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Obama: Leader of Change and Progress

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In the wee morning hours of November 7th, I like many Americans had my heavy sleep deprived eyes glued to the TV as President Obama addressed his supporters and the nation. Make no mistake about it; this was a moment for history. The first African American president in the history of the United States had been reelected to a second term, cementing his rightful place in history and showing the world that his initial election was not a fluke.

Let’s face it, President Obama was facing tremendous pressure in his reelection campaign. Would he end up going down in history as the first African-American president who was only able to serve one term? Would he still have the same support he had in 2008? How would his handling of the economy and stance on social issues sit with voter when they went to cast their ballots?

Therefore, President Obama’s decision to come out in support of same sex marriage so close to reelection was even more important. This decision showed us that President Obama was a leader who talked-the-talked and walked-the-walk. More importantly, his advocacy has shown Americans that equality is an issue that has been ignored for too long and now is the time to start making change.

His reelection coincided with a number of major victories for LGBT equality across the country. For the first time, all of the ballot measures dealing with marriage equality came out in favor of marriage equality advocates and allowed them to place a check mark in the victory column. Social conservatives were handed a defeat as they tried to remove an Iowa Supreme Court judge who had voted to legalize gay marriage in 2009 (despite the fact that they had previously succeeded in removing three judges in 2010). Additionally, 118 out of 180 gay candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund won their respective races—including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin who becomes the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.

In many ways the LGBT community and advocates owe part of these victories to President Obama and his administration. Now I know some are saying that is absolutely absurd and are ready to write negative comments about how misguided I am. But I ask you give me a second to make my point.

I am in no way trying to demean the efforts by millions of Americans who have fought for years to obtain equality for the LGBT community. The successes to date are directly a result of their blood, sweat, tears, hard work, and determination. However, we have to look no further than the Civil Rights Movement to see how the support of an administration can mean the world to the quest for equality.

The election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 not only marked an era of change but a new era for progressives and their goals. President Obama with his mantra of change ushered in a new way of thinking and a more progressive government needed for modern times. President Obama was not about to let the old way of thinking get in the way of creating a greater America for all. As a result, we have witnessed an administration that has done more to extended equality to the LGBT community than any before it.

While some may counter and say that President Obama has not done enough, we cannot discount all that has been done for the LGBT community. I personally would have liked to see an end to work place discrimination with the passage of sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act. We have far too many LGBT workers either suffering from high unemployment or are a decision away of losing their jobs simply for being who they are. But we all must acknowledge that all of the issues affecting the LGBT community cannot be solved in four short years.

The president’s support of LGBT issues and his evolution on marriage equality are a tremendous boost to progressives everywhere. Regardless if LGBT equality may be the “sexy” issue, leaning too far left on these issues could have ended up being a political liability. Even in the face of a reelection campaign where social issues may not have been the biggest hot button issue, President Obama’s decisions on these issues could have cost him some critical votes. Yet, he chose to stand on the side of equality. He did not waver. He did not back down.

That is simply what we ask of a leader—to stand up for those in need and ensure that they are treated fairly and equally with the rest of society—especially the President of the United States. President Obama has done just that. He should be commended for that. He could have buckled under the pressure that he has done much for the LGBT community but did not do nearly enough in other areas like immigration.

When the leader of the free world throws his support behind something, people take notice. Knowing that the president makes equality a priority helps to elevate reservations that some may have when it comes to progressive measures. I am sure that some voters who were on the fence about LGBT equality were swayed with the fact that the President of the United States was able to evolve on equality issues, so why shouldn’t they?

Simply, we need to be thanking President Obama for his unwavering leadership when it comes to LGBT equality. He has allowed equality to be the topic of conversation for a number of people who otherwise would not because his presidency has galvanized people politically. His leadership is ushering us forward, not back. Full LGBT equality is closer because President Obama has had the courage to make it so.



Why black LGBT Americans should support President Obama

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This past month marked the very first time I truly felt like a card carrying member of the Democratic Party.  I know this may come as a surprise.  After all, I am an African American man who just earned his doctorate and is at the beginning of what is sure to be a long successful career.  I am a beneficiary of the things that the Democratic Party fights for.

