It was December 9, 2010. Joe Manchin, the former Democratic Governor of West Virginia, cast his first vote as a newly-sworn-in U.S. Senator. He voted against repealing the discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“As a Senator of just three weeks, I have not had the opportunity to visit and hear the full range of viewpoints from the citizens of West Virginia.”
That’s the same Joe Manchin who in 1982 had begun his political career as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
After nearly three decades of serving as a lawmaker, Secretary of State, and a governor, Senator Manchin felt he wasn’t sufficiently well-enough informed to do the right thing and vote to protect America’s LGBTQ service men and women.
Fast forward to today, when Joe Manchin has now been in public service for almost 40 years.
On the campaign trail Joe Biden indicated his top priority was passing the LGBTQ Equality Act, legislation that has been introduced into Congress in various forms since the 1970’s, even longer than the 73-year old Senator from West Virginia has been in politics. Biden said he wanted to sign the Equality Act into law in his first 100 days.
There are three things getting in the way of legislation that seven out of 10 Americans not only support, but think is already federal law: the filibuster, Republicans, and Joe Manchin. Ironically, Manchin, like Republicans, opposes killing the filibuster and opposes passing the Equality Act.
“A little more than two months into Biden’s term,” The Daily Beast reports, “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has taken on the role of perpetual fly in the ointment of progressive legislation. The Equality Act is no exception.”
Make no mistake, Manchin is anti-LGBTQ. He opposes same-sex marriage (although agrees it is settled law) and echoing the massive conservative campaign against transgender people, opposes the Equality Act (in part) because, he claims, it does not provide “sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”
That is not the function of legislation, that is the function of the Dept. of Education, something Manchin certainly must know.
“In private, according to those familiar, Manchin has been equally skeptical this time around, citing a massive call-in campaign organized by conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation intended to sink the bill. Manchin told one co-sponsor of the Equality Act that the calls to his office were opposed to the legislation ‘a thousand to one.'”
The Beast calls getting 60 votes to pass the Equality Act without one of them being Manchin’s “functionally impossible, given the Senate’s current makeup.”
Lucas Wilson said he received conversion therapy from a student club called Band of Brothers at Liberty University from 2008 to 2012, when he was an undergraduate student.
Wilson, now 30, said when he visited campus prior to enrolling, he saw an ad for “struggling with same-sex attraction.”
“The biggest factor in why I chose Liberty was ultimately the conversion therapy program because I, in fact, believed that one could become straight,” Wilson said.
He is now one of 33 LGBTQ students who are suing the Department of Education in a class-action lawsuit filed Monday. The students allege that they faced discrimination at 25 federally funded Christian colleges and universities in 18 states.
Wilson said Liberty University is a “thoroughly homophobic institution” and that, in addition to offering conversion therapy in the form of a student club, he also had several classes that taught “the evils of the homosexual lifestyle.”
He said the conversion therapy group, and the culture at Liberty, “amplified and compounded feelings of self-hatred, feelings of shame and guilt and anxiety that ultimately took years to deconstruct.”
The Religious Exemption Accountability Project, or REAP, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students at taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon on behalf of former and current students.
Liberty University has not responded to NBC News’ requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the Biden administration is “fully committed to equal education access for all students.”
The spokesperson added that President Joe Biden stated in an executive order earlier this month, “It is the policy of my Administration that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Many Christian colleges and universities receive federal funding and are still allowed to enforce policies that, for example, prohibit same-sex relationships on campus. That’s because Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, contains an exemption for religious entities.
The students’ lawsuit argues that the religious exemption is unconstitutional and that it allows the Department of Education “to breach its duty” to LGBTQ students at religious colleges and universities “where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is codified in campus policies and openly practiced.”
The ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to strike down Title IX’s religious exemption.
Paul Southwick, the director of REAP, said the main premise of his argument is that the federal government is “not allowed to pass laws or take actions that target a politically unpopular group.”
“Here, what the religious exemption to Title IX is doing is, it really targets people based on sex, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity, for inferior treatment,” Southwick said.
His argument claims that the religious exemption is unconstitutional because it violates the due process and equal protection rights afforded to LGBTQ people and it violates the establishment clause because it “favors certain fundamentalist religious organizations and gives them preferential treatment above all other educational institutions, including religious educational institutions that have affirming beliefs about LGBTQ people.”
Regarding the religious exemption, the Department of Education spokesperson said the text of Title IX states it does not apply to “an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization” where its application “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”
Southwick’s constitutional argument is based on a number of cases, but he said one of the most important is Bob Jones University v. United States, which found in 1983 that Bob Jones University did not get to maintain its tax-exempt status due to an interracial dating ban — a policy the university claimed was based in its sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court held in an 8-1 decision that limitations on religious liberty can be justified by an “overriding governmental interest” such as prohibiting racial discrimination. As a result, it found that “not all burdens on religion are unconstitutional.”
Southwick said mainstream LGBTQ organizations haven’t done enough to fight for LGBTQ students at religious colleges, and that’s because “when you talk about queer kids at Christian colleges, their responses are ‘What the hell are they doing there?’”
LGBTQ students often attend religious colleges for a host of reasons, but mainly because they’re born into fundamentalist Christian families, Southwick said.
“The natural consequence of that is that — gay or straight — a lot of them will end up at Christian colleges, and when they’re there, they’re treated inhumanely and subjected to these dangerous and abusive policies and practices,” he said.
Some of the plaintiffs claim they were denied admission to or expelled from religious colleges due to being LGBTQ. Others say their colleges have strict policies surrounding sexuality and purity.
“The general language that you’ll find in a lot of the policies is as follows: The schools prohibit homosexual conduct, homosexual relationships, transgender conduct, which they struggle with how to describe,” Southwick said. “And they prohibit same-sex marriages. So what that means is kids are getting engaged and hiding it because they’ll be expelled. Kids who are found out are being expelled. What it means is when a nonbinary or a trans student is dressing and grooming and using names and pronouns consistent with their gender identity, they’re punished.”
The student club that offers conversion therapy at Liberty University still exists, though now it’s called Armor Bearers, according to the school’s 2020 “Pathways Handbook,” which provides students with a “menu” of “educational opportunities” to choose from if they violate school policy.
