Ex-KKK leader’s child comes out as transgender in new memoir

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R. Derek Black’s coming out story is complicated.

As a child, Black came out to the world as a white nationalist on the syndicated daytime talk program “The Jenny Jones Show” in 1999. Then, while trying to hide their white nationalist credentials as a college student roughly a decade later, Black was outed in a student-run online forum. In 2013, Black came out yet again: In an article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black condemned white supremacy and their famous family’s ideology and came out as an antiracist.

Now, in the memoir “The Klansman’s Son,” the 35-year-old child of former Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black and a close family friend of the notorious former KKK grand wizard David Duke is coming out as transgender.

“You can sort of bury these things, and for a lot of my teenage years, it was often feeling like it wanted to burst through,” Black, who uses they/them and she/her pronouns, told NBC News. “But it was also something that I just didn’t talk about with almost anybody.”

Black learned not to talk about their gender identity, or anything private for that matter, from a young age.

They write in their memoir, released earlier this month, that their father — who founded what is thought to be the internet’s first neo-Nazi website, Stormfront — taught them that the notion of privacy was “absurd.”

“One of the earliest and most consistent pieces of advice that my dad ever gave me was, ‘never say anything that you wouldn’t be willing to see published in the New York Times the next day,’” they write.

Derek at age 8 with a white nationalist flag
R. Derek Black at age 8 standing in front of a white nationalist flag.Courtesy R. Derek Black

Much of what Black said would in fact go on to be published in The New York Times.

Black made international headlines in 2008 for winning a seat on the Republican executive committee for Florida’s Palm Beach County at age 19. Given Black’s family history, the press regularly compared Black to Duke, who also held political office as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1982 to 1999. In the weeks after Black’s win, Duke publicly referred to Black as “the heir” to the white nationalist movement, Black writes in his book.

In an interview with NBC News, however, Duke denied calling Black his heir.

“I’ve never, ever said publicly that I saw him as the heir to my work or the successor to my work,” Duke said in a phone call. “I would never even think about that.”

But after the Palm Beach County committee refused to seat Black, they left their home in West Palm Beach, Florida, to pursue their bachelor’s degree at New College of Florida in Sarasota. There, they describe living something of a double life.

As a college student, they continued to host their morning neo-Nazi radio show, “The Derek Black Show,” in secrecy from their peers. Simultaneously, Black formed close friendships with the same groups of people they regularly targeted on the radio: Jewish people and people of color.

“It just became intolerable,” they said. “I couldn’t manage this sort of split that was going on, and I couldn’t even imagine coming back to campus and having to keep doing it, wondering when the shoe is going to drop, when people were going to find out about me.”

Eventually, one of their peers outed them for their white nationalist roots on a student-run online forum. It was then, Black said, that their transformation from a white nationalist to an antiracist began. But it didn’t happen overnight. Black said it took years of persuasion from friends who didn’t give up on them to change their views.

“It wasn’t the first time someone told me racism was bad. I had 10,000 emails from strangers throughout my whole adolescence telling me that,” they said. “But it was the first time that I lived in a community where the people on the other end telling me I was responsible for ignorance and hate and was spouting stuff that was stupid and ridiculous and wrong was coming from a community of people who I knew and respected and cared about and wanted to be connected with.”

In 2013, without telling their family in advance, Black released an article disavowing their white supremacist ideology and formally separating themself from the movement. In the decade since, they said, their relationship with their immediate family has primarily consisted of well wishes for birthdays and holidays.

The Klansman’s Son: My Journey from White Nationalism to Antiracism: A Memoir.
“The Klansman’s Son” by R. Derek Black.Abrams Books

Since coming out as trans and releasing their memoir, Black said, their relationship with their family has become even more strained.

Throughout their memoir, Black, who was assigned male at birth, briefly mentions struggles they had as a child understanding their gender identity. They reference the long hair they had, which they say often prompted people to mistake them for a girl.

“I liked the gender confusion, except in public bathrooms, where adult men always took it upon themselves to compliment my looks before telling me I was in the wrong room,” Black writes.

But since writing the book and on a recent press tour to promote it, Black has decided to come out more publicly. They said they originally planned on using he/him pronouns and presenting as a man for the press tour, but ultimately decided against it.

“It’s something that I’m even now thinking more about, how I want to present in the world,” Black said.

The response from their parents — whom Black said they did not want to disparage — has been “disappointing,” they said.

“I have never gotten as explicitly vitriolic and cruel messages from them as since I publicly identified as trans,” Black said. “It’s not that I’m exactly surprised, because they’re, you know, leaders of the white nationalist movement. It’s kind of what you would expect, I guess.”

But, Black added, “They’re also my parents, who I’ve cared about and loved and continue to love, and they have loved me.”

In a phone call with NBC News, Don Black described the rift between himself and his child as “devastating.”

“All of my experiences with him were the most rewarding of my life, which made it particularly horrible,” Don Black said through tears, misgendering R. Derek Black. “Because we did go everywhere together.”

Don Black also encouraged people to read his child’s book. His wife and R. Derek Black’s mother, Chloe Black, declined to comment.

R. Derek Black said they have not heard from Duke, who has largely been out of the public eye since unsuccessfully running for Congress in 2016, since they disavowed their white nationalist beliefs more than a decade ago.

“I can only assume the same as my parents, the sort of person with lack of curiosity and lack of compassion and care for a person who is supposed to be an important part of their family,” Black said. “Because he is definitely family. It’s not just a professional, political relationship. I always grew up calling him ‘uncle.’”

Duke, whose ex-wife is Black’s mother and whose two daughters are Black’s half sisters, called his strained relationship with Black “a sad situation.”

“I do believe that Derek Black will realize that he’s made a real mistake,” Duke said, misgendering Black. “And I think someday he’ll be repentant in a sense for the hurt he’s caused his father and mother and others.”

When asked about his beliefs, Duke denied being a white supremacist, adding that his work is about “defending the civil rights of white people.”

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