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The State of Black LGBT America

Photo Right:  Credit: A.D. Odom  Members of the NBJC Left to Right:  Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Religious Affairs; Donna Payne, Board Member; Alexander Robinson, Executive Director & CEO; and Jasmyne Cannick, Board Member

This was a thought provoking discussion from some of California’s leaders in politics and social activism.  The speakers were California State Assembly Members Mark Leno, Jackie Goldberg and Mervyn Dymally, Speaker Emeritus Herb Wesson, Compton Councilman Isadore Hall III, California State Conference President Alice Huffman, and California residents Xavier Leonard and Troy Brookins who spoke on their relationship, experiences, and the importance of marriage equality.  Moderators for the event were the National Black Justice Coalition's Executive Director and CEO, Alexander Robinson and Board Member Jasmyne Cannick.

The afternoon started with comments by Wendell Carmichael, President of At The Beach Los Angeles Black Gay Pride, who introduced Jasmyne Cannick, another board member of At the Beach and communications strategist.  Cannick was selected by Essence Magazine for their Annual 100 Leaders Changing the World and will be featured in their October 2005 issue. 

Cannick then presented a tribute of our heroes and sheroes within the Black Gay and Lesbian community, put together by moi, which was also featured at Zuna’s National Black Lesbian Conference.  A PDF is available for viewing (which features lesbian leaders) and is on Zuna’s website.  The presentation at the NBJC’s discussion included some of our gay heroes in the struggle and you can look for this presentation on Jasmyne’s website soon at

After the presentation, Cannick introduced Alexander Robinson, CEO and Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition who said “as California goes, so goes the country.”  He stated he believes this will continue to be true.  Robinson also gave a presentation on the accomplishments of the National Black Justice Coalition.  He also praised outgoing Supreme Court Justice O’Connor for striving for justice and equality and not just conservative ideology.  He went on to introduce the first speaker of the day, Mark Leno. 

Mark Leno, California State Assembly Member—Fighting A War Over A Word

Leno cited a poll stating those over 65 are less supportive of the concept of marriage equality and those under 35 are more supportive of the concept.  Leno also made an impassioned statement about something he read that worked to change his beliefs about fighting over a word—marriage.  Though he fought for the same rights, benefits and privileges of marriage, he didn’t initially feel it necessary to “fight a war over a word” until he read the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court back in November 2003.  The words, there is no constitutional basis for this discrimination and that separate is seldom, if ever, equal.  Further, any parallel construct such as civil unions or domestic partnerships, in their words, “would perpetuate a destructive stereotype that suggests that there is something inherently inferior and unstable about the way same sex couples love.”  Leno stated “when you disparage the way someone loves, you’re really denigrating their humanity.”  This is what made him decide to "fight a war over a word." 

California Speaker Emeritus Herb Wesson—The Last Big Civil Rights War

Herb Wesson emphasized the point we are all in this together.  He stated there are over 1000 benefits gays and lesbians miss without equality in marriage.  Marriage equality, he said, is the last big civil rights war and a barrier we have to tear down.  He emphasized creating a coalition of not just LGBT, but add an “S” for straights.  He did emphasize the need for others to see us as a minority community organized and in a lobbying mode.  "Not just emotional—yelling and screaming—but with facts and figures."  Additionally, he emphasized the need to raise money for political purposes.  “Money is important, that sounds rotten, that sounds evil, that is the reality and we have to deal with that reality.”  He closed with electing “friendlies” and we need to interview those individuals. 

California  State Assembly Member Mervyn Dymally—Do What Is Right

Dymally talked about the dilemma Black legislators face as representatives of urban communities.  He addressed the sentiment within the community that same sex marriage is “not religiously cool.”  There is a dilemma when facing a problem when he asks himself if he should go with the people from his district or with others and their agenda.  He gave as an example a cosmetology vote where the “white middle-class women” said the chemicals were cancerous, however, the people within his community needed his vote against the cosmetology bill.  He told his peers, “I’ve got to go home to these people.  I don’t go home to White middle class women who may claim that this cosmetology is cancerous.  I’m going to go home to these people who are saying to me ‘Dymally, if you vote for this bill you’ll put us out of business’ and I don’t have the facilities to move to Nevada.” 

Though caught in this bind, Dymally said in the final analysis, “you do what is right.”  He said the clergy is not there with us yet and it will take some time to bring them home and though he may experience discomfort attending the First Baptist Church, such is life, "you must do what is right." 

