Black LGBT Leaders Discuss Path To Justice & Equality

Nadine Smith. Photo via Equality Florida website.

A letter circulating among LGBT organizations demands justice.

Entitled “LGBTQ organizations Unite to Combat Racial Violence,” the letter is a declaration of unity against racism and white supremacy. 

“We understand what it means to rise up and push back against a culture that tells us, we are less than, that our lives don’t matter,” the letter reads.

The authors go on to say, “we join together again to say #BlackLivesMatter and commit ourselves to the actions those words require.”

More than 400 LGBT organizations have signed-on to the letter.

On Wednesday, Black leaders from across America joined a video program moderated by Equality Florida Founder Nadine Smith, who opened the discussion by stating: “America is at a crossroads.”

“In this context we think it is critical that the LGBTQ community be vocal and visible, unafraid to say the words ‘white supremacy,’ unafraid to speak out, to end the violence state-sanctioned and hate sanctioned against the Black community and to remember that this is our fight, we do not show up as allies but we understand that our liberation, our freedom is tied to ending this system.”

Joining Smith on the broadcast was Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign, Imani Rupert-Gordon, Executive Director of the National Center of Lesbian Rights, Michele Rayner, civil rights attorney and Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis City Councilmember. The virtual town hall covered stories from the recent protests to the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. The outrage to Floyd’s death, on the back of a nation saddled with a health pandemic has produced civil unrest in many cities with people taking to the streets.

“We are going through an existential crisis in this country, where people are hopefully being put in a position where they are seeing beyond themselves,” David said. The new head of HRC, a 50-year-old LGBT advocacy group, said now is the time to reach out.

“If we are going to achieve liberation ... If we are going to achieve equality and have that equality be sustainable we have to see beyond ourselves,” David said. “We have to care about issues that don’t directly affect us. That is how we achieve equality.”

Rupert-Gordon said intersectionality is a subject that needs better education. 

“Intersectionality has become a buzzword and catch-all for everything, we don’t always do the best job of explaining what that is,” said Rupert-Gordon, director of NCLR, the first nationwide LGBT legal organization founded by women. “To be intersectional isn’t the understanding that it’s hard when someone has multiple, marginalized, under-represented identities. “Intersectionality is looking at the systems in place that weren’t created for everyone to thrive and get to liberation. It’s an intersectional failure when someone falls through the cracks and doesn’t receive benefits or cannot properly access support because the systems weren’t created for them. We’re at this moment right now where collectively our communities are recognizing this and demanding justice at the same time.”

In Florida, the coronavirus caused massive job losses followed by frustrations over unemployment payments and fears of eviction. Rayner said the Florida attorney general was “more concerned about property than actually being concerned about a black man being killed.”

Rayner added the letter was great and needed, but wants to see the action items. She warned her colleagues to not discount her experience as a black lesbian.

Smith brought up the recent death of Tony McDade, killed last week by a Tallahassee police officer. 

“It boils down to one question and one question only,” Smith said. “Did police act properly in an attempt to apprehend a suspect or did police open fire because they didn’t think Tony’s life mattered?”

Smith added police have lost the benefit of the doubt in the McDade case.

“We want the truth,” she said. “Whatever the truth is.”

Smith said what matters is what transpired when police arrived at the southside apartment complex. 

“Did they responsibly attempt to arrest a subject or did they simply open fire on a transmasculine black person because it simply doesn’t matter?”

Jenkins, a black trans woman, lives one block from the site in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed by police. She said a “beautiful scene” is developing out of Floyd’s tragic death and the on-going COVID-19 health crisis. 

“We have been working hard to maintain a sacred space — a safe place where people can come and share their grief, mourn and just be with other people,” said Jenkins. “We’ve all been sort of locked into our homes for the past 10 weeks. This human connection out there is really palpable. It’s scary. I know we’re going to have to have some testing and medical support on the back end of this but it’s really is a beautiful thing to see.”