Story Update: Femi Redwood – Navigating The Race & Gender Divide In LGBTQ Spaces

by Femi Redwood

Nathan: Hello. Welcome to this week’s Story Update. This week, we’re going to be speaking with Femi Redwood, who shared her story with us almost six years ago. So before we speak to Femi, let’s take a look at her story.

Femi: I’m Femi Redwood. I’m from Milton, Delaware, which is about 15 minutes outside of Rehoboth Beach. Teeny tiny little place in Delaware, with about 13 black people, so 6 of them were my family.

So after I came out, my first girlfriend was black. Two or three girlfriends later, I was dating this white woman, white girl, whatever, she was a teenager too. But yeah, I was dating her and I was working at the outlets in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. And I had a coworker, who was a white gay male, and we worked together and we would have lunch together and he was really fun to hang out with.

And so one night we’re in his car. He says that he doesn’t think that black and white people should mix. They shouldn’t be in relationships and they shouldn’t mix. And he’s telling me that he does not think, basically, that I should be with my girlfriend, or that anyone of different races should be together. And like, “You’re a gay man!” Like, this is the same ridiculousness that people put on you.

Needless to say, we did not…we didn’t talk much after that.

So then I went to my college in Mississippi. I went to a historically black college, because I wanted diversity. But the thing I noticed about Mississippi, was that…There’s an abundance of African Americans, but they’re separated–the LGBT community was separated from white people–black and white people. So, you go to the black gay club, and my best friend, who’s half Asian, half white, he would be the only person that wasn’t black inside. But it was men and women. It was fantastic. It was just so much fun, it was great.

And then you go into the white bar, and its just white people. There’s men and women, but there’s just white people. I would be the only black person.

So that was Mississippi, it was great, but that was Mississippi. And I was ready to leave. So fast forward, I end up in New York, and, I realize that it’s a division again, but a different kind of division. The gay bars up here, where they might mixed in color, it’s very separated in lesbians have their bars, gay men have their bars. And then if you walk into a lesbian bar, for the most part you only see lesbians, and there might be a couple gay men with you, but for the most part you only see lesbians. And then when I go to gay men bars, you only see men. It’s…they just don’t mix.

So I was dating this one woman, I told her, “I would like to go to some Hell’s Kitchen bars.” Her reaction was, “I don’t like going to places with gay men, I don’t like going, I don’t like hanging out with gay men. I find that they’re really shallow…”

And it was shocking, much like the Delaware story. Much like the guy in Delaware telling me that he doesn’t think races should mix. It was shocking to hear someone, in this time, saying “I don’t like gay men,” because of all of these negative perceptions. But it’s still out there. That’s still what people, even within our community, still think. And that’s shocking and sad.

So I realized how different my perspective is, because of my life and how I was raised. In Delaware, it was a predominantly white community, and it, there’s minority in a predominantly white community. But very accepting of LGBT people. And then, college in Mississippi, it was more separated than I’d ever experienced in my life, more minorities than I’d ever experienced in my life, but very separated. And then, fast forward to New York, we go to the same clubs, but its separated by gender, or sexual identity. But because I come from a place where we were, we were together, I kind of want more and I want better. I want to be able to go to a club and it not just be gay men. It’s everyone. And I want to go and have my best friend, who’s a man, come with me to a lesbian bar and not feel like he’s singled out or being picked on because he’s a flamboyant gay man.

Nathan: Okay. That was such an amazing story to watch again after all these years, and with us now is Femi Redwood. Femi, how are you doing?

Femi: I’m good. I can’t believe it was six years ago. That seems like a lifetime ago.

Nathan: I know, I know. Yeah. I think after this year, everything seems even further away. Even earlier this year it seems like two years ago.

Femi: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Nathan: How are you doing? Where… where are you now? And how are things going?

Femi: I’m in the same apartment. Just, you know, different wallpaper now or different painting.

I am now married to an amazing woman. Yeah.

Nathan: Congratulations!

Femi: Thank you. Thanks. Thanks. Hopefully she won’t come up here for another banana or bran muffin or something.

Nathan: So how are… how are y’all doing during COVID and quarantine?

Femi: You know, I will say if we ever fussed before we don’t fuss now only because literally we have no one else to talk to, or no one else to hang out with, because we’re not really hanging out with friends or anything right now. So anything… in a weird way, it has almost become better for our relationship because, like, we don’t fight or anything because there’s just no point. Because it’s like, okay, cool, who are you going to blow off steam with? No one except each other.

So yeah, it’s… you know, it is what it is. We’re both home a lot, which is an adjustment, but I can’t complain. You know, we still have our apartment. So yeah, I can’t complain.

Nathan: Good. Good. I’m glad that’s working out and that your relationship is doing well despite spending so much time together. I think that’s a really good sign. So… and congratulations again on the marriage.

