Stories about and voices of black LGBT people in the media are starting to be heard in new and interesting ways. There is still a long way to go and yes the spectrum of issues impacting the black LGBT community are still underreported and overlooked. Yet, over the past couple months, stories ranging from the good and the tragic about the community have emerged including support for marriage, openly gay politicians, pop culture shake-ups and violence against transgender women.
In July, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) unveiled its LGBT Equality Task Force, a new partnership between them and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Task Force is comprised of seven members and is co-chaired by NAACP National Chairman Julian Bond and California NAACP Chair Alice Huffman. They plan on tackling hate crimes, ENDA, safe schools and HIV/AIDS. This was the first time that a black LGBT organization has ever addressed the NAACP―and they had a powerful ally, President Barack Obama. In a speech he gave at the NAACP convention, the President told the crowd that black gay men and women are still being denied rights and how we have to stand up for everyone.
Celebrities have also started to speak out about marriage and are helping to squash the dialogue that the black community is unsupportive of fairness and equality. Last month, True Blood and Desperate Housewives star Mechad Brooks told Honey Magazine that he did not want to marry until everyone could legally marry in this country. “I find it really offensive. I just find it really problematic when you start throwing people’s rights away. Until we get our gay brothers and sisters back into a realm of consciousness that everyone else is in, it’s just not right.”
This past August, R&B songstress Latoya Luckett told The Advocate that marriage for all is inevitable. “It eventually has to, or people are going to move and go to places where it’s accepted. It’s going to have to happen eventually. I don’t know if it’ll happen tomorrow, but whatever is in God’s will, it will be. Hey, everybody deserves love”
Marriage hasn’t been the only focus politics-wise. Anthony Woods, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who was discharged for violating the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was the first openly gay black man to run for Congress in California. While he lost his bid in September, throughout the election, the Harvard graduate appeared on CNN, Real Time with Bill Maher and numerous other shows talking about his experiences and the importance of working toward repealing the military’s ban on gay and lesbians serving.
From a religious, spiritual and faith perspective, LGBT figures are gaining more and more visibility, notably Cari Jackson of Stamford, Connecticut. Jackson is the first women, the first African-American and the first openly gay senior pastor of the First Congregational Church in Stamford, Connecticut.
On an entertainment front there has been a small surge in black LGBT characters and reality stars on the large and small screens. Whether it’s gender bending Layette on True Blood, fashion guru Dwight on The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Leigh the lesbian sister in the film Mississippi Damned, images of black LGBT people are slowly, but surely making a positive impact. Notably Vogue Evolution, the first openly gay dance group on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew sparked a much-needed conversation about race, sexual orientation and transgender issues.
Amidst the successes, there is still an incredible uphill battle the black LGBT community faces, especially in terms of violence and hate crimes. This July, Dwight DeLee was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being found guilty of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime in the shooting of Lateisha Green. Green―a transgender woman from Syracuse, NY―was fatally shot last October at a party she attended with her brother. Witnesses at the scene stated that DeLee and others made anti-gay slurs at the time of the shooting.
Green’s story is not rare. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 1 in 12 transgender Americans face the chance of being murdered; while the average person has about a one in 18,000 chance.
Violence is only one of many issues. Whether it is the alarming rise of HIV among gay and bisexual gay men; disturbing and pervasive bullying of gay students; gay couples being turned away from their churches; the “accepted” homophobia in hip-hop and popular culture; or the increase in violence,the message is clear – we still have a lot of work to do. And most importantly, we must all work together to get it done.