Advocating for Black LGBTQ+ Equity

Black LGBTQIA+ individuals encounter numerous challenges due to the intersectionality of their identities. These include employment, housing, healthcare, and education discrimination, as well as an increased risk of violence and hate crimes. This discrimination extends to their financial well-being, with 69% reporting negative impacts on their finances, and 40% avoiding law enforcement to evade further discrimination. 

Limited representation in media intensifies feelings of invisibility, while systemic barriers limit access to resources like mental health services. Issues are compounded by family rejection, health disparities, and intersectional discrimination, highlighting the pressing need for inclusive measures to support black queer individuals.

This Black History Month podcast special aims to encourage listeners to better support and advocate for Black LGBTQIA+ individuals worldwide, helping them gain safer and equitable access to resources. Our host at Goodera, Julie Norwood, engages in a conversation with Kenya Hutton (he/him), the Deputy Director at the Center for Black Equity, to help you better understand how we can all enhance our advocacy and volunteer for the rights of Black LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Julie: How did the Center for Black Equity form? What is your mission?

Kenya: The first official Washington DC Black Pride took place in 1991, established by Earl Fowlkes Jr., Ernest Hopkins, and Finne Kirkland. Between 1991 and approximately 1997-98, Earl Fowlkes Jr., recognizing the existence of many Black Pride events globally, initiated the Federation of Black Prides. This organization aimed to unite Black Pride organizations, share resources, provide technical and peer support, and help these groups not just start but also thrive locally.

During the planning phase in 1999, the name was changed to the International Federation of Black Prides, with a mission to support Black Prides worldwide. This organization pursued its mission until about 2012 when the board of directors and Fowlkes recognized their work had extended beyond merely Pride events. They identified the need for year-round attention and resources to address issues affecting Black and Brown communities. Consequently, the organization was renamed the Center for Black Equity, operating under three pillars: social equity, financial equity, and health equity.

The Center for Black Equity strives to create equitable spaces worldwide for Black and Brown communities. Its mission is to establish a network of organizers and advocates, offering peer support and resources. Understanding the unique challenges each region presents, they have regional leadership to provide tailored support and resources, while also offering national exposure, access to federal spaces, funding, and networking opportunities. This strategy ensures their work's impact extends beyond geographic boundaries, effectively addressing local community issues.

Julie: Do you enjoy building this stronger community? How do you go about it?

Kenya: Absolutely, I do. It seems some have lost sight of the "it takes a village" concept. Historically, communities recognized that child-rearing was a group responsibility. Growing up, I knew if I misbehaved, not only my family but also my neighbours would step in. I remember a time in New York when my school uniform included a bright red jacket. I questioned this colour choice, and the principal explained it was for identification. This way, if we found ourselves in potentially risky situations, people would identify us as Saint Mark's students and help us.

Reviving this village mentality, this sense of community and mutual aid is vital. Parents can't be everywhere at once, but a community that watches out for each other is like having additional eyes and ears. Reinstating this mindset could significantly impact how we navigate and support each other in society.

Julie: I have been reading about the statistics of discrimination, and I find them grossly alarming. How is it that in our advanced and progressive culture, we are still dividing and segregating, aiding and conquering? What does the Center for Black Equity do to tackle this? How do they define equity for Black and Brown LGBTQIA+ individuals?

Kenya: Yes, it's interesting because I recently had a conversation about equity and how it differs from equality. This is where I think many people get confused. When you talk about equality, you're saying that Julie will get 5%, Kenya will get 5%, everyone will get 5%, right? This sounds great in theory. For instance, if we use 5% as an example, everyone will get this piece of paper. You'll get a piece, I'll get a piece, we'll all get the same piece of paper. However, if historically, I wasn't even taught how to read and you give me this piece of paper, I'm already behind everyone else. So, if you're giving everyone the same thing, it's not really helping me because you already know how to read, you already know everything. I'm always going to be at a deficit in that situation.

