African American and Homosexual in the Time of COVID-19

Updated: Jul 16



“We cannot be antiracist if we are homophobic or transphobic.”

- Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist


As part of our celebration of diversity in Dubuque, we also want to highlight intersectionality in our community. Intersectionality is the idea that individuals belong to more than one social category: gender, race, class, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. Together these categories help form the basis of each individual’s unique identity, and their combination and interaction play a huge role in how we experience the world.


De’Shaun Madkins is faced with three battles that are central to his identity. He doesn’t think he can fight them all.


De’Shaun is a Dubuquer in the time of COVID-19. A graduate from the University of Dubuque, he was studying to get his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto when the pandemic hit. Like all of us he faced the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus: disruption of his studying, the cancellation of a scheduled job, concerns about his family and friends. He also saw that the disease was having an outsized impact on Black and Brown communities throughout the country, resulting in proportionally higher rates of infection and death.


De’Shaun is African-American. He saw what COVID-19 was doing to Black and Brown communities, and he felt anger. And when the killing of George Floyd led to massive protests across the United States, his anger grew. He knew what it was to experience racism. De’Shaun considers his time in Dubuque to have been relatively good, though he once received hate mail because of the color of his skin. He had experienced systemic racism, and knew what it was like to hide part of who he was in order to get ahead in that system. In order to be successful, De’Shaun had to act differently around white colleagues than he would with African Americans, because that was what was required to fit in with what was “expected” of him. But he often needed to mask his true self when he was around many of his Black and Brown friends and family as well, unable to be accepted for another aspect of who he really was.


De’Shaun is homosexual. He began to realize this when he was in 7th and 8th grade in Chicago, where he faced the challenges of not being accepted, first at school, and then with his family. As an adult, he has continued to struggle with that lack of acceptance, including now in the Black Lives Matter movement. Although he is an active and committed member of the Black Lives Matter movement, De’Shaun also relates to how Black and Brown members of the LGBTQ+ community have felt invisible and left out during the recent protests. He has seen videos like the attack on Iyanna Dior, a Black trans woman in Minneapolis who was beaten by a group of Black and Brown people – mostly cisgender men – in a convenience store. He’s heard long lists of Black and Brown victims of police violence that fail to include any mention of queer and trans people of color, people who have been targeted both because of their race and their gender identities/sexual orientation. De’Shaun wants to fight to make sure that their voice – and his voice – is a part of that movement.


Each of the battles De’Shaun is engaged in right now – against COVID-19, as part of Black Lives Matter, and as part of the LGBTQ+ community – are all interconnected. Evidence suggests that both Black and Brown communities and queer communities are at higher risk from COVID-19. De’Shaun sees the struggle for a recognition of Black and Brown voices as a part of the pandemic response, just as he sees the struggle for a recognition of queer voices as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet De’Shaun does not know if he can fight all of these battles at the same time. He asks himself how he can push forward the Black Lives Matter protests while also criticizing those protests for often failing to elevate queer voices, all while the threat of COVID-19 seeps into every aspect of life. For him, juggling all of this is necessary, but exhausting.


But through his exhaustion, De’Shaun still feels hope, and his future is brimming with possibilities. He is now armed with his Master’s degree, and through his work he has learned how to serve indigenous populations and how to elevate the voices of groups who often go unheard, like Chicanx and Latinx communities. And for the next step in his career, he is trying to decide between studying for his PhD in Social Work, going to law school to expand his ability to fight for underserved groups, or beginning to work as a counselor here in Dubuque, where he would provide much-needed brain health support to people of color and members of the LGTBQ+ community. Whichever route he takes, De’Shaun knows that he will be helping those who are often invisible and forgotten in our society.


And that is the lesson he wants Dubuquers to take from the struggles that he’s faced: that while it is hard, and even exhausting, to find those unheard voices in our community, it’s also necessary. Because when we do, the future becomes a much brighter and more welcoming place for all of us.



Further Reading - Learn more about the issues facing LGTBQ+ people of color


"Being African American & LGBTQ: An Introduction," Human Rights Campaign


Jamal Jordan, "Brown, Black, Queer and Invisible"


"The Lives and Livelihoods of Many in the LGBTQ Community are at Risk Amidst COVID-19 Crisis," Human Rights Campaign Foundation


Andrea Ritchie: Invisible No More Lecture - Police violence against women and LGBTQ+ individuals of color (warning, graphic images and language)


Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., West, B. T., & McCabe, S. E. (2014). Discrimination and mental health among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States.The American journal of orthopsychiatry,84(1), 35–45. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0098851


Lourdes D. Follins MSW PhD, Ja’Nina J. Walker PhD & Michele K. Lewis PhD (2014). Resilience in Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals: A Critical Review of the Literature. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health,18:2,190-212,DOI:10.1080/19359705.2013.828343 (Requires purchase)

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