By Tiffany Ponce
Jeuru Antoine recalls the night he strutted into a McDonald’s wearing tight jeans and a blazer, showing his bare chest.
“I prefer sexy over warmth,” he explained. Two black male employees preparing his food constantly looked over at him, whispering and mocking him. As the two men continued to stare, Antoine became frustrated and shouted, “Is there something so fucking funny you would like to share with me?” The men, shocked at his reaction, went remained silent.
“I’m so tired of hearing constant snickering only because I am a black male who isn’t stereotypically in sweatpants, a hoodie and keeping it thug,” he said. Antoine said he regretted his reaction toward the McDonald’s employees, but hoped the men react differently the next time they see a fashionable black male.
Antoine, 22 and a bisexual Caribbean American, lives in New York City, and has heard plenty of homophobic comments before. As a model and singer, Antoine walked down his first runway this summer in New York for designer Rachel Comey. He was then featured on Vogue’s website. Currently, he is working on recording his first EP at The Cutting Room Studios in SoHo.
In recent years, racial tension, violence and protests have heated up again. The Black Lives Matter movement has established a high profile. But protests and discussions seem not to have touch on the state of homophobia within the black community. While 57% of whites support same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center, among blacks only 42 percent do. “I do wish for my community to have a clear understanding of sexuality,” said Antoine. “Gay or bisexual black males aren’t capable of existing with any male masculine energy, therefore are seen as weak and targeted,” he said.
“Until we see the mental decriminalization of any non-conforming sexual orientation or gender identity, we will always see or hear the many stories of the abused, and often excluded bisexual or gay black males,” stated Antoine.
In 2015, Antoine was hospitalized for depression and a suicide attempt. As a young man, he said, he never had support from his community to deal with his mental illness, and sharing it was especially difficult coming from a Caribbean household.
To date, he said, he has not experienced any discrimination at work, yet he added: “We still have to work on diversity in fashion. There’s a lack of colored models for high luxury brands.”
A close friend, Ashley Tyner, 23, said that when Antoine was growing up in Queens as a sexually fluid boy in the early 2000s, relatives and friends tried to wrap their heads around Antoine’s sexuality, but many continue to believe he is “sexually confused.” And he has experienced objectification and harassment by older gay men.
“It’s an assumption that young black gay men are always willing to be propositioned or paid for sex,” said Tyner, who said Antoine’s experience makes him an outstanding example to young queer black people. “His pain has made him a fearless fighter for self-expression,” added Tyner.
Keisha Joachim, 27, said that when Antoine, her cousin, came out, it was rough. “We come from a Haitian family where we’ve had gay men, but it was never talked about,” said Joachim. The men of the family voiced their opinions on Antoine’s fashion and his sexuality when gay marriage became legal. While they loved him dearly, they struggled accepting him. “Jeuru has not had it easy in this world, yet instead of sulking in the negative, he has chosen to grow,” Joachim said.
A strong believer in the Black Lives Matter movement, Antoine said he wanted to fight for the gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, as well as for the straight males and females. Antoine said he hopes to one day see a time when he and others can walk down the street without any judgment from their community.
“I am exactly who I wanted to be,” he said. “I think my younger self is smiling inside.”