Wilson said the lawsuit will help shed light on the policies at Liberty and other religious schools.
“We’re putting pressure on these schools to change how they treat their LGBTQ students, so for me, this is very important work,” he said. “It’s work that is long overdue.”
Mary Trump, who needled former President Trump during his re-election bid with allegations of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks in his family, has joined a political action committee that works to elect queer women to public office.
LPAC, a political organization dedicated to electing queer women to public office, on Friday announced Mary Trump, the niece of former President Trump and a lesbian, would join its board of directors.
“We will only create lasting and systemic change for progressive values if we increase the number of diverse players in power, and that includes LGBTQ women,” Mary Trump said in a statement. “I am so excited to work with LPAC to create more opportunity for these new leaders and to build alliances with other progressives across the country.”
Founded in 2012 as a political action committee intended to give queer women a greater voice in politics, LPAC endorses and supports candidates through direct investments and independent investment campaigns. LPAC has raised more than $6.3 million and endorsed more than 150 candidates, according to a statement.
LPAC supported Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema in recent election cycles as well as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. As of now, there are 11 openly LGBTQ members of Congress, including Baldwin and Sinema.
Laura Ricketts, a member contributor to the Democratic Party and LPAC board chair, credited Mary Trump with having “demonstrated thought[ful] leadership, media and political savvy over the last year as she has stormed the country with her insights and opinions.”
“We couldn’t be more excited to have her join us in building the power of our political action community and developing the next generation of LGBTQ women leaders,” Ricketts.
(Mary Trump and Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, have something else in common aside from now both being board members of LPAC: They stand out as supporters of Democratic candidates in families that are overwhelmingly backers of the Republican Party.)
According to an article in Politico, Mary Trump joins LPAC as part of a broader effort to stay engaged in politics and recognition of the importance of LGBTQ voices.
“If it’s only men making decisions about women’s issues or straight people making decisions about LGBTQ issues, then that’s where we run into problems and we’ve seen this,” Mary Trump is quoted as saying.
Mary Trump is also working on a new book that would build on the success of an earlier tell-all book about the Trump family. The second book, “The Reckoning,” is set to examine “America’s national trauma, rooted in our history but dramatically exacerbated by the impact of current events and the Trump administration’s corrupt and immoral policies,” Politico reported.
Lisa Turner, executive director of LPAC, said in a statement Mary Trump would be a welcome addition to the organization as it pursue its “ambitious agenda for the next election cycle.”
“We can’t afford to accept the status quo,” Turner said. “We must organize across the country and develop new leaders to walk the corridors of power. That is our core mission. We are thrilled to have Mary’s help in doing so and invite all who are interested to join our effort.”
Julius’, a beloved New York City bar, has occupied the corner of Waverly Place and West 10th Street in the West Village for nearly 160 years. With little identifying it beyond its name in simple green cursive, the watering hole’s unassuming exterior belies its importance in gay rights history.
Like the Stonewall Inn just a few hundred feet away, Julius’ has been a lifeline to New York’s queer community for decades.
Now its owner is determined to make sure that legacy — and the bar itself— isn’t a casualty of the pandemic, which has devastated New York City nightlife.
Opened as a dry goods store in 1840, the building at 159 West 10th Street was already serving as a saloon by the 1860s. During Prohibition, Julius’ was a speakeasy, allegedly taking its name from the proprietor. Numerous unmarked doors and basement tunnels used for coal delivery allowed for quick escapes if the bar was raided, according to long-time bartenders Tracy O’Neill and Daniel Onzo.
Much of Julius’ remains unchanged from that era, including the long wooden bar with a century’s worth of “scratchitti” carved into it. Jacob Ruppert Brewery beer barrels serve as tables and stools.
Chandeliers dangling overhead are made from wagon wheels of horse-drawn carriages that once delivered ice.
Julius’ had started attracting a gay following at least by the 1950s and, according to local lore, was a popular hangout for midcentury queer luminaries like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Rudolf Nureyev.
But New York State Liquor Authority regulations at that time prohibited serving drinks to “known or suspected homosexuals,” whose very presence was considered disorderly behavior.
“This law was used to prevent the existence of gay bars, so the ones that did exist were under the control of the criminal underworld,” Randy Wicker, a member of the New York chapter of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights groups, said. Either the mob ran the establishment or bar owners would pay for protection to avoid being raided.
“It forced gay people into that underworld,” Wicker, 83, said. “It led to exploitation, blackmail, people being brutalized.”
Wicker said The Mattachine Society wanted to challenge the liquor laws. “We felt it was very similar to how Black people were being denied the right to sit at a lunch counter,” he said.
The idea for a protest, or a “sip-in” as it was eventually called, was inspired by the sit-ins of the civil rights movement: On April 21, 1966, four members of the New York Mattachine chapter walked into a bar, declared they were homosexuals and demanded to be served. Assuming they would be refused, the group planned to file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
Julius’ was actually the fourth place the group hit that day, with Wicker joining Mattachine president Dick Leitsch, vice president Craig Rodwell and member John Timmons. The first bar they visited, the Ukrainian-American Village Restaurant, had been tipped off and closed early.
At Howard Johnson’s, the group declared, “We’re homosexuals and we want to be served.”
“The waitress laughed and said, ‘No problem,’ and took the order,” Wicker said.
It was getting late and they were in danger of losing the reporters who had tagged along. Julius’, it turned out, was the perfect spot for their test case: It had a sizable homosexual following, Wicker said, but the management was determined not to let it become a “gay bar.”
“There had been an entrapment case recently — someone went home with an undercover policeman,” he said. “So they patrolled the bar very strictly. If there were too many men together inside, they’d stop letting men in unless you came with a woman.”
The group walked in and ordered, then Leitsch announced, “We are homosexuals. We are orderly, we intend to remain orderly, and we are asking for service.”
A New York Times photographer captured the moment the bartender put his hand over a glass and stopped making their drinks.
“I think it’s against the law,” he said, according to Wicker.
It was exactly the reaction Mattachine members had hoped for: Publicity from the “sip-in” led to the New York State Supreme Court ruling a year later that simply being gay — or even cruising or kissing — was not indecent behavior.
It didn’t just change liquor regulations, Wicker said. “It helped moved the gay community out of the grasp of the criminal world.”
