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Breaking the Silence: Including the ‘B’ and ‘T’ in the Black LG Community

Clearly, the “L” and “G” community can do more to be more inclusive to the bisexual and transgender members of the community

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“If the LG community stood up as hard and strong as they did for marriage equality, there might not be as much violence against our most vulnerable members of the community.”
—Jeffery Richardson, Director of the Office of GLBT Affairs

“Here in the District of Columbia, transgender individuals are free to be lynched.”
— Danielle King, Board Member, DC Black Pride; Chair, Capital TransPride

These are two profound statements made at a recent two-part town hall hosted by the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs and the National Black Justice Coalition. After the town hall these statements continue to resonate with me and eat away at me. How can the Black LG community continue to largely ignore the needs and issues of our bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters?

Some would argue that we do not fight as fiercely for our bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters as we should. And I would tend to agree. I cannot even keep count of the numerous events I have gone to where the “L” and “G” are prominent and the “B” and “T” are virtually invisible. I personally take some responsibility for that. While going through my coming out process and becoming more involved in the community, I was for the most part ignorant to the issues affecting the bisexual and transgender communities. Outside of the brief moment where I thought I may have been bisexual, I know nothing about the experiences of a bisexual individual. Additionally, I barely knew anything about transgender individuals, or the issues that they faced. Thankfully, that has changed.

My experience, however, may be similar to a lot of people in the community. We tend to be in our own little bubble and do not realize there is life outside of our gay and lesbian circles. Frankly, we should be ashamed of that. The recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed some eye-opening numbers about our transgender brothers and sisters and showed why we should be working hard to ensure they are included in the community. Some of the key findings include:

  • Black transgender people live in extreme poverty and an astounding 34 percent have a household income of less than $10,000 a year.
  • Fifty percent of Black transgender or gender nonconforming individuals have experienced harassment in school.
  • Forty-six percent have experienced harassment at work.
  • Fifteen percent have been physically assaulted at work.
  • Thirteen percent have been sexually assaulted.

These numbers are just a small sample of the discrimination that the transgender community faces. Sadly, discrimination is not the only area in which the transgender community is affected. Black transgender individuals also face high rates of violence. Look no further than the recent rash of violence against the transgender community in the District of Columbia. Since July there have been five reported or attempted shootings of transgender women. Sadly, one of those shootings took the life of 23-year-old transgender woman Lashai McClean.

On the other hand, not much is known about the issues affecting those in the bisexual community outside of HIV/AIDS. This dearth of research and data collection has led bisexual individuals to be a silent part of the community that we need to know more about. And who can blame them for remaining silent when the larger community does not accept them and their struggles as part of the movement?

Clearly, the “L” and “G” community can do more to be more inclusive to the bisexual and transgender members of the community. We should band together to end discrimination for all members of the LGBT community. More importantly, we should all rally around each other to curb the violence against a vulnerable segment of the population. We should advocate and call for change no matter how long it takes to end senseless violence against the transgender community. In addition, we should welcome the bisexual and transgender community to the table to better understand how to advocate for and alongside them.

In essence, not being inclusive of the “B” and “T” community is the oppressed being the oppressor. It will only lead to more violence and discrimination, which will continue to rip the community further apart.

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 [email protected].

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Oliver Martin

    October 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Sexual Minorities in the USA — It seems that Hurt People still tend to Hurt People.
    Labels, Labels and more Labels, while I agree I too have been at .many functions where the “L” and “G” are prominent and the “B” and “T” are virtually invisible. I am also amazed that many Black / African American advocacy group has not added “Same Gender Loving” SGL and or Pansexual “P “to its official information. It would seem that SGL terminology is being used by a large number of its constituency however it not being readily adopted into mainstream culture. It also seems to me that all LG groups are slow to adopt “P” into their statements… This seems to be true in both the secular and faith movements in the USA.
    Until we move away from using those labels and decided to use one word that relates to the entire group (such “Affirming People” my personal pledge is to honor all who fall under the Labels of LGBTPQQ, SGL (Lesbian Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans – Transgendered, Pansexual, Queer, Questioning, Same Gender Loving), and I will use this acronym and keep adding to it with all my personal writings.

