September 12, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Hundreds expected at NBJC’s annual “Out on the Hill” summit
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Blacks

Sharon Lettman-Hicks (Photo courtesy of the National Black Justice Coalition)

More than 200 people from across the country are expected to attend the National Black Justice Coalition’s third annual Out on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit in D.C. from Sept. 19-22.

The Obama administration will host black LGBT leaders at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Sept. 20, while the Human Rights Campaign will hold a networking reception for conference delegates later that day. Other events will include a Capitol Hill lobby day and a roundtable of LGBT black older people.

NBJC executive director Sharon Lettman-Hicks pointed out to the Blade that her organization deliberately chose “Own Your Power” as this year’s theme.

“The mantra ‘Own Your Power’ is fundamental to the work we do at the National Black Justice Coalition. NBJC is committed to building informed and empowered black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leadership — a community of victors, not victims. Progress on LGBT social, employment, and marriage equality issues grows as LGBT people feel empowered to be out and open in their families and communities,” she said. “Increasing acceptance and respect for black LGBT people within their families, churches and communities is essential to increasing that openness within the African American community and gaining support for LGBT equality. With the upcoming election and all the momentum the LGBT equality movement has gained, this is a critical time to take our seat at the table and own our power.”

Openly gay ESPN and CNN columnist LZ Granderson is the conference’s national chair. MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris Perry will also host a town hall on voting rights and discrimination during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference that will coincide with “Out on the Hill.”

NBJC will host its own town hall on the increasing homicide rates among trans women of color at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park Hotel on Sept. 21.

In addition to this issue, Lettman-Hicks said fighting anti-LGBT employment discrimination and securing economic security for LGBT people of color remain her organization’s top priorities. “Out on the Hill” will also examine health disparities that persist among this community.

“In addition to ensuring black LGBT people have the means to care for themselves and their families, it is important that we also address the health disparities that exist,” said Lettman-Hicks. “Stratified risk factors and a lack of access to culturally competent health care services have left black LGBT people particularly vulnerable to health disparities. A panel of black LGBT health experts will address the rise in HIV/AIDS infection rates amongst young black men who have sex with men; challenges to accessing competent health care; and the unique health concerns of black lesbians, including breast/cervical cancer.”

The conference will take place less than two months before the presidential election.

Polls continue to indicate that the vast majority of black voters support President Obama’s re-election campaign. Lettman-Hicks acknowledged that the outcome of the election will have what she described as implications for the LGBT community as a whole.

“This impact will be tenfold for LGBT people of color,” she added.

Lettman-Hicks further stressed that any president has an obligation to “protect all Americans and their families under the law.”

“Thousands of LGBT couples are raising children and have marriages rooted in love and lifelong commitment — you don’t get more traditional than that. The U.S. Census shows that these couples are also more likely to be people of color, especially African American,” she said. “Governor Romney has pledged to represent Americans of ‘every race, creed and sexual orientation’ and has been vocal about his support for ‘traditional marriage.’ Well, that includes loving and committed LGBT couples and the families they are providing for and protecting. Anything short of recognizing our committed relationships and our families is unacceptable.”

Lettman-Hicks further pointed to the current White House’s record on LGBT-specific issues.

“The Obama Administration has certainly made tremendous strides in terms of LGBT equality, from the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to health care reform to endorsing marriage equality,” she said. “During ‘OUT on the Hill,’ NBJC will be distributing our Obama Report Card, where we grade the president on different issues such as family recognition and safe schools.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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