“Because of LGBTQ discrimination by authorities, in policy and practice, there were really no other meeting places, no community centers,” he said. “Julius’ has been that space for so many people for so many years.”
And while New York’s gay bar scene has become a shadow of its former size — a victim of assimilation, gentrification and dating apps — Julius’ remained packed most weekends.
“I think there’s a pilgrimage aspect of it, especially for younger people,” Brian Sloan, a filmmaker who lived in the West Village for 20 years, said. “It has historical significance but it’s also a throwback to what gay bars used to be — lively, friendly, unpretentious. That’s harder to find now.”
Julius’ is still popular with celebrities — Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zachary Quinto and Neil Patrick Harris have all stopped in, according to staff and regulars — and it has appeared in numerous films, including the Oscar-nominated Melissa McCarthy movie “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “The Boys in the Band,” both William Friedkin’s 1970 movie and the 2020 Netflix adaptation by Ryan Murphy.
Director John Cameron Mitchell, who first ventured into Julius’ in 1985, calls it his “local bar.”
“It’s dripping with queer history,” he said. “The photos on the wall, the Mattachine sip-in. It really led to the legalization of gay bars in New York.”
In 2008, Mitchell launched a monthly dance party at Julius’ called, appropriately enough, Mattachine.
“[We] wanted to preserve the feeling of our favorite alt-queer bars where you could hear rock, new wave, soul, funk and even slow jams,” he said. “Every month we honored a queer icon, and if they were still alive they would show up.”
Honorees have included the neurologist Oliver Sacks, the punk rock impresario Danny Fields, the Village People’s Randy Jones and Leitsch himself. “We even cursed queer villains like Roy Cohn in absentia,” Mitchell said of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel. Cohn targeted government officials as communists and homosexuals, despite being gay himself.
There’s no denying Julius’ place in history but, by drawing hundreds of revelers late into the night, the Mattachine parties have helped keep the bar from turning into a museum piece.
In 2016, the 50th anniversary of the sip-in, Julius’ was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in “an important early event in the modern gay rights movement.”
Lustbader, who helped get the designation, said it’s mostly honorific and doesn’t protect the business itself, which has been hobbled by coronavirus lockdowns.
On April 25, 1965, three teenagers refused to leave Dewey’s Restaurant in Philadelphia after employees repeatedly denied service to “homosexuals and persons wearing nonconformist clothing,” according to Drum magazine, which was created by the Janus Society, an early gay rights group.
The teens were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and Janus Society members protested outside of the restaurant for the next five days, according to Marc Stein, a history professor at San Francisco State University.
“Every single element of what we know of as Pride and gay rights and, especially, the pre-Stonewall homophile movement, was borrowed from the Black Freedom Movement.”
ERIC CERVINI, LGBTQ HISTORIAN
“Unlike so many other episodes, it kind of combined issues of homosexuality and trans issues,” Stein, author of “Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement,” told NBC News.
On May 2, three more people staged a second sit-in at Dewey’s. Though the restaurant called the police, the protesters weren’t arrested, and after a few hours they left voluntarily, according to a Janus Society newsletter. The Society wrote that the protests and sit-ins were successful in preventing future denials of service and arrests.
The sit-in at Dewey’s is among a long list of examples that show a “direct line” to the Black civil rights movement, according to Stein. Specifically, sit-ins organized by gay activists in the ‘60s appear to be directly inspired by protests held in 1960 by Black college students at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, against racial segregation.
Early LGBTQ activists (though they didn’t use that acronym at the time) adopted many of the civil rights movement’s strategies, Stein said, and they relied on much of the foundation laid by Black civil rights activists.
But the two movements weren’t necessarily separate — they often overlapped — and so influence happened in a few ways, Stein said.
“Influence can be the influence of ideas, and specifically, ideologies, influence of strategies,” he said. “Influence can also come in the form of people who move between movements, or who are engaged in multiple movements, and we do have examples of that in the early LGBT movement.”
The influence — or ‘plagiarism’ — of ideas
Queer activists were building a movement long before the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City, which is widely referred to as a turning point in the LGBTQ rights movement. Though Stonewall was a pivotal moment, activists like Frank Kameny were organizing for gay rights well before.
Kameny co-founded the Mattachine Society in Washington, D.C., one of the first homophile groups (“homophile” being the adjective of choice at the time), and he drew strategies directly from the Black civil rights movement, according to Eric Cervini, a historian and author of “The Deviant’s War,” which focuses on Kameny and the early gay rights movement.
“Every single element of what we know of as Pride and gay rights and, especially, the pre-Stonewall homophile movement, was borrowed from the Black Freedom Movement,” Cervini said. “Frank Kameny’s primary role, what made him so brilliant but also complex of a historical figure, was that he served primarily as a Xerox machine copying different elements of the Black Freedom Movement and applying that to a previously nonmilitant, nonprotesting movement.”
For example, Cervini said Kameny and a delegation of eight Mattachine Society of Washington members attended the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The march was organized by Bayard Rustin, who had been arrested in 1953 for having sex with another man. In 1963, Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., a segregationist, called Rustin a “sexual pervert” on the Senate floor in an effort to discredit the march, according to Out History.
Kameny and the delegates saw that, even though Rustin had been exposed, 200,000 Americans still attended the march, and it became a historic moment, according to Cervini.
“So these white gay activists, who previously had been refusing to take to the streets, looked around and said, ‘Maybe it’s time, maybe not right now, but maybe in the near future,’” Cervini said. (In fact, in 1979, activists would organize a National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, which drew an estimated 200,000 protesters, according to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce).
Within a year of the 1963 march, gay rights activist Randy Wicker began picketing the U.S. Army Induction Center in New York City, and a few months after that, Kameny began picketing the White House and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Cervini also noted that Kameny modeled his phrase “Gay Is Good,” which was used on protest signs and buttons, on the Black Power movement’s “Black Is Beautiful.”
A few years later, in 1966, Wicker and three activists with the Mattachine Society’s New York City chapter organized a “sip-in” at Julius’ Bar to challenge a New York State Liquor Authority rule that said bars couldn’t serve “disorderly” customers. In practice, bars would refuse to serve LGBTQ people out of fear that they’d lose their liquor license. The sip-in, like the sit-in at Dewey’s, used the same tactics as the college students at Woolworth’s lunch counter, according to Stein.
