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Summertime is Pride time! And I’m saying it loud: I’m black, gay and proud!
From DC Black Pride in May to Atlanta Black Pride in August and all the Pride celebrations everywhere inbetween, no matter which hat I wear, summertime is Pride time.
This year being African-American and LGBTQ has been especially sweet.
As we prepare for Detroit’s annual Black Pride celebration Hotter Than July, The NAACP has come to town for its 110th Annual Convention, and as part of the events is a town hall on the state of LGBTQ people – my people, black people – in America.
When we were young my aunt gave each of us an NAACP youth membership. We learned about the civil rights movement and were taught the NAACP was our organization. Throughout the ’60s the NAACP was there fighting for civil rights. Like many, I took for granted the organization would always be there fighting for me. I let my membership go and went on leading my life.
Then I came out and suddenly claiming my LGBTQ card seemed to mean I had lost the support of my African-American community and the organization that had been there for me all those years. For years, I turned to LGBTQ civil rights organizations where I was a minority within a minority. Then came Julian Bond.
This civil rights icon would build a bridge between my two identities. Growing up as a child of the ’60s and the civil rights movement, Julian Bond was a hero to me. Bond helped to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1971, he helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center and served as its first president for nearly a decade.
With a voice that was as easily recognizable as his face, he extended his social activism beyond the Civil Rights Movement as a politician, professor and writer.
Under his leadership in 2009, the NAACP put together an LGBT task force to help the African-American community fight the challenges of homophobia and transgender discrimination especially in the black community
The Task Force had a three-part mission – to strengthen NAACP’s knowledge of LGBTQ issues and policies; to build relationships among LGBTQ civil rights and human rights organizations; to advance awareness of LGBTQ issues “as they relate to overarching programs and interest of the NAACP.”
Bond said, “We know sexual orientation is not a choice. We know homosexuality is not a mental illness. We know you can’t ‘pray the gay away.’” He said gay rights are civil rights.
A lot has happened since 2009, not only in the LGBTQ community but within the NAACP.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, ending a ban on gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. And in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, granting LGBTQ couples the right to marry.
Many openly LGBTQ candidates have been elected to positions across the country with 2018 seeing a rainbow wave as well as a blue wave. And as we approach the 2020 elections, most candidates realize the path to elected office must include gaining the support of African-American and LGBTQ voters.
As an organization, the NAACP has taken steps to embrace LGBTQ civil rights as part of its mandate as the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. In 2019, it publicly endorsed the Equality Act, a federal LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill. The Equality Act would modify the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of protected classes.
Unfortunately, despite these advancements, recent developments have made a recommitment to not just building bridges between the LGBTQ community, especially the African-American LGBTQ community and the NAACP, crucial.
Participating in the town hall discussion “The State of LGBTQ POC in America” during the 110th NAACP gives me hope that one day my full identity and full self will be acknowledged, respected and protected by the organization that has been a part of my community, my history, my legacy long before I was born and for generations to come.
But it will take more than organizations, panel discussions or even acts of legislation to accomplish this. I was reminded of this as I walked through a convention center. A young gay couple was walking through holding hands. An older black man looked at them, did a double-take and said pointing at them, “Oh no! Not here!”
For a moment, my heart sank but I/we cannot give up. We must stand for equality and justice even in the most uncomfortable situations because, in the words of Julian Bond, “The humanity of all Americans is diminished when any group is denied rights granted to others.” When we stand together, we win!
And with that, I walked over to that gentleman said, “Good morning! Welcome to Detroit.” And then, gesturing at the couple said, “Love is Love, sir! And, by the way, I am gay!”