The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Event report: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More than Marriage Equality

20 January 2012

C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director, Women of Color Policy Network, New York University, opened the event with comments about the virtual invisibility of Black LGBT people in federal policy and legislation. Having adequate data about the demographic to move forward is critical because only in that way can we be sure of the needs in our communities. We need to close knowledge gaps and decrease inequalities. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be a variable in all federal surveys. As a policy advocate she works to translate research into concrete policies. Over the years C. Nicole has noticed how much policy has failed the most vulnerable populations in society. Why is this? For her the answer is quite simple: we haven’t paid enough attention to the intersections within demographic groups. The unemployment rate of black transgender people is at 28% which is three times the national average. Everyone benefits by having policies that improve the lot of vulnerable populations. We need data, information, and stories that can be used to create policies that will improve the life chances and outcomes for marginalized groups in society.

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, Advisor, LGBT Policy and Racial Justice, Center for American Progress, emphasized how important data is for creating policy or for assessing the effects of individual policies. We need to break out of issue silos and work together on Black LGBT needs. Employment discrimination should be a priority for unions, and reproductive rights advocates should support the needs of Black LGBT individuals too.

Kierra Johnson, Executive Director, Choice USA, said Choice USA has a very deliberate way of ensuring that the real concerns of the LGBT community get on to their agenda. They start by focusing on staff to make sure that young queer people are at the start of strategizing about their policy priorities. Today, the millennial generation is becoming much more accustomed to the idea of intersectionality of identities. Young people are not apologetic about their minority identities and don’t want society to define social practices, such as marriage, for them. Rather they want to be able to live according to their individual choices. All of these different interests need to be included if we are to reach long-term cultural change.

Michael Wilson, National Director, Americans for Democratic Action, said that the ADA has been focusing on speaking to people in a way that encourages them to be leaders on justice issues that matter to them. Many people he speaks to who oppose LGBT marriage change their views when they understand the implications of the discrimination in practical terms, and he is encouraged that there is a “teachable moment” when rigid attitudes are enabled to change.

Gary Flowers, Executive Director, Black Leadership Forum, opened his comments saying how important it is o move the dialogue from the issue silos so that black civil rights organization include advocacy about sexual orientation rights. He said that we need a visionary leadership model that recognizes that people of color of all sexual orientations are facing the same challenges. No matter how strong an individual agenda is it can always been enhanced by working through a broader coalition with greater numbers. Through these coalitions we can build an understanding of the constitutional individual right to vote in addition to group rights.

Jeff Krehely, Director of LGBT Research and Communications Project, Center for American Progress, described how he was the first person to come on board to address these issues at CAP. It includes working on non-headline issues such as LGBT aging and data collection. They also tried to work interdepartmentally. A recent tracking poverty report by CAP also included a section on how poverty affects members of the LGBT community. The data collection problem is very significant. We are often hobbling data together in order to have some kind of academic ground to stand on. There is a sense of invisibility from the start. Community based surveys are more likely to be carried out by people who are white so we are missing LGBT people of color in those results.

This is a shortened version of the discussion that took place. The full video can be found on the CAP website here.

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator

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