Stein said Black civil rights movement strategies also affected how early LGBTQ activists conducted peaceful demonstrations. A coalition of gay and lesbian organizations held a yearly peaceful protest at Independence Hall called the Annual Reminder from 1965 to 1969, which Stein said were influenced by the early civil rights demonstrations in which demonstrators were instructed to dress respectably, with women in dresses and men in suits.
Cervini said civil rights demonstrators dressed up as a “reclamation of morality that was so effective when you look at the images of Montgomery or Birmingham or Greensboro.” He said Time magazine even drew attention to the fact that young civil rights activists looked like they were going to church, and, as a result, “How can you possibly claim that those Southern whites are the ones protecting morality?” he said. “So the early gay activists tried to emulate that same tactic, by using respectability as a political tool.”
On the other hand, gay and trans activists were also affected by the Black Power movement and urban uprisings, according to Stein. He said LGBTQ rebellions like the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco and the Stonewall uprising a few years later were likely influenced by events like the 1965 Watts Rebellion in Los Angeles, where six days of riots erupted between police and the predominantly Black community.
“I would argue that the Black Power movement was just as influential as the civil rights movement,” Stein said. “Black Power ideologies and strategies came to influence the movement very much so in the second half of the ‘60s and then into the ‘70s, so there were both of those influences — peaceful, respectable demonstrations on the one hand, and a more aggressive militant action sometimes including riots on the other.”
Cervini said FBI reports explicitly connect the Black Freedom Movement and the early homophile movement.
“We can connect those two movements — Bayard Rustin, Frank Kameny and Randy Wicker — through FBI surveillance, and from informants within these organizations,” Cervini said. “They were the ones informing the FBI that the gays, the homosexuals were learning from and discussing copying the Black Freedom Movement.”
“This idea of a coalition between these two organizations — that the Black Freedom Movement might be inspiring this other group of American citizens who are also marginalized, and the fact that they may both be taking to the streets, perhaps in coordination — that is what scared them the most,” Cervini said of the FBI and Southern racist segregationists.
However, the homophile movement, at least in New York and Washington, never made that coalition a reality, Cervini added.
He said he uses the word “plagiarism” to describe how Kameny used civil rights tactics without working with or crediting the activists whose tactics he used.
“You are using and borrowing tactics from another movement, but not giving proper credit and not making space for people at the intersection of those two movements,” Cervini said. “I think it raises the question of the moral acceptability of that.”
Influence by intersection
In some cities, there was more of a coalition and less borrowing. The idea of one movement having an “influence” over the other could give the false notion that the fight for Black civil rights was comprised entirely of Black activists and the fight for LGBTQ rights was solely made up of whites, cautioned Steven Fullwood, co-founder of the Nomadic Archivists Project, which documents and preserves Black history.
“There’s Black people in parts of both of those movements,” Fullwood said, noting that there were Black people involved in both the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights group.
Fullwood also mentioned Marsha P. Johnson, who is credited as being a central figure in the Stonewall uprising, and Cervini cited Ernestine Eckstein (also known as Ernestine Eppenger), who was active in the Black Freedom Movement and the Daughters of Bilitis in the ‘60s.
Stein also gave the example of Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a Japanese-American, anti-war activist who participated in the Annual Reminders at Independence Hall and had previously gone South and participated in civil rights marches. Kuromiya co-founded the Gay Liberation Front’s Philadelphia chapter and became a spokesperson for a homosexual workshop at the Black Panther’s Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in September 1970, according to Stein.
He gave a presentation “to the huge audience of the convention to applause,” Stein said of Kuromiya, citing this as one of many examples showing that the movements weren’t fragmented or divided at the time in some cities.
“They were uniting against police violence, state repression, capitalist exploitation and, after all, the Stonewall rebellion was at least in part about a business exploiting its gay, trans customers,” Stein said. “So it kind of illustrates the way those issues came together at those particular episodes.”
“Any movement that does not take into account the intersectional approach is never going to achieve true liberation.”
STEVEN FULLWOOD, NOMADIC ARCHIVISTS PROJECT
Some of the major LGBTQ demonstrations, including the 1965 sit-in at Dewey’s Restaurant, took place in racially diverse communities, according to Susan Stryker, a scholar of queer and trans history.
She said the sit-in is an example of tactics developed in the Black civil rights struggle “becoming useful in situations that are not organized specifically around race, but are organized around questions of sexuality and gender expression and gender presentation.”
“So, is that a borrowing of civil rights tactics?” Stryker asked. “Or is it people who are perhaps familiar with this in different contexts of their own lives saying … ‘We need to do the same thing on this issue’?”
Stryker said there was also a huge overlap between people who were organizing for racial and economic justice and queer and trans rights in the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot, which she described as “one of the first instances that we know about of militant trans resistance to police-based oppression.”
The legal blueprint
Many major legal gains for LGBTQ people are also in part due to arguments developed by civil rights lawyers.
“The legal strategy challenging racial segregation, which was pioneered by the NAACP in the 1940s, was really the wellspring from which the LGBTQ equality movement grew,” said Alphonso David, a civil rights lawyer and the first Black president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, Thurgood Marshall, who led the NAACP, spent a decade challenging segregation on public transportation, in restaurants and in public schools, David said. Marshall argued a number of cases related to segregation, and then in the mid-’50s he argued Brown v. Board of Education in front of the Supreme Court, which ruled that U.S. state laws segregating schools were unconstitutional.
“It took more than a decade of litigation and argument testing combined with really a lot of sweat equity and strategic partnerships with grassroots organizers to successfully challenge racial segregation in the U.S. Supreme Court,” David said.
Marshall’s legal strategy, which involved using the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, served as a model that the LGBTQ movement used to challenge the criminalization of homosexuality and the denial of marriage rights.
“We are indebted to the civil rights leaders of the past, because they were really instrumental in outlining the essential objective, which was the guarantee of equal protection and how that should apply to all of us,” David said.
Gay rights lawyers also built on major Black civil rights decisions to achieve same-sex marriage, according to David. In 1967, the Supreme Court held in Loving v. Virginia that laws banning interracial marriage violate the due process and equal protection clauses. “In that case, the Supreme Court held that, yes, there is a fundamental right to marry,” he said.
