Recent years have afforded many advancements in the movement for LGBTQ equality. And while public opinion polls show that visibility and acceptance continue to rise, not all subgroups reap the same benefits. For African-Americans who identify as LGBTQ, equality gaps do exist across earning ability, health issues and inclusion.
David J. Johns, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition
, discusses the black equality gap, along with his organization’s efforts to foster higher rates of acceptance and visibility for the black LGBTQ population.
Lisnek: According to the Williams Institute, there are more than 1 million LGBTQ African-Americans currently living in the United States. And while the overall equality movement has advanced in recent years, advocates say equality gaps persist, especially for Americans who identify as black and LGBTQ. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek. With me to discuss LGBTQ equality in black America, David Johns. He´s the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. David, so good to see you.
Johns: So good to see you, as well. Thank you for having me.
Lisnek: You know, you guys -- working hard to make a difference, working hard to educate, so I want to start by talking to you about the public policy you´re advocating for in 2018. Where are we?
Johns: So, the National Black Justice Coalition is our nation´s only public-policy organization, both intentionally and unapologetically, focused on the intersections of civil rights and LGBTQ equity. What that means is that we exist to end racism and homophobia, and the public-policy agenda we pursue is designed to ensure that all African-Americans, but in particular those of us who are often marginalized, rendered invisible, or ignored as a result of our intersectional identities, are otherwise happy, healthy, and whole, so there´s a focus on health and wellness. No surprise there. We are proponents of continuing President Obama´s investment in the Affordable Care Act. So much of that has to do with ensuring that we respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has disproportionately affected African-Americans.
Lisnek: I want to ask you about that. I´m glad you went there, because, indeed, the response to the HIV epidemic has been different. You had a summit on that response. Talk to me about what was learned through that effort.
Johns: Yeah, so, since the introduction of the epidemic in the ´80s, African-Americans have been disproportionately affected. And we still today, in spite of the scientific advancements that have allowed people to thrive with HIV, black people still continue to die at horrible rates, and we don´t have to. And so, we convened a summit in September of last year called the Summit on Black Lives, to really highlight the fact that, as long as there have been black people, there have been black LGBTQ and same-gender-loving people, and that, unless and until we lean into opportunities to deal with the shame and stigma around HIV, and then do a better job of preventing and treating HIV, we can give up any dream we have of collective African-American liberation. So, we invited gatekeepers and individuals who work in spaces where black people congregate and live, black LGBTQ people live, where other black people live. We´re in the South, we are in churches, we attend HBCUs, we are a part of traditional civil rights organizations.
Lisnek: And you do a lot of good work at historically black colleges and universities, right? The notion of cultural competency.
Johns: Yep, most definitely.
Lisnek: Talk to me about the importance of that work.
Johns: Yeah, so they were invited to our summit on HIV and AIDS -- "they," the group of 103 historically black colleges and universities across this country that do the work of, again, providing the disproportionate share of post-secondary opportunities to African-Americans. And so, what we do in that context is work with them, primarily leadership, presidents, campus administrators to ensure that they understand that, again, black LGBTQ/SGL are a part of the community and lets them lean into it.
Lisnek: That´s an effort you´re taking to K-12, right?
Johns: Yes, most definitely. It´s important for us to highlight that we exist in all spaces, including in pre-K institutions as well as in our K-12 institutions, as well.
Lisnek: You have to watch the impact of the courts, as well, as you do what you´re doing. The Masterpiece case -- lawyers understand it, but people who are impacted understand it. Essentially, sort of saying discrimination is gonna be okay in the public sector when your reason is religion. How does that create conflict?
Johns: Yeah, I believe that we all are entitled to equal protection under the law, and no one should be able to use religion or language or... to be able to deny anybody that right. But still, to date, there are 28 states, including those in the South where African-Americans live, that do not have non-discrimination housing or employment policies. There are 29 states across this country that make it permissible for individuals that offer public accommodations -- hotel providers, gasoline attendants, individuals that work at hospitals -- to be able to discriminate. And so, we have an opportunity and an obligation to ensure that the things that we profess to believe in in this country -- liberty and justice for all -- actually means it. And we have to do that work by ensuring that we center those who are most often neglected and ignored.
Lisnek: Briefly, I want to just give respect to the fact that there´s the Transgender Advisory Council. That´s kind of a new battlefront, right, that has to be addressed.
Johns: Us having conversations about it is new. Trans individuals and individuals who are gender non-conforming and non-binary have often been at the forefront of most of our social movements -- both those focused on LGBTQ/SGL equality, and those focused on others as well, including women. And so, acknowledging that often black women, black trans women in particular, are the recipients of violence, they are the recipients of trans-misogynoir or the intersections of both transphobia as well as racism. We have provided space for them to be centered in our work and to inform how it is that we do our job.
Lisnek: David, there´s always other issues to be tackled, and you´re working to tackle them.
Johns: Oh, so many.
Lisnek: David Johns, with the National Black Justice Coalition. Thank you for joining me, but I want to thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community and across our country, all you got to do is go to comcastnewsmakers.com. It´s easy. I´m Paul Lisnek.