Last week, the NAACP made history at its 102nd Annual Convention in Los Angeles by hosting the first-ever NAACP town hall on LGBT issues. The town hall comes on the heels of a partnership between the National Black Justice Coalition and the NAACP to create an LGBT taskforce in 2009. One of the goals of the taskforce’s three-part mission is to advance the awareness of LGBT issues “as they relate to the overarching programs and interest of the NAACP.” Interestingly, the NAACP as an organization has not endorsed full equal rights for LGBT people, but its current president and CEO, Benjamin Todd Jealous, has been extremely supportive of equality for the LGBT community. Thus, hosting a town hall on LGBT issues sends a powerful message that the NAACP is working toward being a more inclusive civil rights organization.
When I first heard about the town hall, I was elated. The NAACP surely was going to finally make a firm commitment to helping LGBT people of color in the quest for equality. This joy would be short lived, however, after I read about the town hall and I was instead left to wonder when civil rights organizations like the NAACP are going to start asserting some leadership.
Although the panel included lesbian actress/comedian Wanda Sykes, gay CNN anchor Don Lemon, and civil rights activist and NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond, there was no representation from the bisexual and transgender community. Instead of seizing an opportunity to have open and frank dialogue about the issues affecting the whole LGBT community, a critical segment of the population and their legitimate concerns were absent from the conversation.
Seeing that there is a dearth of research about the black bisexual and transgender community, their participation in the town hall was critical. A quick examination of what we do know about the transgender community reveals that they earn an estimated $10,000 less a year than the general population, according to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Additionally, transgender individuals face high levels of discrimination and violence. On the other hand, most of the research about the bisexual community largely focuses on the issue of HIV/AIDS.
This quick examination sure raises red flags for me and makes me eager to know what other issues the bisexual and transgender community is facing. Knowing that people of color face a number of obstacles achieving economic security, educational attainment, and affordable health care, LGBT people of color are surely facing additional sets of barriers. So why was this population not represented? Their experiences and the issues they face are just as important as those of gay and lesbian individuals.
Yes, it is no secret that the Black community has issues with acceptance of homosexuality. Nevertheless, the town hall was not a plea for acceptance but a medium to learn about how to help the LGBT community achieve the equality it deserves. Leaving out important members of the community is not a step toward equality but a step back from equality.
With that said, I applaud the NAACP’s efforts to better understand the needs of the Black LGBT community. This is the beginning of what I am sure will be a meaningful relationship with the LGBT community. The NAACP is an organization of honor and distinction for its work on civil rights and a natural ally for the LGBT community. And while the NAACP may be late to the LGBT equality rodeo, they should not tread lightly. Inclusion of all LGBT individuals is crucial and vital to the fight for equality. Now is not the time to point fingers and dwell on the past.
Jerome Hunt is 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.