Lil Nas X stands on stage holding a black sparkly mic in a one sleeve diamond encrusted see-thru crop top exposing his abs and Black pants
Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Opinion: Lil Nas X Has A Right To Be Mad

We need to talk about homophobia in the Black community

Culture & Entertainment

BET just released the 2022 BET Awards nominations and Lil Nas X is nowhere on the list, while the white rapper Jack Harlow is up for Best Male Hip Hop Artist.

Lil Nas X is arguably the biggest star of the last three years. Between having a 16-time platinum-selling record, the longest running number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 and the most talked about music video of the last half decade, it’s safe to say that he IS the moment.

Even BET has recognized his positioning in recent times, nominating him for an award in 2020 and having him perform in 2021, causing one of the most talked-about moments of the award ceremony when he passionately kissed his male background dancer at the end of the performance. Lil Nas X has continued to rise since then, releasing a critically and commercially successful debut album Montero in 2021. Instead of acknowledging that success, BET opted to nominate the white guy whose monumental rise began with a feature on Lil Nas X’s third Billboard Hot 100 number one song, “Industry Baby.”

This is no disrespect to Jack Harlow either. He’s had a phenomenal year and none of this is technically his fault, but it’s hard to see the snubbing of one of the biggest artists–let alone one of the biggest Black queer artists– as anything but a slap in the face.

Lil Nas X said as much on Twitter when he called out BET’s snubs. “[H]ow can [I] get acknowledged by the most acclaimed award show in the world [the Grammys] and then not even just 1 nomination from my own people? [I]s that not crazy?”

When others responded that BET has celebrated queer artists Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator, he shared, “Can we admit queer men are more respected when they do less feminine things or am [I] making that up?”

It’s a tale we know too well and is indicative of the way the majority of the mainstream Black community sees Black Queer people: You’re unworthy unless you tone down the “gay shit.”

Even as he was being gaslit with Twitter responses pointing to a myriad of nonsensical reasons for why he was not being celebrated at BET, Lil Nas X stood firm.

“[T]his not over no [BET] award this is about the bigger problem of homophobia in the [B]lack community, y’all can sit and pretend all u want but imma risk it all for us,” he Tweeted.

There is a well-documented culture of homophobia and queerphobia in Black mainstream spaces. BET and Viacom were hit with a lawsuit from trans media personality B. Scott in 2013 for workplace discrimination after B. Scott was told that they weren’t dressed “masculine” enough to host the red carpet at the 2013 BET Awards and was forced to change their clothes. Scott ended up settling out of court and is now the host of BET’s Twenties After Show with B. Scott.

In 2020, the NAACP Image Awards (also aired on BET) received backlash for nominating Meghan McCain, who has openly spewed anti-Black sentiments on The View, instead of recognizing any of the five Black and brown trans stars of the historic FX series Pose. The NAACP has also awarded actress Gina Rodriguez multiple NAACP Image awards despite her usage of the N-word online in 2019. Morning radio show The Breakfast Club has a long history of mistreating multiple Black queer guests, as does podcaster Joe Budden, whose latest offense is the abominations that he called “questions” that he asked sexually fluid rapper Isaiah Rashad during their sit down interview. Black mainstream platforms have consistently proven to be unsafe places for the Black LGBTQ community.

At the root of homophobia is white supremacy and when mainstream Black platforms deny Black queer people access to these spaces, they are upholding that racist framework. Allowing white and non Black people— especially those who have been anti-Black— to permeate spaces meant to uplift Black folks, creates a false sense of proximity to whiteness. Homophobia, much like racism, is a learned behavior, not an instinctive one. The idea that being queer is “wrong” comes from generations of instilling those beliefs in our ancestors through white interpretations of Christianity which were then passed down for generations in the Black community. Homophobia is so deeply ingrained in our community that we’ve completely forgotten the fact that it wasn’t an African belief to begin with. This is why its pervasiveness is so confusing.

This belief in heteronormativity is in every fabric of our community, our discourse, our award shows and our platforms, despite the Black community claiming to be making attempts at dismantling white supremacy by building and servicing our own. To be homophobic is to simultaneously be anti-Black. To prioritize white and non-Black people over Black queer people is anti-Black.

Still, Lil Nas X is taking the controversy and turning it into dollar signs for himself. In response to the snub, the star has released a snippet of a BET diss track with rapper NBA Youngboy, aptly titled “Late to Da Party”: “Everything I do, bitch right or wrong, gon’ make a profit,” he raps.

BET responded to the snub backlash in a statement: “We love Lil Nas X. He was nominated for a Best New Artist BET Award in 2020, and we proudly showcased his extraordinary talent and creativity on the show twice: he performed “Old Town Road” with Billy Ray Cyrus at “BET Awards” 2019 and his “BET Awards” 2021 performance was a highlight of our show. No one cheered louder that night than BET.

“Unfortunately, this year, he was not nominated by BET’s Voting Academy, which is comprised of an esteemed group of nearly 500 entertainment professionals in the fields of music, television, film, digital marketing, sports journalism, public relations, influencers, and creative arts. No one from BET serves as a member of the Voting Academy.”

Black queer folks are no longer seeking out the acceptance of the mainstream Black community and Black platforms. And while we're still being blocked from accessing some spaces in a large capacity, we still have the talent and the capabilities to make shit shake. As Lil Nas X has shown, despite the disrespect, Black queer people will continue taking up space, whether they give it to us willingly or we have to snatch it from homophobic hands.

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Pablo the Don is a guest writer.

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