This same argument was successfully used nearly half a century later in Obergefell v. Hodges, David said, where it was argued that “denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates both the due process and the equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution — and we won.”
“So that is one perfect example where you see the arguments that were advanced during the civil rights struggle to at least recognize equality for racial minorities being used and applied in the context of LGBTQ people,” he added.
‘The same goal’
There has been significant overlap between the civil rights and LGBTQ equality movements, Fullwood said, and that’s a key takeaway.
“What we have to appreciate is that the arguments that were used in the civil rights movement in the 1960s involved LGBTQ people,” Fullwood added, citing a speech given by Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton in 1970.
Outlining the group’s position on the two emerging movements, Newton wrote: “Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion.”
Today’s activists, Fullwood said, have to think about the LGBTQ equality movement as involving Black people and the racial justice movement as involving LGBTQ people.
“Any movement that does not take into account the intersectional approach is never going to achieve true liberation,” he said. “The Black and the LGBTQ movements have the same goal.”
Fullwood said he’s pleased with the kinds of activists who are engaging multi-issue platforms that “call for different, insightful ways to resist oppression,” but that he’s occasionally run into the phrase, “This isn’t your grandmother’s movement.”
“If that’s the sentiment, I say this: You better hope it’s your grandmother’s movement, because she and thousands like her made it possible for you to have the language, perspective and insights that you enjoy today,” he said. “This is not new. Read. Research. Build. You exist in a river of resistance. Know and embrace that history. It’s waiting.”
Ro Redfern-Taube, 20, was finishing up their sophomore year at the University of Chicago last March when the school decided to shut down its campus and send students home because of the spread of the coronavirus. Redfern-Taube, now a junior, returned to their parents’ home in New York City, where they said they’re not comfortable openly talking about their gender identity.
However, as a leader of GenderQ, their university’s only organization for transgender and nonbinary students, Redfern-Taube said they have felt compelled to be present and to create a safe space for a group of students that is starved of community. Over the past 11 months, that has included organizing Zoom hangouts, creating private chat servers and including LGBTQ first-years who might not have even seen campus.
“It’s definitely not the same as forming those organic connections between you and other people who might share your identities,” they said. “I miss parties.”
With many colleges and universities across the U.S. operating remotely, LGBTQ student groups are trying to find new — and virtual — ways to engage with students, some of whom are socially distancing with unaccepting relatives and in need of queer-affirming outlets.
“A lot of the burden, even before Covid, fell on the backs of students who provide their own services and support,” Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said of LGBTQ-affirming events at universities across the U.S. “You have students who are trying to figure out their online courses and how to stay in school and dealing with their academics. Plus, now, if they’re a leader in a student group, ‘How do we create engagement with our members?'”
Windmeyer said LGBTQ student leaders are using a variety of social and digital platforms to stream live events for their peers, celebrate special occasions like National Coming Out Day, organize social and educational events and even plan “lavender graduations” for graduating seniors.
‘Togetherness in a virtual space’
Redfern-Taube founded GenderQ with fellow University of Chicago junior Will Harling after the two met in the first week of their freshman year. The pair said they quickly decided to dedicate their free time to forming connections with other trans, nonbinary and questioning students at the school. The on-campus experience, they said, was crucial to their personal growth.
“First year was particularly important to me as a nonbinary person and a queer person in general,” Redfern-Taube said. “Those were parts of my identity that I hadn’t really explored until the very end of high school and definitely wasn’t open about until I came to UChicago.”
Redfern-Taube described their campus as a “pretty queer-inclusive space” and said meeting people face to face and socializing at parties played important roles in their fully embracing their gender identity. Before the pandemic, GenderQ’s in-person events included weekly meetings, parties and casual hangouts on campus.
Harling lamented that current first-year students won’t have that experience.
“Community is such an important part of identity, especially marginalized identities,” they said. “Covid has taken community away from everybody.”
But Harling and Redfern-Taube are trying to make the best of a bad situation — and their efforts have paid off. Since the start of the pandemic, GenderQ has grown from around seven members to over 35, with more trans and nonbinary students turning to its video meetings, private chatrooms, virtual panels and remote speaker events.
It has been “a lot of trial and error,” Harling said, adding that they and Redfern-Taube have been using several social platforms to reach students, particularly first-years who might not have ever had an on-campus experience.
Leslie Lim, a freshman at Vassar College in New York’s Hudson Valley region, started her undergraduate career remotely in a pandemic. Lim, a California native, said she decided to attend Vassar, which has a reputation as an LGBTQ-friendly institution, in the hope that a strong on-campus queer community would be a part of her college experience.
“I think what’s so integral about being a young person in the LGBTQ community is being in physical spaces and in community with one another,” said Lim, 18. “It’s so difficult to replicate the same feeling of togetherness in a virtual space.”
While Vassar is mostly remote, students are still able to live in the residence halls if they choose, and some courses permit in-person attendance for those on campus. Lim is among the students living at the school, and she took an in-person job at the university’s Women’s Center, which is in one of the few open buildings. Part of her job is to organize virtual programming to help LGBTQ students feel welcome and part of a community.
Last semester, she gave out clay to students in a no-contact pickup, and they all made clay figures together over Zoom. She also helped plan a “speed dating”-style Zoom event at which LGBTQ students on campus could meet and talk one on one.
“It really helps me,” Lim said of interacting with other students. “And I hope it helps my peers feel connected.”
‘A daunting task’
It’s not just undergraduate LGBTQ student groups that are trying to foster a virtual sense of community for their members — and with good reason.
While the process is different for everyone, it isn’t uncommon for LGBTQ people to come out during or even after their undergraduate college years. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that the median age at which an LGBTQ person first comes out to a family member or a close friend is 20, with about a third of LGBTQ Americans reporting that they have never disclosed their sexual orientations or gender identities to parents. With millennials across the country moving home more than ever during the pandemic, even those beyond their undergrad years may seek support from LGBTQ-affirming student groups.
That’s why the LGBTQ student group at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has been creating virtual events for members since the school started operating remotely in March.
“It is a rather daunting task,” said James Evans, the group’s vice president, adding that he and the group’s other student leaders are creating programming without the help of the university.
