Let’s Own Our Power to Mobilize and Implement Inclusive Policies
By: David J. Johns, Executive Director
“When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which EVERY American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that ALL men [and women] – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this… " – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On this day, all around America, we celebrate one of the greatest civil rights leaders in history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of the most memorable and moving lines from one of his most celebrated and profound speeches given in Washington, DC – “I Have a Dream” – will be read on airwaves, posted on social media and shared across media throughout this country.
But what about the lines quoted less frequently, like the one above? I sit here in Washington, DC almost 55 years later, and still feel the way Dr. King felt in 1963 – America continues to default on its promise to so many Americans, particularly those in the LGBTQ and black communities.
Among the most pressing questions facing the leadership of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is how do we support the needs of our community at a time when so many are under attack—when federal, state and local governments are divesting the very support that has enabled communities too often neglected and under-supported to access the programs and opportunities needed to enable them to fully participate in social and civic life and to be happy, healthy and whole.
As we look forward and embrace 2018, it is important to remember that while civil rights and LGBTQ equality movements have resulted in monumental legal changes for a country more than 100 years removed from slavery, Black Americans continue to experience bias, discrimination and prejudice, and the situation is even more severe for Black LGBTQ and same gender loving (SGL) Americans who live at the intersection of racism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
And while LGBTQ/SGL people of all races face daily battles that are unimaginable to heterosexual and cisgender individuals, again, we find that Black LGBTQ/SGL people face these critical issues through an even more magnified lens due to their intersectional identity, including:
Economic Insecurity as the result of persistent discrimination, housing insecurity, a lack of quality, affordable healthcare and fewer educational opportunities.
Violence & Harassment–Black survivors of hate violence were 1.3 times more likely to experience police violence than their non-Black counterparts. Black survivors were also twice as likely to experience any physical violence, twice as likely to experience discrimination and 1.4 times more likely to experience threats and intimidation during acts of hate violence. A National Transgender Discrimination Survey, co-authored by NBJC, found that Black transgender women face the highest levels of fatal violence within the LGBTQ community and are less likely to turn to police for help for fear of revictimization by law enforcement personnel. 38 percent of Black transgender people who interacted with police reported harassment; 14 percent reported physical assault from police and 6 percent reported sexual assault.
HIV & Health Inequity–Young, Black gay, bisexual and same gender loving men and Black women, both cis and trans*, are among the communities most heavily affected by HIV. In the city of Atlanta, for example, a young, Black gay man now has a 60 percent chance of becoming HIV-positive by the age of 30 even though Black gay and bisexual men are more likely to engage in safer sex practices than their white counterparts.
Criminal Injustice–A number of recent, highly publicized cases of police brutality and misconduct have highlighted abiding flaws in the criminal justice system. Data from the 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, found disproportionately high rates of arrest and incarceration among Black transgender people when compared to all other racial and ethnic groups.
It is worth noting that the limited data we have on the Black LGBTQ community shows that Black LGBTQ/SGL people live primarily in states where it is legal to fire someone because they are—or are perceived to be—LGBTQ/SGL. In three states (North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas), state law prohibits local jurisdictions from passing local statutes to protect LGBTQ people.
Having accepted the charge to lead Black families in strengthening the bonds and bridging the gaps between the movements for racial justice and LGBTQ equality in 2018 and beyond, NBJC is on a mission to:
Ensure elected and appointed officials representing our community are aware of and accountable for our issues
Highlight connections between issues most impacting our community and the greater Black community
Defend progressive policies that have benefited our communities, while communicating about and strategizing ways to defend against attacks and divestments.
In order to see Dr. King’s dream realized and continue to live on beyond mere recitation of his words, it’s important we all engage in the fight. Through meetings or working with elected leaders, we are able to inform policymakers and collectively pursue opportunities to ensure the policy process addresses our unique needs. We hope you will join us in this.