before the African American celebrity gossip, news, popular
culture, and entertainment blog "Bossip.com" outed
Dana Owens, a.k.a. Queen Latifah, with photos of her and
gal pal "personal trainer" Jeanette Jenkins in
a tender embrace not meant for public viewing, the century-long
reliable "chitlin’ circuit" told us our closeted
Queen was "in the life."
Queen Latifah, however, emphatically refuted the rumors
as scurrilous attacks.
"It’s insulting when someone asks, ’Are you gay?’ A
woman cannot be strong, outspoken, competent at running
her own business, handle herself physically, play a very
convincing role in a movie, know what she wants -- and go
for it -- without being gay? Come on," Queen Latifah
wrote in her 1999 autobiography, "Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman."
But when photos from R&B soul diva Alicia Keyes’s recent
nuptials of Queen Latifah and Jenkins intimately embraced
aboard a private French yacht in Corsica, France went viral
on the Internet, the public’s long awaited "Gotcha"
moment was sad.
"My private life is my private life. Whomever I might
be with, I don’t feel the need to share it. I don’t think
I ever will," Queen Latifah said in a November 2007
interview with "People" magazine,
refuting rumors that she’s a lesbian.
culture displays a hyper masculinity, and this male-dominated
genre is aesthetically built on the most misogynistic and
homophobic strains of Black Nationalism and afrocentricism.
In 1989 at age 19 Queen Latifah changed the way many of
us viewed hip-hop with her hit single "Ladies First"
from her first album, "All Hail the Queen,"
rebuking misogynistic lyrics and bringing to young women
an uplifting message of self-respect and empowerment.
As one of the most prominent and influential female hip-hoppers
of her generation, however, Queen Latifah hides her sexuality
as a way to not only survive her own internalized homophobia,
but also that of the musical genre.
"I feel more comfortable with myself -- my sexuality,
my mentality, and my viewpoint," Queen Latifah told
And Queen Latifah’s viewpoint, even with these recent damaging
photos of her with Jenkins, is hell-bent on not disclosing.
What set off the on-going flurry of queries concerning Queen
Laitifah’s sexual orientation was her portrayal as a butch
lesbian in the 1996 movie "Set
it Off." And the response from the African American community
ranged from applause to outrage.
For her portrayal as "Cleopatra ’Cleo’ Sims" Queen
Latifah received the American Black Film Festival Award
for Best Actress and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding
Actress in a Motion Picture.
But within the hip-hop community Queen Latifah’s butch lesbian
"Cleo" wasn’t well received; it cast her within
this community as a liability, bringing attention to not
only her sexual orientation but also bringing attention
to the questionable sexual orientations of others. Queen
Latifah’s emphatic denunciation of her lesbianism only fed
more curiosity and intrigue about the "down-low"
gay and lesbian subculture of hip-hop.
For example, former MTV producer Terrance Dean wrote a page-turning
memoir titled "Hiding in Hip-Hop: Confessions of a Down Low Brother in
the Entertainment Industry" depicting
his "down low" dalliances with married Hollywood
and hip-hop’s leading black men "living a double life."
"The very men who they think aren’t doing anything
is the very man that is hiding in hip-hop," Dean told
Danica Dow in a 2008 interview with the hip-hop news website SOHH.com.
book created enormous fear and anger among many prominent
hip-hoppers. In a 2008 SOHH.com interviewed
hip-hoppers Yung Berg, who’s first single "Sexy Lady"
peaked at #18 on the Billboard 100, and Nelly, who’s ranked
as the 3rd Top Overall Artist of the 2000-2009 decade by
about Dean’s book and "down-low" gay subculture
"You could fuck up a man’s happy home," Yung Berg
"It might be the dude who wear his boxers on backwards
every damn day dats getting hit in the ass...homo damn dude
you talk about in the book but he probably still got a wife
and kids and you might fuck up his life."
Nelly shared his view on the matter, stating, "Like
I played sports a lot, you know, so I’m like, ’what goes
on in the locker room stays in the locker room. It’s like
a guy’s sanctuary. You may say some shit in here you don’t
never want to get out there.’"
argue that hip-hop forced Queen Latifah to be closeted.
Others argue she had enough clout and crossover appeal to
not worry about it. But Queen Latifah, no doubt, did worry
For years Queen Latifah has held private same-sex parties
with all in attendance understanding to be on the "down-low"
about it. That intimate and tender embraced Queen Latifah
had with her long-time lover aboard a private French yacht
in Corsica at Keyes’ wedding was to be on the "down-low,"
too. But in those perceived stolen moments when you think
no one’s watching, especially far out in the waters, are
really when you’re most vulnerable. And it’s not because
someone snapped a photo of you, but rather because you thought
you could hide.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a
religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion
and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley
College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University,
and served as a pastor at an African-American church before
coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a
Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author
of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for
a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com.
Click here to contact the Rev. Monroe.