Peter Tatchell: Ignore the refuseniks – Malcolm X was bisexual, out, and proud

Thursday 18 February 2010 01:00

February is LGBT History Month, when we celebrate gay history and icons. Most people are now happy to acknowledge the homosexuality of public figures like Benjamin Britten and Martina Navratilova. But what about Malcolm X? Four decades after his assassination, there are still refuseniks who reject the evidence that he was bisexual.

Controversy has raged ever since the publication of Bruce Perry's acclaimed biography, Malcolm – The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. Perry is a great admirer of Malcolm X, but he is not inclined to cover-ups. He wrote the facts, based on interviews with over 420 people who knew Malcolm personally at various stages in his life, from childhood onwards. His book is not a hatchet job; rather, it's the exact opposite. Perry presents an honest, rounded story of Malcolm's life and achievements. In my opinion, his book is far superior to The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told To Alex Haley.

Perry doesn't sensationalise Malcolm's same-sex relations. They are mere asides to the main narrative. Without fuss or judgement, he documents Malcolm's many gay experiences, from his school days through to sex with men for money at the New York YMCA. Malcolm also provided sexual services to the wealthy Boston bachelor, William Paul Lennon. He had a sustained relationship with a neighbouring tenant, Willie Mae Jones, when he lived in Flint, Michigan. Perry says there is no evidence that Malcolm's gay dalliances continued once he joined the Nation of Islam and married. With all the fervour of a zealous convert, he embraced a fiercely puritanical Muslim sexual morality. A little hypocritical, some might say.

For half a century, knowledge of Malcolm's bisexuality has been suppressed. It's time to blow the whistle. There is, after all, not a single truly world famous black person alive today who is openly gay. Not one. Elton John has no black equivalent.

Young black lesbians and gays need black role models. Why not Malcolm X? He's universally known and respected in black communities worldwide. Knowledge of his bisexuality could help break down homophobia and give confidence to young black kids who are struggling to come to terms with being LGBT. They'd have a major black icon they could look up to. About time too.

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