Femi: Thank you.

Nathan: So you know, rewatching your story…. I mean, I’m being very sarcastic here… so since six years, like the racial and gender divide has been fixed, everything’s fine now in the queer community, right?

Femi: Yeah! Woo-hoo! Congrats!

Nathan: We did it!

Femi: Life is beautiful and perfect! We did in six short years! Except not really. There’s still a divide. I mean, pre-COVID here in New York city, the bar and club scene was still divided. It was gay… gay or lesbian.

There’s been, you know, since, sort of, more queer parties. So I mean, there’s a few queer parties and maybe a couple of times a month for the most part, which is sort of… I don’t want to say it’s fixed the divide. But even in a lot of the queer parties, I find it to be more women than men. So I still think it’s pretty… pretty divided. More women or gender-nonconforming folks.

So, yeah, I still think it’s pretty divided. In regards to race, it’s definitely still divided. I mean, recently there’s been two black-owned gay bars that opened up in Harlem, but outside of those two, I can’t think of any more. There used to be one in Brooklyn years ago that had been around for decades, but that one closed. So yeah, it’s still… racially, it’s still pretty divided.

When my wife and I do go out, often times, I’m one of the few black people in the space. They’re black parties, but within the black parties, there’s not a lot of white folks. So there’s still definitely that racial divide. There’s still definitely that gender divide here… here in New York.

Nathan: Yeah. And have you been anywhere – so you talked in your story about Delaware, about Mississippi and New York. In the past six years, have you been anywhere else where you’ve observed any other regional differences in the community?

Femi: Yeah. So I’m an anchor and correspondent. And when you work in news, you often times may take a contract out of state. So for two years, I left New York. My wife stayed here, but I took a job… an anchor and reporter job in Flint, Michigan. And it’s interesting because Flint is a predominantly Black city. There are not any… first of all, there weren’t any black gay bars or really any gay bars in the city of Flint.

But just outside of Flint, so still, literally, we’re talking like half a mile outside of Flint, there was a gay bar. Predominantly men, mostly white people. And here’s why – or at least here’s why I think so: my… the first weekend, when I moved to Flint, my wife came down with me, helped me move there. And we went to the one gay a bar that was around there. Gay, lesbian, just one bar. There was something in some spaces in Detroit, but that was about an hour and a half away. So we went to the one gay bar and the first thing we see when we walk inside is a man wearing a “Lock Her Up” shirt in regards to Hillary Clinton. And then, like, there’s someone else wearing a Trump t-shirt.

And for black folks when you see those things, it’s… you just… you’re automatically uncomfortable. So automatically I’m uncomfortable in that space because number one, you’re wearing a “Lock Her Up” t- shirt… oh, and there was also, like, on the back of it was like the… like, not a noose, but like a symbol for basically signifying, like, “Hang Hillary.”

So you see that. You see the person wearing the Trump shirt. You don’t see any other black folks. So I’m like, Okay, cool. Totally get this bar. This is not a bar that I’m going to go to. This is just not my space. But, you know, a couple of weeks passed and I said, I want to try it out again. Maybe that was just one odd night, but it was the same thing where –

Nathan: And this was a… this was the LGBT bar, or this is another random…

Femi: Yeah, this is the only – the only gay bar in Flint. The only gay bar in Flint. And literally, as soon as you walk in, you see someone wearing a “Lock Her Up” t-shirt with the hanging symbol on the back and then someone else wearing the Trump t-shirt. So after that first experience we’re like, Dead. Never going to hear again.

But then I said, you know what? No.  I’m going to try it because I want to support local LGBTQ bars in my area. Plus quite frankly, I wanted to meet other gay folks in Flint. So try going again and it was the same thing, besides the fact that there weren’t many Black people. it just certainly wasn’t welcoming for me as a Black lesbian and it’s still the same type of t-shirts and whatnot, which is odd because you don’t expect that in a gay bar.

So then of course me being the reporter, I’m going to dig into this. And so I go in and look at the bars, the owner, the bartender, some of their Facebook pages. And I see Islamophobic postings, postings that were very racist towards Latinos, postings that are very racist towards Black people. And which then is just like, well, how… how was it that this is a gay bar and this is 2018? No, no, no. 2017 Yes. How was this a gay bar in 2017 – or this point, it may become 2018, whatever. But a gay bar and it’s Islamophobic, it’s racist, it’s sexist. All – or rather, the people that work there, including the owner, are all of these offensive – have all of these offensive traits. And then it’s a reminder that just because you are LGBTQ doesn’t mean that you’re not racist. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be Islamophobic. And it doesn’t mean that you are going to not have gender biases.

But yeah, Flint, the gay bar in Flint was so disappointing. So I never went – no, I went one more time because I’m a glutton for punishment. So I went maybe like a year or two later, and it was the same thing. I went with a black coworker and we both left and was just like Never again.