  2. Amy Andre

    October 8, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you for writing this! As the co-author of Bisexual Health: An Introduction (published by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force), and as a black bisexual woman, I agree that we don’t know much about the bisexual population. What we do know is this:
    * Studies show that 50% of those who identify as either lesbian or gay or bisexual, identify as bisexual. This percentage is higher among people of color. That means that more than half of LGB POC are bi-identified.
    * Bisexual people have poorer health than lesbians and gays, who tend to have poorer health than straight people.
    * Examples of these health disparities are: higher rates of smoking among bisexuals compared to LG people; bisexuals drink more than LG; bisexuals are more likely to be depressed or have other mental health issues, compared to LG; bisexual women are more likely than straight women and lesbians to be victims of domestic violence.
    * Bisexuals make less money than LG people.
    * Straight people stigmatize bisexuals more than LG (and bisexuals face biphobia _within_ the LG(b)T community, too) — and stigma has a direct correlation to all of the above health and economic disparities I mentioned.

    The intersection of race and bisexuality runs deep, and I’m glad that you are “breaking the silence” about the state of bi and trans issues in the black LGBT community. Thanks again!

    Best regards,
    Amy Andre

  3. Aaron Anson

    October 10, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Great article as we are all on the same team. Keep speaking your truth.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaron-anson/resistant-homophobia-in-t_b_997328.html

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Opinions

Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation

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It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity

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(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Opinions

Trend of banning books threatens our freedom

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas’

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National Book Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

I knew Helen Keller was a DeafBlind activist. But, until recently, I didn’t know that some of her books were torched.

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1933 Germany, the Nazis added “How I Became a Socialist,” by Keller to a list of “degenerate” books. Keller’s book, along with works by authors from H.G. Wells to Einstein were burned. 

The Nazi book burnings were horrific, you might think, but what does this have to do with the queer community now?

I speak of this because a nano-sec of the news tells us that book censorship, if not from literal fires, but from the removal from school libraries, is alive and well. Nationwide, in small towns and suburbs, school boards, reacting to pressure from parents and politicians, are removing books from school libraries. Many of these books are by queer authors and feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Until recently, I didn’t worry that much about books being banned. My ears have pricked up, every year, in September when Banned Books Week is observed. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their belief that reading was one of life’s great pleasures as well as a chance to learn about new ideas – especially, those we disagreed with. The freedom to read what we choose is vital to democracy, my folks taught me. 

“I don’t care if it’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” my Dad who was Jewish told me, “I’ll defend to my death against its being banned.”

“Teachers should be allowed to teach it,” he added, “so kids can learn what a monster Hitler was.”

In this country, there have always been people who wanted to ban books from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.”

In the 1920s, in the Scopes trial, a Tennessee science teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. (The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee was later repealed.)

But, these folks, generally, seemed to be on “the fringe” of society. We didn’t expect that book banning would be endorsed by mainstream politicians.

Until lately.

Take just one example of the uptake in book-banning: In September, the Blade reported, Fairfax County, Virginia public school officials said at a school board meeting that two books had been removed from school libraries to “reassess their suitability for high school students.”

Both books – “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary author Maia Koabe feature queer characters and themes, along with graphic descriptions of sex.

Opponents of the books say the books contain descriptions of pedophilia. But, many book reviewers and LGBTQ students as well as the American Library Association dispute this false claim.

The American Library Association honored both books with its Alex Award, the Associated Press reported. The award recognizes the year’s “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”

Given how things have changed for us queers in recent years – from marriage equality to Pete Buttigieg running for president – it’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash. As part of the blowback, books by queer authors with LGBTQ+ characters have become a flashpoint in the culture wars.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to joke that book banning is fabulous for writers. Nothing improves sales more than censorship.

Yet, there’s nothing funny about this for queer youth. My friend Penny has a queer son. “LGBTQ kids need to read about people like themselves,” she told me. “It’s horrible if queer kids can’t find these books. They could become depressed or even suicidal.”

If we allow books to be banned, our freedom to think and learn will be erased.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote in a letter to students in Nazi Germany.

Anti-queer officials may remove LGBTQ books from school libraries. But, our thoughts will not be unshelved.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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