Barbecues, backyard parties and soul-food jams. Summer is a time for family get-togethers. A time when people all over the world take vacations so they can make memories with close friends and loved ones, but in African-American communities only some of us feel comfortable going home.

In our communities, only some of us feel safe enough to be who we are in the company of those who raised us. Only some of us can show up and be all of ourselves all of the time with the people we love most. The pain of moving through our families – closeted, and, in many instances, alienated – is devastating black families everywhere.

Guest Editorial: Empowering black LGBT people

Homophobia and the anti-gay oppression it engenders severely limits the extent to which African-American LGBT people live out and open lives. In recent years, we have seen significant efforts to undermine black families due to restrictive laws and regulations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Such laws include the 2008 proposition passed in Arkansas outlawing adoption by LGBT people, even though 21 percent of black LGBT couples are biological parents and 2.2 percent are adoptive or foster parents (2000 U.S. Census).

As America’s only nationwide black LGBT civil rights organization, the newly re-imagined National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) has accepted the charge to lead black families in strengthening the bonds and bridging the gaps between straight and LGBT loved ones and communities.

“Building Stronger Black Families” is the theme guiding NBJC’s strategic plan and program development. As a part of our commitment, we focus on eradicating policy-based initiatives that we know weaken our families, our communities, and ultimately, our country.

Specifically, we focus on working in coalition with ally organizations to combat harmful laws that are tearing apart our people. In collaboration with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, we work to repeal laws like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because African-American women are discharged from the armed services at three times the rate they serve. Upon discharge, an individual’s access to health and retirement benefits is denied and their professional record is permanently marred, affecting their ability to find new work.

In conjunction with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, we focus on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because everybody deserves an opportunity to excel in their chosen profession without fear of being punished or terminated due to gender identity or sexual orientation, qualities over which none of us have any control.

Racism, homophobia and transphobia combine to form powerful discriminating forces that prevent LGBT people of color from obtaining and sustaining jobs, which can lead to poverty. ENDA is a federal bill that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

NBJC is partnering with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network to put an end to bullying in schools because every child deserves to learn in an environment where they feel safe enough to explore their hopes and dreams without fear of being harassed or physically assaulted.

Finally, NBJC is taking unprecedented steps to organize constituents, stakeholders, and allies by convening the first ever “OUT on the Hill,” a Black LGBT Summit, Sept. 15-18 in Washington D.C., during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference.

“OUT on The Hill” features a lobby day, which serves as an opportunity for black LGBT leaders to discuss important policy issues with their members of Congress and congressional leadership; a White House briefing, which will include presentations from key White House officials and representatives from the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Health & Human Services; and a community reception for attendees to connect with Washington, D.C., African-American leaders and community activists.

Polls have repeatedly shown that respondents who know an LGBT person within their family, workplace, and/or social networks have increased support for policies that foster equal rights. Increasing acceptance and respect for black LGBT people within their families and communities is essential to growing support within African-American communities for LGBT issues, which, ultimately, affect us all.

NBJC is working toward a world where all of us can go home and be all of who we are, authentically and safely, with family and friends, all of the time. We hope that you will support us by participating in action alerts around policy initiatives that help level the playing field for all LGBT people and allies — regardless of race, creed or color.

If you’d like to join our movement to advance the intersection of racial justice and LGBT equality visit us at or


Sharon Lettman is the executive director of NBJC. On Sept. 4, she will be the keynote speaker at the State of Black Gay America summit, part of Atlanta’s Black Gay Pride weekend.