Evans, 30, said the group has hosted 25 hours of Zoom events, including trivia nights, costume balls and panels, to engage students who need the support and community. They have also launched a “buddy” program to make sure new students are integrated and feel welcome.
Evans and the group’s other leaders, however, recognize that they alone can’t provide all the support their members need.
Malinda McPherson, one of the group’s co-presidents, said: “It’s particularly difficult to be student volunteers working to create support structures for LGBTQ+ graduate students when we ourselves are LGBTQ+ students who need support. Mental health for queer students is more at risk compared to our peers, and the pandemic has probably exacerbated that existing divide.”
An LGBTQ-affirming community is about more than socializing, and its absence can be dangerous, Windmeyer said. He said some students have lost access to the LGBTQ-affirming health care services they had on campus, while others are forced to stay in unaccepting environments.
“What we find is that LGBTQ students before Covid were some of the most vulnerable, especially our trans, nonbinary [and] our youth of color,” he said. “That didn’t change with Covid. It actually got worse.”
He said the suffocation of being in an LGBTQ-unfriendly environment is, in some cases, compounded by not being able to talk openly in video support groups and other queer-affirming online events.
“We had one individual who volunteered for us because they wanted something to do that was kind of queer,” Windmeyer said. “They couldn’t talk about ‘LGBTQ.’ We basically had to use another word.”
Even Redfern-Taube, who leads their campus group, said they would leave their parents’ home and take walks when running virtual meetings for GenderQ through the Zoom app on their cellphone. And for GenderQ members who don’t feel comfortable talking out loud in their homes, Redfern-Taube and Harling created a messaging space where students can type written messages to one another.
While virtual spaces aren’t perfect substitutes for in-person connections, the ability to foster community with their members and provide a safe space has been their goal since they started the group.
“I think they’re genuinely grateful that it exists,” Redfern-Taube said of GenderQ’s growing membership.
The LGBT+ community is made up of a diverse group of people from all over the world, and their stories are often overlooked in history books.
PinkNews spoke to ambassadors and workers from LGBT+ youth charity Just Like Us about the historical figures they wished they had learned about in school, from the past to the present.
Anne Lister, English landowner and diarist
Rita Leci, 21, said she learned about Anne Lister by watching the historical BBC drama Gentleman Jack. Lister is often heralded as the “first modern lesbian” as she took charge of her family’s estate and lived openly as a lesbian with her partner.
“I’ve always found her story really inspirational as she chose to go against society’s expectations by becoming a businesswoman and by choosing to be happy with someone she loves in a time when this was seriously frowned upon,” Levis said.
She explained Lister’s story “makes me realise that we are really lucky in a lot of ways, as women nowadays in the UK, to be able to pursue whatever career we like and to love and live with whomever we choose”.
Andy Warhol, American artist, film director and producer
Ramses, 25, said it took “me lots of additional reading” to discover Andy Warhol’s sexuality, despite the artist being mentioned during his modern art studies. Warhol was one of the first American artists to be gay, and his “Factory” – his studio – was a safe space for LGBT+ people, including transwomen.
“Learning about him in school would have shown me you could be LGBT+ and still be successful and famous, even in a period when discrimination was common and violent,” Ramses said. “His early drawings, movies, photographs and the community he created are a testament to the gay rights movement and an incredible contribution to LGBT+ history worldwide.”
As a trans gay man, Ramses shared that the way Warhol shaped the LGBT+ community “inspired me to get in touch with my own, creating a safe space for young LGBT+ people”.SPONSORED CONTENT
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Alan Turing, English mathematician, computer scientist and logician
Both Roan Maclean, 23, and Daniel Mayor, 22, wished they had learned more about mathematician and World War II historical figure Alan Turing. Turing was a key member of the Allied forces cracking the Enigma Code, and he has been credited as being the father of modern computing.
“To be taught about LGBT+ history, especially ones that are at the top of their field and doing groundbreaking at the time work would have been amazing,” Mclean said. “It would have shown younger me that anything is possible.”
Mayor said he had learned about Turing’s contributions to modern computing, but nothing was said about him being gay or the way he was persecuted because of his sexuality. Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, and he died by suicide in 1954.
Mayor said it would have been “very powerful” if he knew that an LGBT+ person like Turing had such an “amazing impact on the world”.
Jack Bee Garland, author, journalist and nurse
Like many people, Emma Fay, director of education at Just Like Us, admitted to having not realised that “trans people had existed throughout history”. Fay said it was a “real awakening” to “discover the people out there who are bringing trans history to light and busting the often-repeated myth that we don’t know anything about it”.
“In particular, I wish I’d known about Jack Bee Garland, who I learned about for the first time recently while reading CN Lester’s book Trans Like Me,” Fay said. “That book has had a huge influence on how I understand gender and introduced me to loads of interesting trans people throughout time.”
Jack Bee Garland was born in San Francisco in 1869 and lived as a male in the city’s Tenderloin District. Garland adopted the male identity of Beebe Beam and accompanied the US Army to the Philippines in 1899 to participate in the Philippine War. When Garland became sick and was “found out”, his fellow soldiers were incredible allies, chipping in money to help him, helping him escape and even breaking him out of prison.
“It’s such an amazing piece of history that I wish I’d learned about at school,” Fay said.
Marsha P Johnson, American queer liberation activist
Jemima Churchhouse, 23, said she would have liked to have learned about Marsha P Johnson at school. Johnson was an outspoken, revolutionary Black trans woman who co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organisation that provided housing to homeless LGBT+ youth and sex workers in New York in the 1970s.
Johnson was a popular figure in New York City’s gay art scene, even modelling for Andy Warhol, and she was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. As trans rights are hotly debated in the UK and worldwide, Churchhouse said it was essential “that we remember that trans people such as Marsha have always fought alongside LGB+ people for our rights”.
“I wish I’d been taught that trans women, and especially trans women of colour, have always been at the forefront of the Gay Liberation movement,” Churchhouse said. “I’m so grateful to all of the LGBT+ people who came before me and have helped allow me to live freely and authentically.”
DJ Ritu, radio presenter and activist
Taz Rasul, director of volunteering at Just Like Us, said she would have liked to have learned about DJ Rita as a teenager. She explained: “15-year-old me was fine with my sexuality, but embarrassed about being Asian. Asians weren’t cool or relevant.”
