Jumping Beyond The Broom: Policy Priorities Outside Of Marriage Equality

Originally posted at: http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/01/19/407409/jumping-beyond-the-broom-policy-priorities-outside-of-marriage-equality/?mobile=nc

Today, the Fighting Injustice to Reach Equality, or FIRE initiative, at the Center for American Progress released a comprehensive report about the policy priorities of black LGBT Americans outside of marriage equality. “Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality,” specifically examines the issues of economic insecurity, educational attainment and outcomes, and health and wellness disparities this population faces, and offers a host of policy solutions to bridge the gaps.

The key finding of the report is that black LGBT Americans continue to experience stark social, economic, and health disparities despite significant gains in securing basic right for LGBT people over the past decade.

For example, black gay Americans earn $10,000 less than their black heterosexual counterparts and face higher rates of poverty and unemployment as well. Black lesbians are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases (i.e. heart disease and diabetes) than others, and black LGBT youth are more likely to end up homeless and living on the streets compared to other youth. These social, economic, and health disparities are often ignored as broader gay and transgender policy priorities—including marriage equality—receive the time and attention of advocates and the mainstream and LGBT press. They’re also neglected by racial and economic justice agendas that fail to include the needs and priorities of gay and transgender populations. In short black gay and transgender Americans fall through the cracks of silo’d policy and advocacy efforts – so we must make progress in bridging these gaps.

“Jumping Beyond the Broom,” shows how progress can be made by applying an intersectional lens that accounts for race, class, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity in federal policy analysis and advocacy.

The report also makes recommendations that Congress and federal agencies could adopt that would help eliminate the disparities between black gay and transgender people and others. Recommendations include ensuring full LGBT inclusion in social safety net programs; developing a comprehensive federal response to LGBT homelessness; adopting safe schools polices; implementing the Affordable Care Act in a fully LGBT-inclusive way at the state and federal level; and collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity across key federal surveys of the public. The FIRE Initiative will explore many of these policy issues in-depth in the months to come, including through additional publications and public events.



We Cannot Wait on Congress to Protect Our LGBT Youth

Originally posted at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/12/09/we-cannot-wait-on-congress-to-protect-our-lgbt-youth/

Last week, a coalition of LGBT organizations and allies sent a letter to the Senate HELP Committee expressing “great concern” and “a lack of support” for the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act, due to its lack of LGBT inclusion. These organizations and allies are to be commended for holding members of Congress accountable and pushing for the passage of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA). But it is becoming very clear that SNDA and SSIA face a long uphill political battle that will hopefully result in their passage sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, outside of advocating for their passage, we should push for the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools all across this country, especially in schools with a predominantly black population. The creation of GSAs will help promote a more inclusive and safer educational environment for LGBT youth across this country until federal legislation is passed. In fact, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), schools that have GSAs positively impact LGBT youth because these schools have fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization, less absenteeism, and greater sense of belonging. Considering that in 2009, 84 percent of LGBT students have been verbally harassed, 40 percent have been physically harassed, and 18 percent have been physically assaulted, it is imperative to tackle LGBT bullying and harassment. Establishing GSAs is an effective way to do that.

Combating LGBT bullying and harassment is especially important in schools with a predominantly black student body because black LGBT students face some of the most hostile treatment in our nation’s schools. Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress released an article that explored the plight of black LGBT youth in America’s schools. This article presented research that showed that black LGBT youth fare better academically and socially in schools with GSAs. Unfortunately, many predominantly black schools do not have GSAs because of the commonly accepted notion that being LGBT is a “white issue” and because the issue is rarely discussed in many black communities.

Yes, it will be a challenge to establish GSAs in schools where LGBT students are seen but rarely talked about in a positive manner. But that is the exact reason we should advocate hard to have them. Regardless if you are a parent, educator, or community member, your support is needed to make these GSAs a reality. LGBT students cannot do the work alone; providing them with assistance and support can be the difference between having a GSA or not and providing a safe environment for education. More importantly, GSAs benefit both LGBT students and non-LGBT students by creating an environment where it is okay for all students to express who they are.

The creation of GSAs will not completely solve the problem of bullying and harassment for LGBT youth; only federal legislation can lay the groundwork for that to be accomplished. Nevertheless, their creation can place schools on the road to not only being more inclusive but to providing a safe educational environment that will help all students. We owe that much to our LGBT youth, to ensure that school does not become a place of dread because of consistent fear of violence and rejection.

