It’s impossible for me to talk about the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality without talking about Black people and without talking about family. I am unapologetically a “sistah" in the movement for full equality for my LGBT brothers and sisters. We need to realize that we have Black LGBT siblings, parents, aunties, uncles, and cousins among us. It isn’t a metaphor for me. Our bloodline runs deep. We’re in this together and there’s no separating racial justice from LGBT equality in my world.
In order for me to be fully free, we’ve all got to be. So when my gay brothers and sisters can’t have their commitment recognized legally, or my transgender sisters are getting murdered for who they are, it’s personal. None of us are free if we are not all free.
As the executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s leading Black LGBT civil rights organization, it’s my job to educate our community about things like intersectionality and dual oppression—the fact that Black LGBT persons exist and are disproportionately affected by social inequalities like job discrimination, violence, and homelessness is enough reason to make us realize that LGBT issues are Black issues. And as a Black woman, a mother, and a military spouse, it is my duty to challenge policy that makes it acceptable to legislate bias and hate against LGBT people, especially those serving our country valiantly.
I’ve been to countless screenings and discussions of The New Black, a compelling documentary that masterfully humanizes the voices of dissension and brings a realness to both sides of the debate—and a project that I am proud to have participated in. Interestingly, two of the most talked about moments of the film are featuring allies and unexpected supporters of LGBT equality that step out of the shadows, including my husband, MSgt (retired) Alvin Hicks.
In one poignant scene, field organizers Karess Taylor-Hughes and Samantha Master, both Black LGBT youth, approach a group of young Black men on a stoop in Maryland. One of the men expresses his objection to Question 6, the voter referendum that would legalize marriage equality in the state.
“I ain’t voting on that gay sh*t,” he tells them. “I ain’t with that.”
His unassuming companion, laying back casually on the stairs, jumps in.
“Who are you to tell someone who they can be with?” Then, turning to the two women, he says, “I got you.”
None of us are free if we are not all free.
The other moment happens at the dinner table with my very colorful family. My husband’s aunt, Annie Whitmore, recounts the day her grandchild came out and her challenging journey to full acceptance of her grandbaby.
“As I grow older and got a really personal relationship with God, I understand that that ain’t for me to judge her. So I told her, ‘Tika, I don’t care which way [you] go, Grandma gonna love you.’”
In a more heated exchange with my husband’s Aunt Michelle, we go back and forth about what the Bible says about gay people and outdated beliefs like divorce being reprehensible. Though unsettling, most people can agree that they have an Aunt Michelle in their family—someone they love dearly but disagree with wholeheartedly. But being silent and letting even the Aunt Michelle’s antiquated belief systems go unchecked stunts progress.
That’s the remarkable thing about this film—and about this very ripe moment of our movement. The New Black is a brilliant launching pad for communities to start having the difficult conversations around race and the movement for LGBT equality. It allows us to drop our guard, leave our biases at the door and reach the masses with a message that illuminates the humanity of our community. It breaks down the often times abstract policy and cryptic scripture to real-life challenges everyday Americans can understand. The New Black puts a face to the people living at the intersection of black and LGBT.
It also places a face on our allies and dispels myths about the black community being monolithically homophobic. But in order to continue doing that, we’ve got to keep the conversation going. As allies, we’ve got to speak up and speak loudly so that the voices of prejudice fade and all of our families feel safe and celebrated.
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), which is a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. NBJC's mission is to eradicate racism and homophobia. For more information about NBJC, visit www.nbjc.org.