This year’s summit in Washington, D.C. hosted 32 LGBTQ students from HBCUs across the country, including Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College. / Courtesy photo

The Human Rights Campaign Celebrates 20 Years of LGBTQ Leadership Summits

In November, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) program celebrated 20 years of LGBTQ leadership summits with the announcement of the new cohort. This year’s summit in Washington, D.C. hosted 32 LGBTQ students from HBCUs across the country, including Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College.

The Leadership Summit empowers and educates students on how to become change agents on their campuses and in their communities. Other HBCU programing, like HBCU OUTLOUD Day and the PrEP Ambassadorship Program, aim to create safe spaces for Black queer youth on their college campuses.

HRC HBCU Program Director Leslie Hall joined Georgia Voice for a Q&A to discuss the November 9-13 summit, the HRC’s declaration of a national state of emergency for LGBTQ people, and advice to the next generation of LGBTQ leadership.

Quotes have been edited for clarity. Read the full interview online at 

What were your favorite moments from this year’s summit?

One of the most cherished aspects of every summit is witnessing the incredible sense of community and the formation of informal networks among the students. It is heartwarming to see them come together and create connections, especially considering that many of them hail from environments where they cannot freely express their authentic selves. Being able to facilitate this sense of belonging is a beautiful experience to witness.

However, when reflecting on the 2023 leadership summit, a particular moment stands out as my personal favorite. It was when we had the opportunity to take the students to the House of Comme De Garcon’s 15th Anniversary House Ball. The sheer joy and wonder that lit up their faces as they witnessed the beauty and talent within the ballroom community was truly special. For many students, their exposure to ballroom culture may have been limited to shows like “Pose” and “Legendary,” but the ballroom scene is so much more than what is portrayed on screen. It serves as a powerful extension of their LGBTQ identity, representing a vibrant and diverse community that embraces and celebrates all its members. Witnessing the students’ genuine appreciation and connection to the ballroom culture was a memorable moment that highlighted the significance of providing opportunities for them to explore and embrace various aspects of their LGBTQ identities. It served as a reminder of the transformative power of experiences that go beyond the classroom, shaping their understanding and connection to their community in profound ways.


How did the HRC’s declaration of a national state of emergency for LGBTQ people impact this year’s summit?

The declaration of a national state of emergency had a significant impact on this year’s summit, resulting in tangible changes to our approach. First and foremost, we prioritized the inclusion of students hailing from states that have introduced or passed oppressive anti-LGBTQ and anti-DEI laws. It is crucial that students from these priority areas have the opportunity to participate in the leadership summit and acquire the essential skills needed to combat these unjust laws. By empowering them to build a culture of inclusion and safety on their campuses, we strengthen our collective fight for equality and justice.

Furthermore, in response to the unique circumstances of this year, we introduced a capstone project requirement for all students. This requirement entails the development of a campus event or policy that focuses on promoting LGBTQ inclusion. This initiative serves as a culmination of their leadership journey, allowing them to apply their newfound knowledge and skills toward creating tangible change within their campus communities. These adjustments reflect our commitment to adapt and innovate in the face of challenges, ensuring that the summit remains a transformative experience for all participants. By providing targeted support and fostering a culture of action, we strive to empower our student leaders to make a lasting impact on their campuses.

What advice do you have for the next generation of LGBTQ leadership?

When considering advice for the next generation of LGBTQ leaders, I am reminded of a powerful quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who emphasized that the “moral arc of the universe is long, but it always bends toward justice.”  In the face of an unprecedented wave of challenges targeting our identities, bodily autonomy, and education, it is crucial that we nurture strong, equity-minded, and unwavering leadership. While we may encounter battles that cannot be won overnight, perseverance, strategic thinking, and a resolute focus on our goals will be key.  Additionally, I would strongly emphasize the importance of self-care and prioritizing personal well-being. As leaders, we must recognize that our ability to create change and advocate for justice is directly influenced by our own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Taking care of ourselves allows us to sustain our passion, resilience, and effectiveness in the long run.