When you talk about equity, it's about taking a bird's eye view of the community, the culture, and the world of people. In the United States, we know that the black community has historically been placed at a disadvantage, and they will never be able to be equal to some other cultural counterparts. To me, equity means providing those services, coming in and saying, "Okay, you need a little bit extra." And let me clarify, giving one community a little bit extra is not taking away from another community. That's where some people get it wrong, thinking, "Oh no, I can't give more to this group." But it's not taking away from anyone. It's merely acknowledging that you are already behind, you're already placed at a deficit when it comes to these services.

Julie: Over the years, have you observed any progress? Have you noticed an increase in support from individuals outside of your entity and community, or is it moving further away rather than closer?

Kenya: Its ebbs and flows, right? It really depends on a number of things, starting with who we have in our political offices, which really dictates where and how the support goes. I've been in the Senate advocating for equity for 15 years, but I've been in the field for well over 20 years now. Support comes and goes, depending a lot on what's happening in the media. I've been in the community doing things where we're getting support and financial backing, but then something happens, and instead of it being isolated to that organization, everyone affiliated with that community gets impacted.

With the previous president in the United States, who shall not be named, we noticed that because of everything going on, and of course, because of the extreme social unrest that was happening here in the United States with the George Floyd situation, we began to see a huge increase in support both from the community and corporations. But once it's not in the news, they think, "Oh, it's over. That problem has been solved. We don't need to focus on that anymore." We're still doing it, but it's just not immediate anymore, right? So we've seen that support we had just three years ago, has started to dry up and shift to other groups.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that because our organization is centered on black equity, we only care about black people. We care about all people, but we just acknowledge that the black community needs some additional support. Support comes and goes depending on what's happening in the community. We're coming off of a lot of support, and we're going back to struggling again.

One of the things that we do is mainstream pride and we often get asked “Why is there black pride? Why can't we just have pride altogether?” Representation matters. We all don't celebrate the same. We could have a whole other podcast on the importance of what we call identity pride, and the importance of why they don't take away from mainstream pride.

Mainstream prides typically have access to more funds, honestly, because they also have a parade, which historically was not necessarily a parade, it was actually a protest. But these folks now have co-opted it into a parade and that's what gets more support. Most black prides, not all, do not have a parade. We have more workshops, more social spaces, more networking, that's what we do. And so they don't see the benefit of it, because we don't give them the opportunity to slap their name on the side of a float.

We're asking for funds so we can have workshops, hold spaces to talk about spirituality in the LGBTQIA+ community or substance use and abuse. That's not as attractive, and isn’t something they can really take pictures of and post on their website and say, "Oh, I support the community." Because it's not a float. So yeah, I could go on and on about the differences between us and why we don't get as much support from others.

Julie: You guys are doing some great work, making strides not only to build community and unity but also to affirm and confirm people's current life situations! What specific programs do you offer to facilitate this? Are these programs only available in Washington DC, Alabama, and Boston?

Kenya: We are a membership organization with members all over the world, from London, Lagos, Nigeria, Uganda, to the United States. We currently have 48 prides as part of our membership, both domestically and overseas. One of our offerings is the Black Pride Leadership Summit. This summit is not exclusive to Black Pride leaders but is open to affiliates, which are organizations that support Black Pride and our community.

We host the Black Leadership Summit, where we bring people together for two to three days to discuss issues and create avenues for problem-solving. This face-to-face event aims to educate and network, leaving attendees feeling fulfilled and revived.

We also have the Ron Simmons Leadership Institute, named after the late Dr. Ron Simmons. This institute is dedicated to teaching individuals how to elevate themselves to leadership. We believe that leadership is not solely about degrees or letters after your name. True leadership involves mobilizing a community and acquiring skills such as grant writing, public speaking, and storytelling.

We are currently transitioning our program name from "Promotion and Networking Opportunities" to "It Takes a Village". This program aims to connect all Black Prides and create a network of resources focused on eliminating HIV within our lifetime. We recently rewrote a grant for funding to support this goal.