So while our elected representatives work out the politics, we can help lead our nation’s schools to being more inclusive to our LGBT youth through the creation of GSAs. Together we create a very powerful voice, one that cannot be ignored and will not go away until equality is given to LGBT youth.

The Work Begins Within

Originally posted at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/10/25/the-work-begins-within/

A few weeks back I had the pleasure to attend the National Black Justice Coalition’s (NBJC)—the only national Black LGBT civil rights organization—second annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit. The summit afforded me the opportunity to meet a number of local and national grassroots and organizational leaders who are advocating for equality for Black LGBT individuals not only in the Black community but also in the broader LGBT movement. Participants were treated to a number of panels that discussed Black LGBT issues, briefings by Obama administration officials, and the opportunity to lobby members of Congress and their aides.

While this was a wonderful experience I am glad I was able to partake in, I could not help but notice the proverbial pink elephant in the room—a Black LGBT leadership summit was being hosted the same week of the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) Legislative Conference. This made me wonder: Was this the only time Black LGBT issues could garner attention locally and nationally? Then I started to think: Does it really matter? No. It really doesn’t.

The more important question we should be asking ourselves in the Black LGBT community is: How do we get our issues to matter year round, not just during an event that brings Black leaders and Black LGBT leaders together in the same city at the same time? The answer is simple from my perspective—the work has to begin within. The leadership summit and legislative conference are a great springboard to present Black LGBT issues to a large Black audience and advocate for change. The work begins way before these leaders assemble in Washington, D.C., however.

As a Black LGBT community, we must do our part to ensure Black LGBT issues are present and accounted for year round in the larger LGBT movement and in broader societal conversations. We cannot sit around and wait to be invited into the conversation for equality. Instead, we must be on the ground informing people within and outside of the community why equality is needed. People need to be informed that the quest for equality is much more than marriage. The Black LGBT community and communities of color for that matter suffer disproportionately from discriminatory laws that impede employment, health care, family recognition, and a slew of other factors.

Whether it is grassroots organizing, volunteering in the LGBT community, or working for a mainstream LGBT organization, the plight of Black LGBT individuals and families must be discussed and advocated for. There is nothing wrong with advocating for the needs of Black LGBT individuals when advocating for the general LGBT collective, because if we don’t, who will? More importantly, it is critical to address the needs of those marginalized within the LGBT community if equality is going to be achieved for all. The road will not be easy and it will be filled with bumps and naysayers, but Black LGBT equality is not separate from LGBT equality in general. It is a key component of the equation.

While the pink elephant in the room may be a strategic effort and ignored by some, I am ready to do my part to advance our movement to include all LGBT people. It can be as simple as writing or calling members of Congress and asking them to consider legislation that will improve the lives of the Black LGBT community, or volunteering in the Black LGBT community. Maybe even making sure that the Black LGBT perspective is being considered at panels and town halls, either through the inclusion of Black LGBT individuals or through asking questions that center around Black LGBT issues. No matter if the action is big or small, it will help ensure Black LGBT issues are being presented into the larger mainstream discussion.

NBJC’s OUT on the Hill and the CBCF Legislative Conference should not be the only time that awareness about Black LGBT issues is presented. Work must be done year round, and we cannot sit back and expect our Black LGBT leaders to do all the work.

We all stand to benefit from the equality we seek. No matter if you are young or old, experienced or inexperienced, you can make a difference. Will you join me? Will you stand and answer the call?




Spirit Day 2011 – Stand Up To Bullying

Today I wear my purple with pride. It’s the second annual Spirit Day and I am showing my support for LGBT youth and speaking out against bullying.

I know first hand how difficult it can be to be bullied.  There were numerous days where I was afraid to go to school because I didn’t know if that day was going to be the day that someone would decide to hit me because I was “different.”  It was extremely hard at times to stay focused and enjoy my time in high school.  I was called gay before I even knew what the word really meant.  While I didn’t know what it meant, I knew the word carried a negative connotation among my peers.  But I could never wrap my mind around why it was such a bad thing.  To me it didn’t matter if you were a guy who like other guys, all that mattered is that you had a strong enough connection with someone else to make you happy.  After all don’t we all just want to be happy and loved?

Thankfully, I had a wonderful groups of friends and discovered a love for music by joining the band.  Because of this support, I was able to thrive being “different,” by being allowed to be me by my friends and family.  Unfortunately, some LGBT youth are not able to share this similar support. That is why I wear purple today.  In supportive of them, to let people know that bullying is not okay and is not a rite of passage.  That it is okay to dare to be who you are.  It takes a lot of courage to embrace you in the face of others who want you to conform.  I applaud all those LGBT youth who embrace themselves and are out proudly being who they are.  I also applaud those LGBT youth who are not yet comfortable coming out, still discovering who they are, and making strides to come out.  Together we will create environments that are supportive of you to make your journey easier.

