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Rev. Eric Lee Headshot

Travesty of Justice

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There is a travesty of justice occurring within lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations that is holding all of us back in our movement for justice and equality. As an African American, I have devoted my life to creating a more equitable world for all of us. I hold as a sacred truth that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and have as a consequence devoted much of my time and resources to working to defeat Proposition 8 in California. I have done this work not just for my LGBT brothers and sisters, but because I know that any time rights are curtailed for some of us, in the long run, we all suffer.

By this same token, I believe that the cause of justice and equality also suffers when the unconscious racism of the white male-dominated LGBT community goes unchecked. I'm sad to see it appears they have not learned the lessons from the mistakes of the California Proposition 8 campaign for marriage equality. The strategy of many LGBT organizations remains to develop messaging for the Black community without actually seeking the input of those in the Black community who have -- at considerable personal and professional cost -- taken a stand for marriage equality. That LGBT organizers continue to do this, despite the overwhelming research, polling, and basic common sense -- which tells us if you want to energize Black folks about issues, you have to actually engage and understand Black people at the beginning of the work-- not just as an afterthought.

Yet, I still witness LGBT organizations -- which continue to be dominated and funded by white men -- conducting meetings and making plans on "messaging to the Black community" rather than engaging the Black community. The same organizations that ran the failed Proposition 8 campaign continue to tell the Black community what the message is, and to continue mistake tokenism with community relationship building. Inviting a Black person to sit in a meeting because that person is Black, does not substitute for -- and in fact undercuts the real work of -- constructive, difficult dialogue with Black leaders on the issues surrounding homosexuality, much less same-sex marriage. Being Black does not automatically mean the concerns of the Black community will be honestly communicated. All Black people are not the same.

I was pleased to see recently that the Human Rights Campaign's Religion Council bucked this trend and invited six African Americans who speak from very different communities (straight and LGBT) to be part of their Religion Council. When African American leaders who regularly speak to the Black community are invited to equally participate in creating the strategy for reaching the black community, then and only then can we develop an honest strategy that will empower all of us.
 
With a few notable exceptions, including HRC's Religion Council and Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, what I experienced in Washington, D.C. is generally not modeled in the work I've seen here in California. Although the Courage Campaign is committed to advancing LGBT equality, it is not solely an LGBT organization.

When African American leaders are left out of the critical decision-making process, the movement is compromised and becomes more about privilege than freedom from oppression.  Over and over again, the trend has been for the LGBT community, perceived as wealthy and white, to isolate itself from the Black community--the very community from which it seeks support.  By continuing to frame a message for the Black community without the involvement of allies within the Black community, justice is thwarted.   True equality occurs when we see that the work for justice is our collective movement. LGBT equality should be a manifestation of the larger progressive movement, but when the goal is pursued in ways that reinforce privilege, we have an issue, a constituency base, and organizations, but not a movement. A movement must always be bigger than the immediate goal of a specific community, and it must be the sum of all of its parts. It must embrace the equality of all of us. A movement requires the equal integration of people, ideas, goals, dreams, hopes and desires of our respective communities.  A movement requires equal participation, equal access, and equal input on issues of justice and equality from all concerned parties. 

If LGBT organizations continue in isolation and fail to genuinely engage other oppressed and discriminated communities in their pursuit of equality, they make a mockery of the struggle for justice.   Real allies in the pursuit of justice and equality are not asked to show up at a press conference as a "fly in a bowl of buttermilk." And Black folks or any other potential allies cannot be an afterthought or a junior partner in developing the strategy for true justice. And if LGBT organizations want to be real allies in justice, they need to show themselves to be as passionate about the effects of injustice to other communities as they are to their own. This isolation not only hurts the movement, but it hurts people. LGBT people struggling to come out in the Black community are set back by the arrogant attitude of the traditional LGBT organizations.

Once the LGBT community genuinely joins other communities in eliminating discrimination as it impacts others, the work of justice will become possible. The lesson to be learned from the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is that the progress towards equality involves people of every faith, ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation. Dr. King stated, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."