“Lavender Book” points out restaurants, hairdressers, and other services that will welcome Black LGBTQ Americans.
A new web-based app called “Lavender Book” points out restaurants, hairdressers, and other services that will welcome Black LGBTQ Americans.
Guest: David Johns
CH: Being Black in America — or anywhere — is not easy. And when you’re also LGBTQ, it’s even harder. But a new web-based app called “Lavender Book”, which launched this month, aims to change that. The app identifies places in the U.S. deemed safe for Black LGBTQ Americans to hang out. The idea is based on the “Green Book” — the well-known guide that listed safe areas for Black people to travel. David Johns is the executive director for the National Black Justice Coalition — a civil rights organization serving the Black LGBTQ community in the U.S. The Coalition helped create the app. We reached Mr. Johns in Washington, D.C.
CO: David, was there a particular moment when the idea of creating Lavender Book just clicked for you?
DAVID JOHNS: Not a particular moment, but I also think in threes. And so I think that there were several moments. One, it’s important to acknowledge the “Green Book”, which existed at a time when travel in our country, particularly in the South for Black folks, often invited violence and forms of terror. And so, there are direct connections to the seeds that were planted there. Sadly, we often have conversations about the violence that members of our community experience, which go ignored and unnoticed in other spaces. We are on track for this year to be the deadliest with regard to Black trans women being murdered, outpacing last year, which was the deadliest on record. I mean, of course, that’s cases that we know of. There are all kinds of challenges with dead-naming and other things that don’t allow us to understand when these things happen to members of our community. There have been more than 170 pieces of legislation, anti-trans legislation, introduced this year alone. It has continued, to me, to be important to try and provide a solution.
CO: Just let’s talk a bit more about that because we have covered the these experiences that you just referred to of people of… who are Black and LGBTQ who experience just this kind of discrimination. But what’s… what is it like in an unfamiliar town? If they want to travel, if they want to go someplace. What are the things… what are the alarm bells that must go on for those people?
DJ: Well, I appreciate that question, and I’ll answer it, but I also say that those same concerns existed in people’s own neighbourhoods, right? Like, I… I… right now, I’m in Washington, D.C, and we’re thinking about trying out a new bakery, [laughing] thinking about the masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case. When I think about needing to find a new barber. Those are things that go through my mind. And then I think that those thoughts, which again, we experience sometimes daily, multiple times a day, we’re just moving through the world are exacerbated when we are travelling to visit family or friends now that the world is opening back up to go to a friend’s wedding. So similarly, things that have come up in the process of creating this resource have been the importance of identification of beauticians and beauty shops and barber shops, other accesses to public accommodations, many of the things that most people take for granted when engaging in what technically in the law are called public accommodations are the kinds of things that cause us additional anxiety and in ways that most people take for granted.
CO: How then does a business get into the Lavender Book? How will you assess that?
DJ: Yeah, so there are a couple of things. A business can sign up for a profile on the Lavender Book, identifying how it is that they show up in ways that are alined with not only the spirit, [chuckling] but the letter of the community guidelines that are available on the platform. Well, and it also has to be approved. So let me be clear about that. It is moderated by staff at NBJC who are ever mindful of safety and all of the things that we just discussed. The other thing that will happen is that they can be recommended by the community. So it will be a crowdsourcing element to this where when there are many members of our community who either recommend and or affirm or otherwise validate a business, they will then be listed on the platform.
CO: The “Green Book”, which is really was an extraordinary thing, wasn’t it? That for Black people who wanted to travel, go on road trips with their families in the Jim Crow era, they had this… this document, this book, this guide could give them a mapped out way to go into America. To go to find hotels and motels and restaurants and places to go where they wouldn’t be discriminated against, perhaps as much. And it was so important, wasn’t it? And do you see that it’s possible the Lavender Book would actually fulfil those needs for people the way the “Green Book” did?
DJ: Let me… let me trouble the question acknowledging the importance of it. It’s important for everyone to understand that the “Green Book”, in a way in which it was most recently celebrated by Mahershala Ali in the film, still exists. The process of Black folks who are beautiful and incredibly diverse and don’t show up in any monolithic ways rely upon word of mouth and other crowdsourcing efforts that have contributed to the design of the Lavender Book to navigate life. Black LGBTQYA-plus people in particular, we live disproportionately with other Black people. We don’t have the sort of Hollywood celebrated experience of coming out to our families, a term that I think is problematic because it doesn’t acknowledge that heterosexual-cis people don’t have to come out and otherwise shifts power in ways that are problematic and unfair. But the point here is that we don’t… white people get to, in Hollywood films, come out, move to Gayborhood and then join clubs and find spaces that exist for them to draw strength from the fact that they’re not only white, but they’re also queer. And to the contrary, most of us, based on the data, we know live in the south, in states where it’s still legal to discriminate against us based on actual or perceived sexual identity, gender orientation or expression. On top of the existing challenges, we face as a result of white supremacy and anti-Blackness. So I want folks to be clear that while we sometimes celebrate big past, particularly painful moment in our history, we are not beyond the need for things like the Green Book. The challenges, the unique challenges, that we face as a result of having intersectional identity compounded challenges as a result of having stigmatized, minoritized identities too often go ignored when people don’t have access to resources like the platform that you provide. And so this is, again, a way of me trying to say my answer is both. Yes, I hope that it will reach the level of significance in terms of meeting the existing need. And I so desperately look forward to the day when it is… when we don’t need it at all when it doesn’t need to exist.
CO: David, thank you so much.
DJ: My pleasure. Thank you for the time and space.
TS: David Johns is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition — a civil rights organization in the U.S., serving the Black LGBTQ community. He spoke to us from Washington, D.C.