Being different is not as bad as everyone in grade school and high school make it out to be.  With out people striving to be different, we would not have the internet, Iphone, twitter, facebook, or many of the advances that we cannot live without today.  Today, I stand with millions of Americans and people across the world by wearing my purple and being vocal about how bullying affects all youth, especially LGBT youth.  So , I challenge you regardless of whether or not you are wearing purple to be vocal and take a stand against bullying.  Whether you are LGBT or straight we can all do our part to speak out against bullying.



HUD Is Taking Important Steps To Combat LGBT Homelessness

Originally Posted at: http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2011/10/14/344630/hud-is-taking-important-steps-to-combat-lgbt-homelessness/

This week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) addressed gay and transgender housing discrimination on the White House Blog. The post revealed that in a recent survey of transgender and gender non-conforming persons, 19 percent have been refused housing or an apartment and 19 percent became homeless as a result of their gender identity. A recent brief by the Center for American Progress also found that 38 percent of same-sex couples were discriminated against when attempting to buy or rent property.

The administration’s post comes on the heels of the Unites States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) 2011 annual update to Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, an interagency effort to prevent and end homelessness. Despite the fact that gay and transgender individuals were only reference once in the annual update — in the context of a collaborative effort by the Department of Education hosting the first ever gay and transgender youth summit — homelessness in this community is a serious problem.

The estimated 320,000 to 400,000 gay and transgender homeless youth face the greatest challenges. These Americans find themselves homeless for a number of factors beyond their control including a lack of supportive family or educational structures and discriminatory treatment in out-of-home care facilities. Gay and transgender youth who fall through the cracks have a hard time transiting to a successful and stable adulthood and face higher rates of workplace discrimination and poverty that only exacerbates the problem of homelessness. For example, approximately 8 to 17 percent of gay and transgender workers have reported being passed over for a job or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Over the past two years, HUD has taken several important steps to ensure that gay and transgender person not only have equal access to housing, but HUD programs. The agency is pursing complaints from gay and transgender persons who have experienced discrimination in housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, conducting a nationwide study of gay and transgender housing discrimination, and has issued a rule that proposes regulatory changes to ensure that gay and transgender individuals and families have equal access to housing.

While Congress considers a legislative fix — Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) recently introduced the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act to expand existing federal housing nondiscrimination requirements to include sexual orientation and gender identity — HUD is filling an important void in ensuring that homeless LGBT Americans are no longer invisible.



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

Originally Posted: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/10/07/breaking-the-silence/

“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.





Black LGBT Equality Is A Civil Rights Issue

Originally Posted: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/08/30/black-lgbt-equality-is-a-civil-rights-issue/

Even though Hurricane Irene may have thwarted the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, a number of events were held all over the area to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy. Among these events was “Building the Dream for LGBT Equality: Reflections on the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” which was presented by a number of LGBT organizations. Events such as this have allowed the issue of LGBT equality, particularly in the Black community, to once again be discussed in the context of civil rights. After attending this event and reading opinion pieces from Rev. Dennis Wiley, Ph.D. (a contributor for the FIRE initiative at the Center for American Progress and pastor of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ), all I could think is, how can some individuals in the Black community not see LGBT equality as a civil rights issue?

Being a child of the ‘80s who grew up reading about the civil rights movement in textbooks and hearing recounts from older members of my family, I’ve always had a strong emotional connection to the fight for equality. I could not fathom why at any point in our nation’s history, such disregard could be had for a race of people to treat them as mere property and eventually second-class citizens. I am not sure why I had such an emotional reaction to the stories I read or videos I saw about the civil rights movement; after all, I could turn on the TV and see people like me on weekly sitcoms or the news and I did not have to use separate entrances or attend segregated schools. But what I did know is that it was fundamentally wrong to treat a group of people with such disdain just because they were what God intended them to be—Black.

In its simplest form, the fight for LGBT equality has a lot in common with the civil rights movement—equality. Millions of LGBT Americans are suffering because of legislation that is preventing them from being able to obtain items such as equal housing, employment, and health care. This is particularly the case in the Black community. I could talk at length ad nauseam about the number of studies that show that Black LGBT individuals and families disproportionately have lower wages and higher rates of unemployment than their White LGBT counterparts that make obtaining basic necessities an everyday battle. But these are statistics that we all already know. What some in the Black community don’t seem to realize, however, is that these issues are civil rights issues.

