About 125 people attended the Ujima Men’s Collective Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in late October. The Ujima Men’s Collective organized this conference to focus on “Same Gender Loving” Black men. In the US, SGL/Gay Black men have the highest risk for HIV infection.
This conference had five tracks: advocacy; leadership; health and wellness; relationships; and spirituality. It had 20 workshops and plenaries.
Some people may be unfamiliar with the term, Same Gender Loving (SGL). Lorenzo Robertson, the Conference Coordinator, considers SGL to be a more Afro-Centric term than Gay is. While this conference focused on Black SGL/Gay men, it was inclusive of everyone.
Robertson said, “A lot of SGL men have Euro American partners. … We live in a cosmopolitan environment and [will] be in contact with other races.” People at this conference tended to use the terms, SGL and Gay, interchangeably.
Robertson described the three goals of the conference. Its first goal was to develop leadership and advocacy skills. Its second goal was to build community among Black SGL/Gay men, their friends, families, lovers, and co-workers. Its third goal was to increase volunteering in this community.
Robertson noted the absence of SGL/Gay Black male leadership in HIV organizations. As these organizations serve large numbers of SGL/Gay Black men, a mismatch exists between providers and those served. Conference organizers developed the leadership track to remedy that mismatch.
Related: World AIDS Day Around South Florida
When people use evangelical language to promote anti-LGBT bias, it may affect Blacks more than Whites. Some groups find that language foreign: Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Pagans, atheists, agnostics, and the religiously unaffiliated. People in these groups are much less likely to be Black. Anti-LGBT evangelical rhetoric may spiritually wound Black LGBT people.
Roberson described this as “church-hurt”. “A lot of SGL people still go to church. So many Black SGL men have been hurt by their churches and they've been hurt by their ministers. We want to try to create that balance where you can be a Christian and you can still be SGL.” Robertson said that this led to the Spirituality track in the conference.
In a workshop on relationships, Lorenzo Lowe introduced a group technique, The Honeycomb Hideout. He developed this technique at Compass in West Palm Beach. In this technique, people would bring up a relationship issue. If anyone said, “Let’s talk about it,” the group would then discuss that issue. This had the advantage of talking about relationship issues that interested others. This results in participants voicing many views on the issue rather than the presenter dispensing “wisdom.”
Stephen Bailous, Florida Department of Health/Broward, led a workshop on hidden assumptions. He stressed the relationship between these assumptions and their related stereotypes. These assumptions can result in implicit bias. This type of bias can lead to unconscious acting out of racist and other beliefs. No one is immune to these biases.
Some readers of SFGN may be unfamiliar with the term, Ujima. It is one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Ujima refers to Collective Work and Responsibility. Robertson said that the organizers chose the principle of Ujima, “Because we want to build … a gathering of Black Gay men to work together to move forward, to be responsible about their actions.”
Many of the workshops focused on issues that would be present in any Gay male conference. The Ujima Conference examined these issues through an Afro-Centric lens that was inclusive. The neglected issues of SGL/Gay Black men had become the center of attention, a welcome change.