From his debut and history-making appearance on The Real World in 2004 as reality TV’s first openly gay African-American, Karamo Brown has been making strides ever since to be a voice for not only the LGBTQ community, but for the gay and bisexual African-American men within it. We sat down with Brown as he took us through his journey of becoming a father, dealing with the harsh misconceptions of society, and how being himself has been his greatest tool to his success.
Cliché: What was that experience like for you being the first openly gay African-American in reality TV? Did it help or hinder you in your career now?
Karamo Brown: Being the first openly gay African-American in reality show history was overwhelming. I never expected the response I received. I would get messages from people around the world who would tell me that my image gave them the courage to be themselves or, in some cases, helped them to make the decision to live. Being myself has definitely helped my career because I am comfortable with myself, and others are open to hearing my story and working with me.
Could you tell me a bit about your non-profit? When did you realize this was something that was needed?
My non-profit is called 6in10.org, and we support the self-esteem/mental health of gay and bisexual African-American men who are infected or affected by HIV. Our goal is to create messaging that supports them in understanding they are worthy of being loved, protected, and healthy. As I saw the CDC statistic rising in the south when it came to gay and bisexual black men, I knew I needed to lend my voice and resources to the fight.
Can you explain how that transition was from the youngest brother to father?
Finding out I was a father was extremely emotional. No amount of mentoring could prepare me to raise my own child, but luckily, I had a supportive family. My son’s mother was so giving, and my child is an angel, so it made the transition easy. There is nothing as special as being a father and watching your child grow into an amazing human being.
Being myself has definitely helped my career because I am comfortable with myself, and others are open to hearing my story and working with me.
Everyone has an opinion and they tend to share it on social media. How do you handle negativity online or on a regular basis in person?
To be honest, I ignore negative comments on social media by deleting it or blocking the person. I look at my social media accounts like a house party I am having. If I invite someone in or a guest of mine invites someone, and they start acting crazy, they will get kicked out of my house. The same goes for my socials. I don’t tolerate negativity or craziness in my life. There is no point in engaging in it.
What advice do you have for young adults in the LGBTQ community who struggle with their identity or feeling alone?
I would tell them to find support in your community. Digital support can be fine, but I encourage you to find a center or youth group where you can be yourself and build your self-esteem. Almost every major city has one and if you don’t know where to start, you can go to lgbtcenters.org to find one.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career thus far?
That being myself is the greatest tool in being successful. People relate to what’s real…and by being my authentic self, even when I am scared to be, I always find myself winning because others can connect with me.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about being a gay black man in the entertainment industry?
The biggest misconception is that ‘we’ don’t support each other. Anytime I walk in a room and see another LGBTQ man or woman of color, it’s always love. There is a network of people in front of and behind the camera that want to help you win. Just reach out.
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How Karamo Brown is Making History: Photographed by Odessy Barbu