A few weeks back I had the pleasure to attend the National Black Justice Coalition’s (NBJC)—the only national Black LGBT civil rights organization—second annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit. The summit afforded me the opportunity to meet a number of local and national grassroots and organizational leaders who are advocating for equality for Black LGBT individuals not only in the Black community but also in the broader LGBT movement. Participants were treated to a number of panels that discussed Black LGBT issues, briefings by Obama administration officials, and the opportunity to lobby members of Congress and their aides.
While this was a wonderful experience I am glad I was able to partake in, I could not help but notice the proverbial pink elephant in the room—a Black LGBT leadership summit was being hosted the same week of the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) Legislative Conference. This made me wonder: Was this the only time Black LGBT issues could garner attention locally and nationally? Then I started to think: Does it really matter? No. It really doesn’t.
The more important question we should be asking ourselves in the Black LGBT community is: How do we get our issues to matter year round, not just during an event that brings Black leaders and Black LGBT leaders together in the same city at the same time? The answer is simple from my perspective—the work has to begin within. The leadership summit and legislative conference are a great springboard to present Black LGBT issues to a large Black audience and advocate for change. The work begins way before these leaders assemble in Washington, D.C., however.
As a Black LGBT community, we must do our part to ensure Black LGBT issues are present and accounted for year round in the larger LGBT movement and in broader societal conversations. We cannot sit around and wait to be invited into the conversation for equality. Instead, we must be on the ground informing people within and outside of the community why equality is needed. People need to be informed that the quest for equality is much more than marriage. The Black LGBT community and communities of color for that matter suffer disproportionately from discriminatory laws that impede employment, health care, family recognition, and a slew of other factors.
Whether it is grassroots organizing, volunteering in the LGBT community, or working for a mainstream LGBT organization, the plight of Black LGBT individuals and families must be discussed and advocated for. There is nothing wrong with advocating for the needs of Black LGBT individuals when advocating for the general LGBT collective, because if we don’t, who will? More importantly, it is critical to address the needs of those marginalized within the LGBT community if equality is going to be achieved for all. The road will not be easy and it will be filled with bumps and naysayers, but Black LGBT equality is not separate from LGBT equality in general. It is a key component of the equation.
While the pink elephant in the room may be a strategic effort and ignored by some, I am ready to do my part to advance our movement to include all LGBT people. It can be as simple as writing or calling members of Congress and asking them to consider legislation that will improve the lives of the Black LGBT community, or volunteering in the Black LGBT community. Maybe even making sure that the Black LGBT perspective is being considered at panels and town halls, either through the inclusion of Black LGBT individuals or through asking questions that center around Black LGBT issues. No matter if the action is big or small, it will help ensure Black LGBT issues are being presented into the larger mainstream discussion.
NBJC’s OUT on the Hill and the CBCF Legislative Conference should not be the only time that awareness about Black LGBT issues is presented. Work must be done year round, and we cannot sit back and expect our Black LGBT leaders to do all the work.
We all stand to benefit from the equality we seek. No matter if you are young or old, experienced or inexperienced, you can make a difference. Will you join me? Will you stand and answer the call?
Jerome Huntis a Ph.D. candidate at Howard University and a research associate with the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The views expressed in this article are his own. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.