And so as odd as it was, there was… there was a bar, just a regular, straight bar. A lot of cops, lawyers, and reporters from out there in Flint. And that was the place that I was so much more comfortable because that bar just was not welcoming to me as a black woman, especially then when you see all of these horrible, horrible beliefs just on display.

So alas, it definitely… the divide definitely exists outside of the city. I still talk to friends in Mississippi who say it’s the same thing. It hasn’t changed. There’s still, you know, gay bar – I mean, there’s still white bar, black bar. It has not changed despite the fact that it has been six years later. Realistically, I’m not sure if it will ever change, truth be told.

Nathan: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting to see the difference in, like, geography, what that is. Do you think that that’s a population size, or is it like the history of the region, obviously the South then, you know, New York is so big so you have the number of people to segregate in that way? And then, you know, Flint is, I feel like it’s own, like, what is… what do you think can be done to, like – in my mind immediately, without thinking too much about it yet, like, in Flint, what a great opportunity to open a queer bar that is welcoming and make sure that everyone knows that it’s for everyone. And you know, but easy for me to say, I’m not in Flint, so… and I’m white, so I don’t have to deal with what you experienced. But yeah, what’s the… what do you think about all that?

Femi: I think it’s… I think it’s the way that people identify. So even though I’m a lesbian, I am Black first and then I’m a woman and then I’m a lesbian.

And so when you look at Flint, a lot of these folks, they are white, they’re men, and then they were gay. And so even though they were gay, they still have the privilege of sort of being white men. And I think that that sort of shaped it. I mean, the way some of the… as I got to know the community a bit more than Flint, the way some of the black folks – and the gay black folks who’ve lived there for a while – the way they explained it to me was this bar, you know, Flint, Detroit, GM, all of these auto makers. But the way they explained it is this bar was a GM bar, just happened to be gay. And so in the same way that you will go on the factory for GM and you would see predominantly white men, you now just saw some that were gay. So even though they were gay, they they’re still identifying as white men and that privilege that goes along with it.

So it’s almost, it’s like the…expecting them to be open and all of these things, just because they’re gay, what I’ve realized is just, silly and immature and quite frankly, childish. It’s a dream. We would love it if all of these disenfranchised communities did not have these isms, but that’s certainly not the case.

And then moving back to New York, I think definitely, yeah, because there’s so many people, it is easier for people to have their own spaces because there is this big population, but at the same time, we are tribal. That is just human nature since the beginning of time. So we’re always going to – humans are always going to go into their little trials. In New York, it’s gay men and Hell’s Kitchen. Lesbians everywhere sort of, or not everywhere because they’re not everywhere, but the few lesbian bars in the city. And it’s still a predominantly white space. And in Mississippi, it’s the same thing. Just because a gay person – someone may be gay or LGBTQ doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be racist. So they’re still going to be with their little tribes, which is why in Mississippi, you’re seeing the same divide that you saw, you know, really in a lot of these places.

Nathan: Yeah. Well, it’s… I’m sorry that things are not all fixed in six years, but hopefully everyone will keep working on it and keep trying to do better. So, Femi…

Femi: I think you’re more optimistic than I am. I don’t think anyone is going… yeah, I’m just – here, an example. ‘Cause it’s not just like an LGBTQ thing. It is just human nature. But this weekend, yeah, this weekend… what’s today? Today’s Tuesday. This weekend. So despite living in Jackson, Mississippi, two different places in South Carolina, Delaware, Flint, Michigan, I got called the N-word for the first time this weekend in New York city by a person of color. So realistically, I don’t think, like, call me pessimistic. I don’t think it’s going to get better. It just is what it is. Just it is what it is, but I do love your optimism.

Nathan: I am hopeful that things will… that things will get better, but also, you know, I… there’s a lot of work and mud to climb through and, you know, obviously white people need to do better. Men need to do better. Gay white men need to do better. You know, there’s a lot of work that everyone needs to do and look in and think and learn and grow. So hopefully at least that will happen more and continue happening, so… and I’m sorry that that happened to you in anywhere, but especially in your hometown..

Femi: Yeah. In New York of all places.

Nathan: Yeah. Well, Femi, it’s been wonderful speaking to you again. Hopefully it won’t be another six years and until we chat again. And I miss you. I miss you and your wife. We know each other out of I’m From Driftwood, too,  And it’s good to see your face-

Femi: Likewise.

Nathan: And hear your voice. And I hope that y’all are doing well and hope to see you all soon.

So, everyone, if you have any questions for Femi, feel free to leave them in the comments. Femi, maybe you can check back every now and then and, you know, answer some of the comments. And everyone else check back next week for our next Story Update.

Thanks for watching.

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