Sexual Racism: The Rainbow is Whiter than It Appears

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“No fats, no femmes, no Blacks, no Asians.”

“Keep it White or Latin.”

“No rice, no curry and no blacks.”

Phrases like these have become a usual phenomenon in gay dating apps so much so that many gay men see these as a casual ‘preferences’ and would outright deny the racist connotation attached to them. “It’s just a preference! I don’t like Chinese boys so I say that- it’s not rude. If anything, it’s considerate!” On dating apps, a person is able to have their own little shopping list of the kinds one likes or dislikes. One can filter out individuals based on age, height, location, distance, role, social life, personality, race, religion and what not. But it makes sense though! When one is just looking for instant gratification, why would one want to waste any time and not have what one wants?

There is the other side of the coin too.

“Well-endowed Blacks to the front.”

“Oh, you know I’m really into Asian guys!”

The objectification and the fetishization of a particular race or ethnicity are as problematic as filtering out the ones one doesn’t like. Needless to say, much of this stereotyping stem from the West-dominated porn industry that perpetuates various myths. And many gay men use the dating apps to fulfill their deepest and darkest desires. The apps give them a cloak of anonymity to ‘be who you are’, which most likely would not be possible in real life. The very design of the dating apps allows for such expressions of blatant racism and objectification. However, the online scenario is merely a reflection of the offline life.

Double Discrimination

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people of color (LGBTQ POC) face rampant racism within the broader community in every walks of life. After being rejected by the society and its institutions, the community is the last sanctuary for LGBTQ POC. But where to turn when the community itself becomes a perpetrator of the very toxic and damaging discriminatory practices that the LGBTQ POC are trying to run away from?

Stonewall, the UK’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi, and trans equality, conducted a research that revealed the depth of racism within the LGBT community in the UK. Half of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) LGBTQ people (51 per cent) said they’ve faced discrimination or poor treatment from the wider LGBTQ community. The situation is particularly acute for Black LGBTQ people: three in five (61 per cent) have experienced discrimination from other LGBTQ people, according to the Stonewall study.

The research, conducted in 2017 and based on YouGov polling of over 5,000 LGBTQ people, exposes the extent to which BAME LGBTQ people face discrimination based on both their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and their race; also known as ‘double discrimination’.

The abuse BAME LGBTQ people face from the community includes feeling excluded from LGBTQ specific spaces and hurtful comments. Racist language and behavior leave already marginalized members of the LGBTQ community feeling shut out and isolated.

Is it just a ‘preference’ or sexual racism?

The freedom to choose one’s sexual and romantic partners is especially poignant for gay and bisexual men and other sexual minority groups, for whom the repression, exclusion, and marginalization of sex and sexuality is both an historical and ongoing reality. The idea that an individual should feel shame at their desire is in many ways a challenge to the hard-won ideals of sexual freedom. Indeed, the ongoing debate on this topic highlights the complexities of race and sex, and it reveals how different opinions on this issue can be. This debate also raises important questions about whether a label such as ‘‘racist’’, which is imbued with social condemnation, can or should be applied in the context of our desires. Although sexual freedom may provide a compelling argument for the right to choose one’s partners irrespective of race, research has highlighted the role that systems of colonialism, prejudice, and Whiteness can play when it comes to sex and romance among gay and bisexual men in Europe, North America, and Australasia.

A 2015 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that race-based ‘preferences’ correlate strongly with negative attitudes about minorities. “Sexual racism is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of preference,” the researchers wrote. Sexual racism is a specific form of racial prejudice enacted in the context of sex or romance. In modern society, sexual racism is experienced through “subtle manifestations such as unconscious biases in attraction, racial fetishization, and reproductions of ethno-sexual stereotypes in pornography”.[1]

The study also found that more than 70% of the respondents thought indicating a racial preference online was not sexual racism. The researchers identified two reasons for this nonchalant attitude. One, as mentioned earlier, is how the online dating world is designed where a user can choose a simplified racial label like Asian, Black, or Latino. Using these categories may encourage the belief that they are useful, natural, or appropriate for defining individuals and sexual interest. Second, participants of online cultures appear to encourage and defend the use of racial discrimination in the context of sex and dating. They tend to associate this racial “preference” only with the momentary gratification and do not see the long-term harm they may cause or the systemic oppression that they are upholding. Moreover, men who frequently visit such online platforms may find their beliefs confirmed and reinforced in an environment that appears conducive to sexual racism.

Another key finding of the research was that men racialized as White tended to view sexual racism more positively compared to the other interviewees who were from a multicultural and non-White racial background. White men were also found to experience the least racial discrimination when it comes to sex and dating. Moreover, they are rated as the most desirable by their peers as well as others from non-White background, thanks to years of colonialism, White gay media, and neoliberal values.