Rasul said learning about a broadcaster and activist like DJ Ritu “might have forced open my view of who Asians are a little earlier in my life”. Ritu is a British Asian lesbian who helped run the UK’s first South Asian lesbian and gay group in the 1980s. Rasul said: “If my school had made LGBT+ people of every colour visible to me, I might have embraced every part of myself with pride.”
Dr Ben Barres, American neurobiologist
Dr Ben Barres was a neurobiologist at Standford University, and he became the first openly transgender scientist in the National Academy of Scientists in 2013. As a trans man, Krystof, 22, said he found “comfort and confidence” in Dr Barres story, “knowing that he has not only survived and thrived”.
Dr Barres transitioned in 1997, in the middle of his career, and he was appointed the chair of neurobiology at Stanford’s school of medicine. Krystof said Dr Barre’s story and career made the “idea of coming out” less scary because “I knew there was someone like me before”.
“It is important to see representation and for schools to teach about LGBT+ figures in all fields,” Krystof said.
Audre Lorde, American writer, feminist and civil rights activist
Dominic Arnall, chief executive of Just Like Us, said he had first read Audre Lorde‘s collection of essays Sister Outsider while he was working on a project on supporting LGBT+ rights activists in Russia. He said he became “completely enamoured by her writing style”.
“She wrote both with a profound wisdom and an innate understanding of the human condition and the systems that we operate in,” Arnall said. “Lorde had an ability to see a particular situation from many angles at the same time, drawing you to question what you already knew, including the systems by which you knew it.”
The self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet” is best known for writings reflecting her hatred of racial and sexual prejudice. Lorde dedicated her life and creative works to confronting and addressing social injustices including racism, homophobia, sexism, classism and capitalism.
Arnall said he’s sent copies of Sister Outsiders to colleagues, friends and even his mother. He added: “It was a permanent fixture in my bag, in one instance finishing it only to start back at the beginning again, needing to ensure some detail had not escaped my memory.”
School Diversity Week is the annual celebration of LGBT+ inclusion in education run by charity Just Like Us. Schools and colleges in the UK can sign up now to take part ahead of 21 – 25 June – last year schools representing 1.9 million young people took part. Just Like Us also runs school talks and provides free home learning resources for parents.
Bisexual women’s health and well-being may be affected by the gender and sexual orientation of their partner, according to a newstudy published in the Journal of Bisexuality.
Researchers asked more than 600 bisexual women (and those who report being attracted to more than one gender) about their mental health, how open they are about their sexuality, their experiences with discrimination, and any symptoms of depression. They also collected data about whether the respondents were single or in a relationship and about their partner’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
Among their findings is that bisexual women in relationships with heterosexual cisgender men were least likely to be open about their sexual orientation.
“Most research about relationships has been focused on heterosexual couples,” Casey Xavier Hall, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health at Northwestern University and lead author on the article, told NBC News. “There is very little relationship research around bi people’s relationships. There are meaningful differences in relationships depending on the sexual and gender identity of bi women’s partners.”
Bisexual women in relationships with cisgender lesbian women, bisexual cisgender women partners, and bisexual cisgender men partners were more likely to be out than those partnered with heterosexual men.
“Outness” was measured by asking participants, “How out/open are you about your sexual orientation?” with answers ranging from “out to nobody” to “out to everyone.”
Researchers speculated that bi women may be more comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation when in a relationship with a woman. However, bi women were more likely to be out with a bisexual male partner than a heterosexual male partner, suggesting that a shared bisexual identity might be meaningful.
“What’s unique about our finding is that bi women in relationships with bi men were also more likely to be out, compared to bi women in relationships with heterosexual cisgender men,” Xavier Hall said. “It’s about both the sexual and gender identity of the partner.”
Researchers found that the gender and sexual orientation of bisexual women’s partners mattered for their experiences of discrimination and the basis of their sexual identity.
“Relative to participants in relationships with heterosexual cisgender men, reports of discrimination experiences were higher among participants in relationships with lesbian cisgender women, bisexual cisgender women, bisexual cisgender men, and participants who are single,” the study states.
Xavier Hall said the exact reasons for this finding are unclear.
“The visibility of your identity could be at play,” he said. “If you are visibly queer, you may experience more discrimination.”
Xavier Hall also said that bisexual women experience two forms of stigma: homophobia and monosexism.
Monosexism is a kind of stigma experienced by individuals who are attracted to multiple genders, such as bisexuals, pansexuals and some other queer-identifying individuals. The stigma derives from the idea that monosexual identities like gay or heterosexual are normal or superior to sexual identities that are gender inclusive, according to Xavier Hall.
“More research is needed to understand what leads to the discrimination piece,” he said.
The study also found that bisexual women with cisgender lesbian partners had fewer depressive symptoms compared to single bi women.
Previous research found differences in mental health between bisexual women in relationships with women and men but had not explored the role of female partners’ sexual orientation.
“This makes me want to see more research looking at female-female relationships accounting for differences in partner sexual identity to really know if there are differences and to understand what might account for those differences,” Xavier Hall said.
The House of Representatives last month passed the Equality Act, a landmark assemblage of LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures that’s gotten strong support from President Joe Biden.
If passed, the law would explicitly provide protections to LGBTQ people across key areas, including employment, housing, education, public accommodations and federally funded programs.
But one provision in the bill could also have a big impact on how the gay community interacts with the American legal system. It would bar attorneys from rejecting prospective jurors simply because they are LGBTQ.
Though there are some classifications that cannot be used as criteria for pre-emptive exclusion during jury selection — including race and gender — sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t among them currently.
That means a litigator can make sure a lesbian plaintiff in a discrimination suit has an all-straight jury. And a prosecutor can pre-emptively strike an LGBTQ juror from a case involving a transgender defendant.
Right now, Section 1862, title 28 of United States Code prohibits exclusion from jury service “on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status.” The Equality Act would amend the statute’s definition of sex to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Sasha Buchert, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, an LGBQT rights group, said the provision can “help ensure that LGBTQ people are treated equally under the law.”
