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Our Issues: Interview with the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC)

By: Justin Allen, AFROPUNK Contributor | April 9, 2013 |

Founded in 2003, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a policy advocacy group based in Washington D.C. that focuses on the issues of queer Black people. Given the increasing conversation about queer identities, both on an institutional and cultural scale, the NBJC has emerged as a platform that underscores intersectionality when addressing the issues of queer people. It is an institution that speaks to specificity and subjectivity—two terms growing more and more relevant given the complexity of the socio-political issues we have before us. I recently sat down with Spelman alumnus and NBJC Programs and Outreach Associate Je-ShawnaWholley to discuss the founding of the organization, influencing policy, experiences of queer Black people on Historically Black College and University as well as predominantly white college campuses, and what “queer” looks like in a modern context.

NBJC was founded in 2003. Who founded it and how did it get started?

NBJC has many founders. Mandy Carter, Keith Boykin, Jasmyne Cannick, Roddrick A. Colvin, Maurice Franklin, Donna Payne, Frank Leon Roberts, Sonya Shields are a number of them. There needed to be a countervailing voice to Black clergy who were uniting with religious right leaders to work against LGBT rights.

Keith Boykin called together some activist friends and organized a press conference stating they were there as open and proud Black LGBT people standing against injustice. A reporter asked, "What is the name of your organization?" and Keith Boykin, thinking quickly on his feet said "the National Black Justice Coalition."

How do you think the voice within the movement is diverse as far as socio-economic class?

When you look at the more dominant voices in the LGBT movement, the voices that are getting the most press and getting the platform to promote their priorities, those voices typically belong to wealthy white gay men. But our communities and our backgrounds are far more diverse. NBJC ensures that queer Black people are in the room when political conversations are happening and policy decisions are being made. We make sure the Black LGBT narrative, experience, and priorities are represented, and that our community has a seat at the table. When you’re talking about economic empowerment, violence or homelessness, NBJC doesn't allow you to ignore how that’s going to impact queer Black people. So while issues like marriage equality are certainly important, we don't live single-issue lives. It's just as important that we're simultaneously talking about employment non-discrimination and our trans sisters that are being murdered because of who they are. 

So, given that we have a Black president, do you see him having a positive effect on Black queer people?

Absolutely. A new poll came out via the Washington Post that showed that the percentage of people accepting marriage equality has actually doubled since 2004. So when you are able to sit down in your living room as a queer person of color—or not a queer person of color, but just a person of color—and see your president not only say that he supports marriage equality but also be very transparent about the fact that he himself had to go through an evolution, had to go through a process of challenging himself and being challenged by his family to come to the conclusion that he was wrong and this is how he feels today, I absolutely think it has an impact for the better on our community as a whole.

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The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.