In addition to these programs, we also work on policy education. While we don't advocate for specific politicians, we aim to educate our community about current policies. This way, when members go to the polls, they are informed about the issues at hand, especially those that affect us as a Black queer community. These are just a few of the programs we are currently running.

Julie: So, the Center for Black Equity, as you've already said, is for everybody?

Kenya: It's for everybody! Everyone can reach out and get some services. The same goes for Black Prides, right? When we have a Black Pride every year, I get an email asking, "Can I come? Can I visit?" I always respond, "Yes. Come on. We welcome everybody."

Yes, everything here is going to focus on the Black community. So, you're not going to hear EDM, you might hear some R&B and hip hop. On Sunday, we have a spiritual service. Last year, we had a gospel concert. Anyone can come but understand that this space is really focusing on the Black queer experience.

We want people to learn about us. There's always a tendency to sit back and observe the swath of the Black community without getting involved or commenting. But we want you to learn about us so that you understand that we are the same as you. Then we can start to break down some of those barriers that have been placed within our community. We are the same, we have similar struggles. We just want to live happy, peaceful lives, just like you do.

Let me tell you a story. We had an older white lady attend our event, a Poetry Slam, where she sat in the front row. These were Black queer poets from the DMV area, from Baltimore all the way down. They talked about sex, sexism, racism, and everything under the sun through powerful poems. At the end of it, the lady stood up, turned around, and said, "I now understand." She had an adopted gay son and was struggling to understand his experiences. She wanted to support and love him, but she just didn't know how. By sitting in that poetry slam, she got to hear these people speak unapologetically about the experience of being a Black queer person in America. A light bulb went off in her head. She said, "I get it now. Now I see why he is the way he is." She went back home and was able to effectively engage with her child.

That's what we want. We want people to come to our Black Pride, learn something about our community. We've lived in everyone else's community. So now we want people to come into our community and learn about us.

Julie: How do people discover you? I'm aware of your communities and I assume word of mouth works like it does for anything else, but how do you communicate on a mass scale?

Kenya: Well, joining podcasts like this — we love doing it! We directly post on our website, which we are constantly revamping and rebuilding our social media presence. We're building our media spaces, conducting interviews, and publishing papers. We have a slew of papers that we talk about within our community partnerships. We do everything we can, besides standing on the corner waving a flag. We're really engaged with other partners, especially those who believe in our mission. We try to partner with them to get the word out. We're always trying to improve, and that goes into how we share our information. We're on Facebook and Instagram. We've stopped using Twitter because the rhetoric there has become so harmful and hurtful. We've chosen, as an organization, not to engage on that platform any longer, at least for now. Until we can start regaining control and making it a safe space again. But we promote ourselves everywhere else on social media – like I said, Instagram, Facebook, our website, and our newsletter. You can just type it into Google, and you'll find us right away!

Julie: Could you elaborate on the Center's efforts to engage with corporations, particularly those with a significant number of affected employees, in bridging the gap between impacted communities and the corporate world?

Kenya: Yes, we try to do that quite often. One of the things we offer is that we go the extra mile in emphasizing D&I efforts. We aim to ensure that our folks feel like they belong here. If you're an organization with black queer staff, this is something you need to consider. For instance, this Saturday, I'm going to an organization to conduct training, teaching them how to reverse overdoses within their community in a non-judgmental way. This is something we're constantly doing—working with organizations that need support, and even if you don't think you need it, let's talk about it. We have a great tool where you can assess implicit bias in your organization. It's called the implicit bias test, where you answer random questions, and it calculates whether you might have an implicit bias towards certain communities. That's usually how we start the conversation, to avoid triggering defensiveness. We didn't create the tool, but we utilize it to help organizations recognize and address implicit bias. If you don't want to engage further, that's fine, it's your decision. We're just here to provide the opportunity for growth and improvement.

About the organization
The Center for Black Equity is a global network of LGBT individuals, allies, community-based organizations and prides dedicated to achieving equality and social justice for Black LGBT communities through Health Equity, Economic Equity and Social Equity.

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