12/04/2012 06:40 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Make LGBT Great: Earl Fowlkes

Creating space for our community to come together to celebrate Pride is a major way to make LGBT great. Earl Fowlkes serves as president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, formerly the International Federation of Black Pride (IFBP). He founded the IFBP in 1999 as a coalition of black Pride organizers formed to promote a multinational network of LGBT Pride and community-based organizations. There are over 30 black Pride events, with over 450,000 attendees each year. In July 2012 the organization changed its name to the Center for Black Equity, with an expanded mission and membership base. The Center for Black Equity is the only international black LGBT organization.

Earl previously served 15 years as the executive director of the DC CARE Consortium and Damien Ministries, organizations that provided services to persons living with HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. Earl serves on numerous boards and is currently serving as the chair of the GLBT Advisory Committee of the D.C. mayor's office.

Christopher: What personal or professional accomplishment are you the more proud of?

Earl: I have two accomplishments that I am equally proud of -- firstly, my longtime work in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. I have had the opportunity to work directly in this field almost since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic. During this time I worked with many types of populations, including Latina and African-American women of childbearing age, gay and bisexual men of all colors, ex-offenders, active and former substance abusers and the faith community. Over the past 27 years I've had the opportunity to interact with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people living with HIV/AIDS. Many of my friends and clients died during the '80s and '90s, and each one of them brought me closer to my humanity. Each one of my clients helped me to understand the essence of life and provided me with examples of how to overcome adversity. These were important lessons that I carry with me in my work today.

Secondly, I am very proud of my work helping to formulate the International Federation of Black Prides, now known as the Center for Black Equity (CBE). The CBE started 14 years ago, when there were only eight black Pride events in the country. Now there are nearly 40 black Prides around the world, with nearly 400,000 attendees each year. Black Prides are still considered one of the best ways to organize the black LGBT community, as is demonstrated each year with new black Pride organizations emerging around the world. I'm very proud to have been connected with such incredible grassroots movement. The CBE recently expanded its mission and scope to not only include the black Pride organizations and their important work in the community but also to focus on health equity, economic equity and social equity. This extended mission and scope will allow the CBE to reach even more people in our community on a daily basis.

Christopher: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the LBGT community?

Earl: I think one of the greatest challenges for the LGBT community is the same challenge that is impacting the entire community. There is a wide gap between the haves and have-nots within our community. The recent economic difficulties facing our country and the world have taken a toll on the LGBT community. Many members of our community lost their homes and their jobs over the last few years, and many of these people are still struggling to recover. There's also this myth that everyone in our community has money in the bank, a big home, take long vacations to foreign lands and have multi degrees. The reality is that many members of our community are struggling to raise their children, make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads. Poverty is an issue throughout our community. I think that we have an obligation to ensure that every member of our community has access to education, a livable wage and a decent home. However we cannot make this thing happen until the LGBT community acknowledges that not everyone has the same advantages as some of us. Therefore we must work harder to equal the playing field for everyone in our community.

Christopher: What two or three things can individuals do to help make LGBT great?

Earl: I think that individuals need to focus not just on LGBT social equality issues but also LGBT economic issues, as well. We need to support organizations that are not only pushing the LGBT social agenda, which would include marriage equality, anti-discrimination laws, transgender rights, etc., but we need to also support those organizations that are teaching members of our community how to create wealth, purchase a home, develop job skills in a global economy, learn how to invest their savings, etc.

Another thing that LGBT individuals can do is to take up the fight for transgender rights. I'm convinced that transphobia is as prevalent in the LGBT community as it is in the greater community. We expect heterosexuals to do something that many of us in the LGBT community have not done, which is to be supportive and respectful of the transgender members of our community. I think some of us in leadership naturally assumed that everyone in the LGBT community understands the "T." We need to do provide more educational opportunities so that everyone understands the struggle that transgender individuals have within and outside the LGBT community for equal rights. We also need to normalize positive awareness and support for transgender members of our community without judgment and with compassion.

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By founding black Pride events and tirelessly fighting against HIV/AIDS, Earl Fowlkes is truly making LGBT great.

This is part of a series of profiles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight individuals who are working to improve the lives of LGBT residents and their thoughts on how to make LGBT great. To find out more about the Making LGBT Great project, please visit