However, I am a gay African American man.  In the black community, I am seen, but rarely spoken of because of the unwritten Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy when it comes to LGBT individuals. In the larger LGBT community, issues that affect me and other black LGBT individuals and family often do not find their way into mainstream conversations.  More importantly, LGBT issues have never really been top agenda items for Democrats on the national level.

That all changed last month in Charlotte, North Carolina, the state where a ban of gay marriage passed not that long ago.  For the first time Democrats had made sure to include marriage equality in their party platform and have numerous speakers talk about extending rights to members of the LGBT community.  This wasn’t an isolated incident.

LGBT inclusion in the platform and prime time speeches comes on the heels of a number ofmeasures to improve life for LGBT Americans by the Obama administration.  The embracing of the LGBT community is something that should not be forgotten by the black LGBT community this November.  Especially since, Black LGBT individuals and families suffer disproportionately from policies that make access to economic opportunity, education and health care challenging.  And the fact that black LGBT youth face unfair criminalized in the juvenile justice system.

Having a supportive administration can go a long way to reverse the trends that are currently plaguing the Black LGBT community.  For example, under the leadership of President Obama economic barriers have been broken by allowing members of the LGBT community to serve openly with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Additionally, the administration has made obtaining affordable housing attainable via a new HUD rule that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  These are just two areas that greatly affect black LGBT individuals and families that are improving because of the leadership of President Obama.

For these reasons, we need to stand with President Obama and give him the opportunity to keep improving the lives of the LGBT community for four more years and beyond.  More importantly, we should be reaching out to everyone we know, especially those in the Black community who may feel they don’t need to vote or are considering not voting because of President Obama’s evolution on marriage.

Improving the lives of LGBT individuals and families is the right thing to do.  Equality is not meant to be extended to select members of society, it is meant to be extended to all members of society.  President Obama, his administration, and the Democratic Party understand this. They have worked together to help remove some of the barriers that prevent Black LGBT individuals from being productive members of society and be able to achieve the American dream.

And guess what the world has not ended!  Shocking, isn’t it?!

Michelle Obama said it best in her speech at the convention, “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it…and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”

Improving the lives of LGBT individuals has been neglected for too long.  We have a supportive administration that wants to change this. So now is the time to rally everyone you know and get out the vote for President Obama.  Each vote for President Obama is a vote to ensure that the American Dream is no longer denied to the LGBT community.

Making Sense Of The LGBT Community’s High Rates Of Substance Use

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Last week, the Center for American Progress released a new issue brief on “Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use” and what can be done to reduce these rates.  Specifically, the brief mentions that an estimated 20 to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.

According to the brief, there are three main factors that contribute to these higher rates of substance use in the gay and transgender population.  The first factor is minority stress that comes from social prejudice and discriminatory laws in everyday life such as employment, relationship recognition, and health care.  Second, the lack of cultural competency in the health care system not only discourages gay and transgender individuals from seeking treatment, but can lead to inappropriate or irrelevant service.  Finally,targeted marketing by alcohol and tobacco companies are exploiting the fact that bars and clubs are not only safe spaces for socialization for gay and transgender individuals but provide easy access to tobacco products and alcohol.

As a result, gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with the challenges. The data that are available about substance abuse show just how much of an impact this is having on the gay and transgender population.  For example, gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200 percent more than their heterosexual counterparts.  Additionally, twenty five percent of gay and transgender people abuse alcohol, compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population.

The brief also mentions a number of administrative and legislative recommendations that if employed could help to reduce the high rates of substance abuse within the gay and transgender population, including several outlined by the Center for American Progress last year that the Department of Health and Human Services could take.   The legislative recommendations included the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, The Respect for Marriage Act, and the Health Equality Act.

Jumping Beyond The Broom: Policy Priorities Outside Of Marriage Equality

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.





Black LGBT Equality Is A Civil Rights Issue

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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.