The Sept. 4 summit was part of Atlanta’s annual Black Gay Pride celebration.
Lettman-Hicks — who is heterosexual but uses the terms “ours” and “we” when discussing the black gay struggle — said she’s disturbed by the persistent questions she gets about why she has devoted her life and career to gay rights.
“It is my privilege and honor to have this opportunity to advocate with and on behalf of my brothers and sisters who have put up with so much for so long, and it is time for reparations from our community,” she said.
“All of us grew up or still live in a world where being gay in America — especially black America — is taboo,” Lettman-Hicks said. “Black America invented ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ if you ask me. We are people in denial of the beauty, the veracity, the contributions of many black LGBT contributors to our society.”
Lettman-Hicks and other participants stressed the need for black gay people to pursue a broad agenda that expands beyond gay issues and allows black gay men and lesbians to become leaders within the larger black community.
“Do work [in the black community] and show up as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person,” urged state Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), who is the first out black lesbian elected to a state legislature. “We can’t continue to simply sit around people who are like us, we have to go into the larger conversation so that we can leverage the power that we have.”
In informally outlining a black gay agenda, two panels at the State of Black Gay America — which is the brainchild of black lesbian activist Darlene Hudson and Xtreme Entertainment CEO Gregory Allen — discussed everything from public education to the role of gay people in black families, from the need for better nutrition to the lack of interfaith outreach at black gay events such as the summit.
While black gay Muslims, Jews and Buddhists may not have been adequately represented at the summit, more conspicuously missing from the empowering discussion were the thousands of black gay men, lesbians and transgender individuals who flock to Atlanta for Labor Day weekend.
“There are this many people here in this room that are leaders, but there are that many of them who are at Lenox Mall who need to be led,” said panelist Amistad St. Arromand, “And we have got to figure out a way to begin to engage them, and if not, then we’re going to lose them.”
With a majority of summit attendees being activists with careers and advanced education, Spelman College’s JeShawna Wholley said that black gay leaders must recognize the privilege that separates them from many black gay people, and work to make events like the summit more welcoming to people outside of activism and academia.
Borrowing a phrase from the late feminist activist Toni Cade Bambara, Wholley said that black gay leaders needed to “make the revolution irresistible.”
“What about everything else outside of this room is so attractive that it’s not bringing people into this room, and what can we pull from that so that we still stay true to our morals, our values and our mission, but be open to opening our doors to a wider population so that we’re making sure everybody is represented on this stage?” asked Wholley, president of Afrikete, a black lesbian group at Spelman.
Maurice Jamal, a filmmaker who is launching Glo TV, the first cable channel to focus on urban gay programming, noted that while it would be ideal if more than a couple of hundred people attended the State of Black Gay America, transformative experiences were occurring all across Atlanta that weekend.
“The revolution is not limited to a black gay summit,” Jamal said. “It’s happening on the dance floor, it’s happening right now. It’s happening in the bathhouse, it’s happening at the mall, and so it’s a matter of us being bold enough, and inventive enough, and honest enough to meet people where they are and give them the message there.”
Young black gay people are often discounted by gay activists and those of older generations who believe they are too flamboyant or free to be effective advocates for equality, Jamal said.
“Well, freedom isn’t a bad thing — we fought for freedom, and so the fact that they’re free is a wonderful thing,” Jamal said. “But imagine what happens if you take young men and women who are so liberated about their sexuality, and about their expression, imagine if you guide them in the right direction, what that boldness becomes.”
Top photo counterclockwise: Nicki Minaj at Traxx, Amber Rose at Primal, Fantasia at Atlanta Peach Ballroom, Jensen Atwood at Outwrite (by Dyana Bagby)