Combatting Inequities Within the LGBTQ Community


with Kierra Johnson of the National LGBTQ Task Force


May 31, 2018

LGBTQ Americans have seen many advances in recent years but benefits of those advances have not been spread equally. There are marginalized groups within the LGBTQ community contending with high rates of poverty, HIV infection and discrimination.

Kierra Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, discusses inequities that exist within the equality movement.

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: The LGBTQ community has experienced change in recent years, but advocates say advances have not been spread equally. Even with marriage equality, heightened visibility and pop culture, there´s still challenges within the LGBTQ community along the lines of race, class, gender. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek, and joining me is Kierra Johnson. She´s the deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. Kierra, it´s so good to see you.

Johnson: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me here.

Lisnek: For people to talk about pride, equality -- do it all the time. But the truth is, as I said leading in to you, there actually still is inequality, even in the LGBTQ community. How can that be?

Johnson: You know, change takes time, and it´s important for us to understand that, while there are wins along the way, they´ve been long and hard fought for, right? So, often times, even around marriage equality, people are like, "We won that so quickly," not realizing that there are 50 years that precede that that got us to that moment. And that´s not the end. We´re fighting for equality in healthcare, in housing, in quality-good jobs, even today.

Lisnek: So I´m old enough to remember the first pride celebrations of so many years ago, and your organization is as old as the first pride celebration.

Johnson: Yes.

Lisnek: So I know you weren´t around for that, but tell me how the organization has changed throughout the years. It´s clear -- things have changed, challenges are different.

Johnson: Absolutely. I mean, often, people think equality, they think of the flag, right, the rainbow flag. And it´s a beautiful symbol, but what´s behind that is a diversity of people. And I think what´s really shifted in how we talk about pride and equality is, we keep naming the unseen and the unheard from people within that right, within our community. So, you know, it used to be the gay movement that was mostly focused on men. And then, that expanded to include women. And now, we´re doing even more work to claim, right, and acknowledge our transgender brothers and sisters that are in this work, too.

Lisnek: And you mentioned that, and so, it´s a related issue. The notion of HIV infection, it´s down overall, and that´s good news, and there are ways to treat it. But even there, a sense of inequality, because when you look at the infection rates among African-Americans, among Latinos, among some bisexuals, transgender community, it´s not the same, it´s not equal.

Johnson: It is not equal, and while, overall, we´ve seen decreases in HIV infections, a 2016 report says if we keep at the rate that we´re going, 1 in 2 gay or bisexual black men will have HIV in their lifetime. It´s really clear-cut where the disparity is. And yet, the Trump administration has tried two years in a row to cut HIV funding.

Lisnek: So, sometimes it steps forward, followed by steps backwards. This is the challenge that goes on. And speaking of the past and the future, the Reverend William Barber has a Poor People´s Campaign, and I know it´s going on currently. It also happened in 1968.

Johnson: Yes.

Lisnek: So it deals with economic racial injustice. I´m just curious, not that you remember from 1968, but how has that changed?

Johnson: It´s amazing how relevant the Poor People´s Campaign still is today when we´re talking about disparities. Those disparities exist and are compounded by multiple identities. So, being a person of color, who is also a woman, who is also a lesbian, the reality is that there are real disparities in healthcare and economic security. There are real discrepancies about who can make it and have higher-paying jobs and have healthcare and who doesn´t. And that´s really what the Poor People´s Campaign is fighting for -- a moral revolution for our future.

Lisnek: And, of course, marriage equality comes through the courts recently, and I´m just curious, when you look at even an issue like that, some people think, "That step is taken, it can never turn back." Can it?

Johnson: I think we´ve got to be really careful with absolutes. The reality is that we win fights and we have to continue to hold our elected officials accountable in making sure that not only we maintain the wins that we have, but we advance the other wins that need to happen for there to be true equity and justice.

Lisnek: Kierra, and clearly, the work goes on, the challenges continue. Thank you for being with me. Kierra Johnson with the National LGBTQ Task Force, spending time with me. And I thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community or all across the country, all you got to do is go to It´s easy. I´m Paul Lisnek.

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