“The need for a fair jury selection process is especially important to the transgender community because a disproportionate number of transgender people come into contact with the criminal justice system,” she told NBC News.
Only eight states expressly prohibit peremptory challenges against LGBTQ jurors, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Efforts to pass a federal law have failed at least four times, most recently in 2019.
Without clear guidance, it is “certainly possible” a case on the matter could reach the Supreme Court, Buchert said.
Last week Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y, introduced the Juror Non-Discrimination Act of 2021, a standalone bill that could make sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories in jury selection even if the Equality Act fails to cross the finish line.
“Juries are supposed to be reflective of the community,” Jones told NBC News. “But we don’t meet that constitutional standard when we allow entire swaths of the community to be kept out.”
The issue was first addressed by the courts in a 2014 pharmaceutical suit involving HIV drugs, when Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stopped Abbott Laboratories from dismissing a gay man from the jury.
“Gays and lesbians have been systematically excluded from the most important institutions of self-governance,” Reinhardt wrote in his opinion. “Strikes exercised on the basis of sexual orientation continue this deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation’s most cherished rites and rituals.”
Critics say it’s almost impossible to prove why a potential juror was rejected. If accused of striking someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, trial lawyers can always deny doing so and come up with another reason within the law. In the Abbott Laboratories case, attorneys for the company never gave a rationale for their peremptory challenge. It was Reinhardt who decided the reason was because one juror had mentioned his male partner during voir dire.
But the fight is personal for Jones. As a gay Black man and an attorney, he said he’s “distinctly aware of the discrimination that is permissible in the courtroom.”
And he doesn’t want to leave a potential remedy in the hands of the judicial system.
“We cannot rely on the Supreme Court, especially one with a 6-3 conservative majority, to evaluate our rights on a piecemeal basis,” he said.Jones, a former litigator in Westchester County, said if either the Equality Act or the Juror Non-Discrimination Act is enacted, “it will tell members of the LGBTQ community that there’s no place for discrimination in this country, starting with where equal treatment under the law comes from. There’s no other place that’s more American than our judicial system.”
He’s optimistic about the Equality Act’s chances but says there’d be a certain poetry if his first bill to become law was “one that affords dignity to the LGBTQ community.”
“I spent most of my life deathly afraid of people finding out I was gay,” he said. “I never thought someone like me could even run for Congress, so this would be extremely meaningful.”
The election of Kamala Harris as the first female, Black, South Asian vice president was a joyous and noteworthy event. Indeed, the Biden administration has already shown itself to be the antithesis of the blatant racism of the previous four years. New leadership demands new ways of operating, new ways of governing, and new ways to confront systematic racism.
We can say in our own community that we’ve only recently begun to address bigotry within our ranks, and that includes Black executive leadership in the LGBTQ+ movement.
For the first time in history, three of the national legacy LGBTQ equality organizations (National LGBTQ Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, and National Center for Lesbian Rights) will be led by Black executive directors. This has been a demand from activists of color for decades and is the result of a lot of hard work that included protests, marching, and intentional bench building within and across social justice movements in the country. With fixing racial inequity a major priority for the Biden/Harris administration and a continuing patchwork of civil rights laws across our country, their leadership of these organizations come at an opportune time.
That was the focus of the first panel discussion at last week’s National LGBTQ Task Force “Creating Change” conference which featured several Black LGBTQ leaders, including Kierra Johnson of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Alphonso David of the Human Rights Campaign, and Imani Rupert-Gordon of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The session was moderated by the National Black Justice Coalition’s executive director, David J. Johns.
What stuck out during some very honest and profound remarks was how our own attitudes have shaped our ideas about Black executives and leaders in the LGBTQ+ movement. The very thought that these individuals are “firsts” is at once alarming and embarrassing — why have we, as a generally open-minded community, been so lax in installing Black leadership?
“We have to remember that we’ve never been here before, and as Black leaders, we’re creating solutions we haven’t seen before,” said Rupert-Gordon. “In order to support Black leaders, people need to remember that we are ‘firsts,’ and that it’s harder to run an organization as a Black person, when that hasn’t happened before.”
Rupert-Gordon explained that when white people speak of racial justice, they are praised, but when Black people speak about it, well, that creates a different reaction. “Intersectionality and understanding how a person’s social and political identities creates different means of discrimination and privilege are really important,” she pointed out.
“I may be first, but I won’t be the last,” she continued. “What we can do to make that a reality is to make changes that are transparent, and changes to tackle some of the most underrepresented issues within the Black community. We need to ask people that we haven’t asked before what the solutions to our problems are — let’s make it better. In the past, there was a lot that was done badly. By listening to new and different folks, we can’t do much worse than what we’ve done before.”
David had a frank perspective about why Black leadership has lagged. “In our community, we are harboring bias. I have been an out gay man for a long time, and I’ve felt it against me, and as an immigrant as well. And, it’s by the very same folks that label themselves progressives and liberals.”
In order to overcome the prejudice, David suggests that we think outside ourselves. “We need to put ourselves in the shoes of a Black man in the South who has HIV but can’t get the adequate treatment for it. Or transgender women, who out of fear can’t return home, and as a result are in incredible danger and more likely to be beaten or killed. We need to get to that place of liberation, where we see marginalized people above ourselves, and recognize the plurality of our community.”
For Johnson, leadership is about being heard and recognized. “We are told over and over again that we can’t take on leadership, that our vote doesn’t matter, that we don’t matter. You are not of consequence. And that comes from laws, the government, the media, family, schools and even within our own LGBTQ movement.”
Johnson feels that the call to action for present and future Black LGBTQ leaders is to define your own leadership style and voice. “I have spent last 20 years not trusting myself. I’ve silenced my voice because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t feel that I could create change, that I wasn’t worthy enough to talk to legislatures or other leaders, and that I couldn’t provide access for others because I felt I lacked stature.
“It’s amazing how those gremlins weigh on all of us as people of color. In 2021 queer women and transgender folks of color need to reinforce, for each other, that we’re worthy to make the change and take the lead. We need to help each other by providing an open door,” Johnson believes. “I’ve already walked in. And now, I get to be my own leader, and bring what I’ve learned to my role. My perspective is different and therefore my leadership will be, and that’s a new day for all of us. And, I’m excited for new days and years ahead for all of new and future Black leaders.”