Let’s take a moment to think about if the shoe was on the other foot. Hypothetically speaking, let’s imagine a young Black man was unable to marry his fiancé, receive quality health care, and was in constant fear of violence because he was Black and minimal legislation was on the books to protect him from discrimination. What would we say? His civil rights are being impeded upon because he is being denied things that every other member of society can have, simply because he is Black. And I am pretty sure one would have no problem finding hundreds if not thousands of people who would rally around this issue and work hard to get legislation passed to stop this infringement of civil rights. Unfortunately, this hypothetical situation plays out every day not on the basis of skin color but on the basis of one’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yet while many people are rallying to change these discriminatory laws, just as many are fighting to keep them in place. As a society we are so consumed with the sexual acts that occur between two LGBT individuals that we cannot see the forest through the trees. The Black community is no exception. We either condemn or totally ignore one’s sexual orientation or gender identity if we do not agree with it, even if it is slapping us right in the face. The Bible is often used to condemn homosexuality, without any regard to the person that one is inflicting the condemnation on. At the end of the day, it does not matter if you do not agree with what LGBT individuals do in the privacy of their homes. What does matter is that a group of people are not afforded the same measures of equality that non-LGBT individuals enjoy.

It breaks my heart to hear individuals like Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr. (an NAACP board member) say that the gay community needs to “stop hijacking the civil rights movement.” No one is trying to hijack anything. It is deplorable that some members of a group that was denied equality (and in many ways is still fighting for equality) would turn their backs on their own just because they identify by a different sexual orientation or gender identity. If nothing else, Blacks should be sympathetic to the struggles for equality that Black LGBT (and non-Black LGBT) individuals are currently facing. It was not that long ago that the rights of Blacks were impeded simply because their skin color was Black and not White.

At the end of the day, civil rights are just that: civil rights. They know no color, race, gender, or religion. These boundaries are placed by people who think it is in their power to deny equality to others. But I say, who are we to deny the rights we ourselves enjoy because we do not like the way a person expresses who they are? I challenge those in the Black community who oppose LGBT equality to take a long, hard look in the mirror. I am sure you will come to the conclusion that Black LGBT equality is simply a civil rights issue—one of equality.















Phillies “It Gets Better” Video Released!!

True to their word, the Philadelphia Phillies released their “It Gets Better” video prior to their game this past Friday evening, which happened to be Gay Community Night at Citizens Bank Park (watch the video after the jump).

I can say it gives me great joy to see the Phillies do this video and have it debut on the Phanavision prior to the game.  As a life long Phillies Phan, I am proud that the Phillies are showing a commitment to their LGBT fans.  This success of the petition I started shows that everyday people like myself can do tremendous things that can have a positive impact.

Thank you Phillies for joining the It Gets Better Campaign and supporting the LGBT community!

Additionally, I am proud to report that the video as well as the story about the petition has been covered by Philadelphia Weekly and Philly.com.  Links are below to the stories.



Rethinking the NAACP Town Hall on LGBT Issues

Orignially Posted: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2011/08/02/rethinking-the-naacp-town-hall-on-lgbt-issues/?utm_source=social&utm_medium=story&utm_term=Washington%2BBlade&utm_campaign=Washington%2BBlade

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. Instead, I was 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.

Race doesn’t matter? According to the wealth gap, it does.

Some may think that race is an old tired argument that is just used to get under the skin of Whites when people of color (particularly African Americans) try to justify keeping welfare and public assistant programs.  That race doesn’t matter anymore, especially in the post-Civil Rights Era.  Well, just because laws were passed to give “equality” and a Black man was elected president—the issue of race did not disappear.  Overall, as a society we seem to forget the years of systematic racism that African Americans had to endure before we were given “equality.”

In a capitalistic society we would be naïve to think that wealth and race do not affect one another.  African Americans have always been economically deprived and the passage of legislation to grant equality could do nothing to correct this wrong.  Why?  Because race and the factors surrounding it were never fully discussed and resolved.  We as Americans don’t want to go down that slippery slope because it may open some old wounds and flair emotions.

But I ask, why not if it helps to bring equality to all people?  Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, guest host Melissa Harris-Perry (@MHarrisPerry) conducted an excellent analysis of the racial wealth gap.   Conversations such as this one are sorely needed and much overdue.  Turning a blind eye to glaring problems will not solve the problem.  Race will continue to be an issue until we continuously have open conversations like these and work towards solutions, whatever they may be.