanta Black Pride||1996–Present||Atlanta Black Pride is the largest official black gay pride event in the world and one of two officially recognized festivals for the African-American LGBT community in the US.||Atlanta, Georgia|
|Black AIDS Institute||1999–||A non-profit charitable organization founded in 1999 by Phill Wilson to promote awareness and prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS by targeting African American communities.||National|
|Black Gay Men United||1987–1992||Bay Area Black gay men's support group that included Marlon Riggs and members of the Pomo Afro Homos.||Oakland, CA|
|Black Gay Stuck at Home||2020–Present||A project created during the COVID-19 pandemic to gather Black queer community and to center Black queer film.||National|
|Black Men's Xchange||1989–Present||The oldest and largest community-based movement in the U.S devoted to promoting healthy self-concept and behavior, cultural affirmation, and critical consciousness among SGL, gay-identified and bisexual African-descended males and their allies.||National|
|Brave Space Alliance||2017–Present||The first Black-led, trans-led LGBT Center located on the South Side of Chicago.||Chicago, IL|
|Brothers of the Desert||-Present||Brothers of the Desert builds interpersonal relationships by nurturing, supporting and connecting black gay men in Coachella Valley.||Coachella Valley, CA|
|Brother to Brother||1982–1984||Brother to Brother organization was a support group for the Black Community of and by gay Black men exclusively. They produced a newsletter called "Brothers."||San Francisco, CA|
|Center for Black Equity||1999–Present||The Center for Black Equity (known until 2012 as International Federation of Black Prides) is a coalition of Black gay pride organizers formed to promote a multinational network of LGBT/SGL (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Same Gender Loving) Prides and community-based organizations.||National|
|Colours||1991–Present||Colours started as a social justice magazine centered on the Black LGBTQ community. It has since become a community organization, funded mainly through the Philadelphia Department of Health. It provides space, hosts programming, and offers sexual health resources.||Philadelphia, PA|
|Combahee River Collective||1974–1980||The Combahee River Collective (/kəmˈbiː/ kəm-BEE) was a Black feminist lesbian socialist organization active in Boston from 1974 to 1980.||Boston, MA|
|Committee of Black Gay Men||1979–||Created during the World Gay Conference in Washington, DC, the committee was interested in creating a national network for and by Black gay men. They held a national conference in Atlanta in 1980.||National|
|Counter Narrative Project (CNP)||2014–Present||The Counter Narrative Project uses education, advocacy, and community mobilization to raise awareness about and support the city's community of Black gay men.||Atlanta, GA|
|Deviant||2019–Present||Deviant is an organization focused on creating inclusive circuit parties for queer men of color. Deviant also promotes and facilitate forums and conversations focused on uplifting the queer men of color community.||National|
|D.C. Black Pride||1991–Present||D.C. (District of Columbia) Black Pride is the first official black gay pride event in the United States and one of two officially recognized festivals for the African-American LGBT community.||Washington, DC|
|Dallas Black Pride||1996–Present||Dallas Black Pride (also known as Dallas Southern Pride) is an annual five-day event to celebrate the emerging black LGBT community in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.||Dallas, TX|
|Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD)||1986–Present||Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) is the largest and oldest African American organization dedicated exclusively to the well-being of Black gay men.||New York, NY|
|Gaye Magazine||2015–Present||Gaye Magazine is a digital news, entertainment, fashion and lifestyle publication dedicated to providing underrepresented groups (primarily African-Americans) within the LGBTQ community more limelight in mainstream media.||Atlanta, GA|
|Greater Chicago Committee||1980's-90s||Co-founded by Derrick Hicks, The Greater Chicago Committee was a social organization with a civic mission for African American gay men and lesbians.||Chicago, IL|
|Hispanic Black Gay Coalition||2009–Present||HBGC works to inspire and empower Latinos, Hispanic and Black LGBT individuals to improve their livelihood through activism, education, community outreach, and counseling.||Boston, MA|
|Hotter Than July||1996–Present||Hotter Than July! is a week-long black LGBT Pride celebration held annually since 1996 in Detroit||Detroit, MI|
|Ladies at Play||2004–Present||Ladies at Play is one of the most well-known facilitators of black lesbian social events which include various types of parties, bike rides, game nights, book club meetings, fitness camps, and speed dating.||Atlanta, GA|
|LGBT Detroit||2003–Present||LGBT Detroit is a Michigan nonprofit organization serving the African American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population of Detroit, and nearby communities||Detroit, MI|
|Lighthouse Foundation||2019–Present||The Foundation advocates for the Black LGTBQ community in Chicago. Intersectional community caucuses bring issues to leadership and a direct action organizing group works to address them.||Chicago, IL|
|Men of All Colors Together||1980–1999||The two major goals of the Boston chapter of MACT were to continue combating racism, particularly within the LGBT community, while simultaneously fighting to end homophobia in society as a whole||Boston, MA|
|Men of Melanin Magic||2016–Present||MoMM creates social spaces for queer men of color to connect and develop relationships.||Boston, MA|
|Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative (MOBI)||2017–Present||MOBI is a series of curated social connectivity events for black, gay and queer men to see their holistic self.||New York, NY|
|National Association of Black and White Men Together||1980–Present||(NABWMT) is a network of chapters across the United States focused on LGBT and racial equality, founded in May, 1980||National|
|National Black Justice Coalition||2003–Present||(NBJC) is American civil rights organization serving primarily lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.||National|
|National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays||1978–1990||The National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (formerly The National Coalition of Black Gays) was the United States' first national organization for African American and Third World gay rights.||National|
|Native Son||2016–Present||A full-fledged advocacy organization dedicated to supporting Black queer men of all backgrounds.||New York, NY|
|The Okra Project||2018–Present||The Okra Project is an American grassroots mutual aid collective that provides support to black trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people. The organization is based in New York City.||New York, NY|
|People of Color in Crisis (POCC)||1989–2008||POCC provided HIV/AIDS prevention and intervention efforts to Black men and women. The organization notably evaluated and demonstrated the efficacy of the Many Men, Many Voices (3MV) intervention among black men who have sex with men (MSM).||Brooklyn, NY|
|Pomo Afro Homo||1990–1995||Pomo Afro Homos, short for "Postmodern African American Homosexuals" and founded by Brian Freeman, Eric Gupton and Djola Branner was part comedy, part performance art, part activism.||San Francisco, CA|
|The Portal (Community Center)||2001–||The Portal was a Baltimore LGBT community center for LGBT African Americans in the Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan area.||Baltimore, MD|
|Salsa Soul Sisters||1971||The Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc Collective is a group for lesbians who are also womanists and women of color, in New York City. The group is the oldest black lesbian organization in the United States.||New York, NY|
|United Black Ellument||United Black Ellument is an organization decidated to supporting, educating, and connecting young black same gender loving men.||Dallas, Texas|
|Unity, Incorporated||1989–||UNITY, Inc. was a grassroots organization created by Black gay men, for Black gay men in order to address racism in the HIV/AIDS advocacy community.||Philadelphia, PA|
|Us Helping Us, People into Living, Inc.||1985–||Us Helping Us provides HIV treatment and prevention (and other health) services to the African-American LGBT community.||Washington, DC|
down low n. [1990s+] (US Black) a state of secrecy. down low adj. [1990s+] () covert, secret (i.e. keeping a low profile)
...d one would be hard pressed to not find a gay slur embedded in the lyrics of any of the genre's most famous architects. In fact, an entire lexicon dedicated to pointing out discomfort with gay men has permeated rap lyrics. Slang such as "sus" and "No homo" and "Pause" that use queerness as a punchline have been thrown around casually for years.