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Keith Boykin knows how to argue a point. He also knows that in order to win the argument, you have to do your homework. But when he decided to come out of the closet in 1991, while still a law student at Harvard, he found there weren’t any books to help him make his case as a gay, black man.
“There was some fiction, some anthologies, and a lot of poetry, but I didn’t really see much by way of nonfiction,” recalls Boykin. “I could find tons of literature about being gay from a white perspective. I was thinking that if I was going through this, there certainly must be others who must be going through this as well.”
Boykin decided that since the book he was looking for did not exist, he would write it. The result is One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America. The idea had been brewing since his student days. In law school, he took a class on race and American law and one on sexual orientation and the law, and found that in both courses a similar rationale was being employed.
“The only difference was that the arguments to defend racism were already being discredited. But in the sexual-orientation course, the arguments were being validated and were still being used in the courtroom. And I was thinking, ‘Does anybody see the connection in this?’ So I wrote a paper about it in law school. That was the beginning of the process of writing this book, unwittingly.”
Part memoir, part intellectual argument, and laced with anecdotes and statistics, the book offers chapters on “Gay Racism” and “Black Homophobia,” which dispel the pervasive beliefs that race is immutable and sexuality is chosen. Boykin successfully argues that both are social constructs and challenges the accepted rhetoric used to deny lesbians and gays the rights accorded to others.
“We use this language without any sort of historical context. We almost miss the point that this pattern of prejudice will continue endlessly unless we draw that connection,” says Boykin. “The same types of people who enslaved blacks, who persecuted Jews, who subjugated women, are the same people who castigate and repress gay and lesbian men and women.”