by Jessica Carreras
Michelle Brown of Detroit is on the board of Michigan Equality and the National Black Justice Coalition, is the co-chair of the Michigan Women in AIDS Committee and is a published author and poet.
1) Why did you decide to join the board of the National Black Justice Coalition?
For many years, I engaged in the LGBT movement at a national level through the Human Rights Campaign. Besides lobbying Congress on LGBT issues affecting our community at large, while on the Board of Governors for HRC I served as co-chair of the National Diversity Committee. It gave me the opportunity to work with and become close friends with Donna Payne, HRC’s associate director of diversity.
Donna and I talk regularly on issues regarding the African American LGBT community. She is the vice president of NBJC and has kept me abreast of its progress, struggles, successes and goals. Donna approached me regarding bringing my time, talents, commitment and, most of all, passion to NBJC. The timing was right.
I have heard the continued plight of my African American LGBT community in fighting homophobia within our black community. I have also heard, especially after defeats like Prop. 8 in California, from others outside the African American LGBT community, concerns about the impact of the black church on defeating amendments designed to bring full equality to the entire LGBT community, especially marriage initiatives. Joining the NBJC board allows me the opportunity to attack these issues from both sides.
2) What do you hope to accomplish on their board?
I hope to bring another prospective to the discussion. A Midwest perspective.
For me, its like going back to basics. The Midwest is where many African Americans first migrated to after slavery. It was here we tackled covert discrimination that was as insidious as the brutal segregation of the south. It is here where one generation of African Americans was able to obtain employment and education that allowed us to achieve many things.
Many of these rich resources have migrated away from the Midwest to the coasts, and although they have accomplished great things and still face great challenges, it is nothing like right here in the Midwest which in some instances seems to have gone back in time and become breeding grounds for hatred, homophobia and other socio/economic disenfranchisement. But despite these challenges, “still we rise” with lessons, srategies and leadership that our community needs to become strong and whole.
NBJC will lead the way and is stronger by the diversity of voice I hope to bring to the table. It is also my hope to build a strong membership base right here in Michigan for NBJC. We have some powerful African Amaerican LGBT leaders and organizations. These are agents of change and they need a strong national organization behind them. That would be NBJC.
3) I understand you just had two books come out. What are they?
Writing gives me another outlet for my activism. I have penned a children’s book, “Jack With The Curly Tail.” Episode one is currently available and episode two is in the works.
The primary character is a little dog named Jack who, in his travels to find a home, learns about himself. I have been able to incorporate a number of social justice issues in the story, including homelessness, bullying and families. The book is designed to be read in sections and encourages discussion between children and parents or teachers. I have taken it into several elementary schools and been inspired by the wisdom of children. They get it – equality, what’s right and wrong. They are our hope.
I also have a book of prose and poetry out there titled “Wild Fruit Hidden in Open Spaces.” It touches on various aspects of the human condition from love, to gender, loss, even growing up. It was featured at the 2009 DC Black Pride Author’s workshop and I use it when speaing/lecturing on the role of the artist activist.
I am currently working on a novel set in Detroit and Maine that deals with a woman’s self discovery after domestic abuse wrapped around a murder.
4) What has changed about your attitude toward LGBT rights over time?
I believe I have come full circle. I always believed in equal rights for everyone as part of the fulfillment of the promise of America. I worked with the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation and saw the hatred that sprung up when we wanted to redevelop a building for affordable housing for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. I started to pull away from the other progressive issues and start to focus on LGBT concerns.
Proposal 2 pushed me over the edge.
In the aftermath, I became part of the Peninsula Group. We spent two years researching, talking to and learning from our community. One point that stuck out in my mind was that more members of the LGBT community were active in organizations concerning progressive issues and social networks than in LGBT organizations. Now I see more LGBT activists engaged on a variety of issues – health care, the environemnt, foreclosure – as well as LGBT issues. It is like a new coming out period where we are saying “We don’t want special rights. We are your neighbors, your colleagues, your families.”
5) What do you hope 2010 brings for Detroit’s black gay community?
I am hoping that they will become more visible.
I am inspired by the election of Charles Pugh as Detroit’s City Council president, not just because he is an out gay man, but because of the doors it has opened. We can engage the black ministers who endorsed him in fighting homophobia in our churches. We can use his “celebrity” to dispel myths and open discussions about the lives of gay people.
And hopefully, it will encourage others to come out, be vocal and get engaged. Each of us can make a difference and be an agent for change. I hope in 2010 the black gay community will be the change we need for equal rights.
To learn more about Michelle Brown, visit http://www.michelleelizabethbrown.com.