The weekend after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of nationwide marriage equality, Julian Walker marched in San Francisco’s LGBT Pride parade. The 22-year-old gay actor is star of the indie hit Blackbird, director Patrik-Ian Polk’s new film based on Larry Duplechan’s iconic novel about a gay Christian teen coming of age in a zealously religious Mississippi town, which has recently been released on DVD. Walker was at San Francisco Pride with a costar of the film, singer-dancer-actor D. Woods, to perform on the Soul Stage. It was his first LGBT Pride and it was exhilarating.
“The experience was absolutely amazing,” Walker says of the event, which drew a jubilant crowd of over 1 million people, many there also celebrating the historic Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. “It was just so beautiful to see so many people out there happy and celebrating. It wasn’t even just gay and lesbian people out there. There were straight people with their family and friends. Everyone came together for one purpose, which was love.”
Pride and self-acceptance are sentiments that Walker’s character, Randy, experiences precious little of throughout the majority of Blackbird. A high school student in Hattiesburg, Miss., Randy struggles with the shame he feels about his attraction to other men. Leaders in his black church, where he sings in the choir, as well as his devout mother, played by Mo’Nique, stoke the stigma — sometimes unwittingly — that surrounds his (secret) sexual orientation.
Oscar-winner Mo’Nique (here with Julian Walker) says homophobia is destroying black lives. “It’s time for us to say, ‘Let’s make it a better place and accept people for who they were made to be.’ ”
Sadly, Randy’s experience is one that is still alarmingly common among African-American teens and young adults in America. Black gay and bisexual men, who already weather the socioeconomic hardships of racism and mass incarceration, are particularly vulnerable to the stigma of homophobia. Many are left to battle discrimination and homophobia without traditional support networks like church, family, and community, and the result, experts say, is the perfect storm for a health crisis.