It is the White, cisgender, able-bodied, gay men who have the institutional privilege to set the standards as well as the stereotypes. On the contrary, many of the rights and freedoms that all LGBT people enjoy now were due to the struggles of Black and ethnic minority trans and queer folks beginning with the Stonewall Riots.

Minority stress and microaggression

Minority stress can appear in a number of different forms. While much of the research has focused on major discriminatory events, more recent work has begun to examine microaggressions that occur in daily life.

Microaggressions are generally characterized as brief, daily assaults on minority individuals, which can be social or environmental, verbal, or nonverbal, as well as intentional or unintentional.[2] Interpersonal exchanges involving microaggressions may not be perceived as discriminatory by perpetrators, who may believe their actions to be innocent or harmless and may not understand the potential impacts of these behaviors on recipients. On the other hand, such exchanges have negative consequences for the mental health of the target. For example, Black males who experienced microaggressions reported psychological distress, including anxiety as well as feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear. Racial microaggressions may also impact health-related behaviors and utilization of health services. Other studies have indicated that microaggressions may lead to unsatisfactory work relationship and perceptions of hostility in school settings.[3]

Another 2015 study found that sexual racism, which the authors called “largely indistinguishable from generic forms of racism,” leads men of color to “disconnect” from apps and, by extension, the larger community. According to the study, 84% of gay and bisexual men of color experienced racism in the gay community, and 77% of those men experienced stress as a result.

At the intersection of identities

First coined by the American scholar and civil rights activist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989, the term “intersectionality” posits that people experience oppression on multiple, “intersecting” fronts.

For an LGBTQ POC, the intersectionality of various identities is a constant reality, and the person is disproportionately impacted by homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, and socio-economic standing. While the academic definition of intersectionality may be narrow, its meaning has broadened as its usage has spread across various social justice movements. Not only is it used as shorthand to talk about work between coalitions, it has also come to embody the idea that, as with the experience of identity, the sources of oppression are interconnected.

Recognizing that cultural, ethnic, and racial differences exist within LGBTQ communities, Nadal and colleagues established the term “intersectional microaggressions”. They define intersectional microaggressions as subtle forms of discrimination, occurring in everyday life due to the intersections of race, sexual identity, gender, social class, and other sociodemographic factors (e.g., age, disability, etc).[4] According to intersectional microaggressions theory, social experiences of racial and ethnic minority LGBTQ persons differ from the experiences of White LGBTQ persons. In a systematic review on microaggressions toward LGBTQ and genderqueer persons, Nadal, Whitman, Davis, Erazo, and Davidoff challenged the notion of discrimination caused by a singular marginalized identity (e.g., race or sexuality), and emphasized the intersectional nature of microaggressions that individuals experience when occupying multiple stigmatized identities.[5]

It is no surprise that the intersectional approach has been criticized by the same group of White, cis, gay men who also oppose the idea of sexual racism. As research has shown, dominant groups tend to defend their dominance and be suspicious of systems that might undermine their control.[6]

While the topic of sexual racism warrants more research and disaggregated data, the ignorance and denial are pushing the LGBTQ POC into harm’s way every day. This is a difficult conversation that must be approached with an honest, empathetic, and introspective mind by those in the position of power if the LGBTQ community is to achieve true equality and justice. White sexual and gender minority individuals should address issues of racism in meaningful ways, and disrupt the power imbalance within mainstream queer spaces.



Image source: Internet



[1] Plummer, M. D. (2007). Sexual racism in gay communities: Negotiating the ethno-sexual marketplace (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

[2] Sue DW, Capodilupo CM, Torino GC, Bucceri JM, Holder AMB, Nadal KL, Esquilin M. Racial microaggressions in everyday life–Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist. 2007;62:271–286.

[3] Constantine MG, Sue DW. Perceptions of racial microaggressions among Black supervisees in cross-racial dyads. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2007;54:142–153.

[4] Nadal, K. L., Davidoff, K. C., Davis, L. S., Wong, Y., Marshall, D., & McKenzie, V. (2015). A qualitative approach to intersectional microaggressions: Understanding influences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion. Qualitative Psychology, 2(2), 147–163.

[5] Nadal, K. L., Whitman, C. N., Davis, L. S., Erazo, T., & Davidoff, K. C. (2016). Microaggressions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and genderqueer people: A review of the literature. The Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 488–508.

[6] Brown, R. (2011). Prejudice: Its social psychology. West Sussex, England: Wiley-Blackwell.


Shakhawat Hossain Rajeeb is a gay rights activist who has worked with Boys of Bangladesh for 13 years before being forced to exile to Sweden, where he currently works with RFSL, the national Swedish LGBTIQ organization.


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