Compton Councilman Isadore Hall III—Without Fear

“Because you are who you are, you have the right to let anyone know who you are without fear of being blackballed, without fear of being looked at strangely, without fear of being talked about, without fear of being made an example out of, but you have a right because of who you are to stand for what you believe and to fight for everyone who will not stand like you’re standing today and I applaud you in that effort.”  A powerful speaker, Councilman Hall encourages us to educate our families, and educate and get involved with our local communities.  He also stated he believes more preachers should stay out of the bedrooms and deal with the “issues of making the person a better person.”  He also encouraged being out, coming out and being proud of that. 

Hall provides good examples on organizing and standing up for the issues.  He closed with saying the “influence that you have is greater than what you really know.”  Hall encouraged us to use that influence to the best of our ability.

Xavier Leonard and Troy Brookins—Is Marriage Our Fight?

Yes, answered Xavier Leonard and Troy Brookins, partners who are contemplating adopting a child.  Leonard stated their union has strength, power, commitment, and an immeasurable love for one another as well as Los Angeles and the United States.  Brookins spoke of some personal experiences he has had with the separation from a partner, the loss of the child through that relationship because there were no legal remedies afforded him to continue seeing the child, and his experiences as a gay man who was beaten by military men for being both Black and gay.  He also spoke of a young man he met whom he felt was gay and the dilemma he faced in trying to help that young man fully love and accept himself.  Their presentations put the whole issue into perspective.

California State Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg—Political Involvement

Assembly woman Goldberg carried Bill AB205 which, a few days prior to her appearance, the California Supreme Court unanimously upheld as Constitution.  You cannot file joint income taxes, however it does grant same-gendered couples all of the rights that married couples have within the State of California.  You can actually register online with the Secretary of State and be recognized as a registered domestic partner.  This happened without a court order which is the first time this has happened.  She urged to not do this lightly, however, because it means the same as divorce.

She also talked about the religious debates held on the floor of the Senate and as a woman who was raised an Orthodox Jew, she knows more than a little something about the Old Testament.   She sees the religious debate as the “cafeteria approach—well I like this one . . . but I’m not so sure I want to be stoned to death for adultery.” 

She urged us to get involved with politics, maybe even run for office.  She went on to talk about her experiences as the first openly gay member of the Los Angeles City Council.  During her tenure, she decided to expand upon domestic partnership.  As she went around lobbying for her plan to see how many votes she would get, she was surprised to find a number of councilmembers willing to support the ordinance—she got 12 votes out of 15. 

A powerful and funny woman, she offered some very good information and encouragement to become more involved with the movement.

California State NAACP Conference President Alice Huffman—Segmentation and Fragmentation

I have to say Huffman was my favorite speaker.  All were great and wonderful but Huffman broke it down.  She wanted to know where we—the Black GLBT community—where was the Black GLBT community when the NAACP was fighting for our rights.  She said the Black LGBT community is “missing in action.”  “Don’t you think it’s strange that the NAACP is the only African American group up in Sacramento carrying the water for the gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender community?  Don’t you think that’s strange”  She answered “I think that’s strange.” 

She also talked about something she has learned as California’s President of the NAACP.  She did not know, in some parts of the country, some members of the NAACP still have their heads in the sand. 

She said she goes to meetings and cannot find 10 of us in the meeting.  She urged us not to bash those Black ministers, who are not there yet, but think about including ourselves within their churches and come out.  Additionally, she urges us to join the NAACP and participate, build coalitions, and not just fight for GLBT rights but the rights for all as well.  In essence, she wants the GLBT community to join forces with the NAACP while the NAACP joins with us and together we can make a difference.  Huffman stated there should not be this kind of fragmentation and segmentation in our communities.  “It should not be there.  I believe that you have a right to have your movement but I also think, to be effective, we have to be in each other’s movements.”  She went on to say “you and I should stop talking about you like we are not one in the same.  I don’t care who you sleep with but you do have to politicize it in order to get your rights.”  She gave an excellent presentation.

In the end, both Jasmyne Cannick and Alexander Robinson encouraged everyone to join both the NAACP and the National Black Justice Coalition. 

This was an excellent presentation and I hope to see more of these in the future.  Jasmyne Cannick emphasized the need for us to have political power, a political voice, and we need to be involved, not with certain issues but a variety of issues in order to have a political impact.  I agree and this forum made it possible to consider getting involved both politically and at the grass roots level. 

Assembly woman Goldberg stated she does not believe everyone can come out because it is not always safe for some to come out, but for those who can or do, becoming involved with the issues at hand within our community is vitally important.  Joining forces with our political leaders, or at least making ourselves available for open discussion is necessary in order to change some minds while educating others.  As Robinson said in his closing statements, “together we will achieve the equal justice, the equality that is the promise of this nation and the right of us all.”

About The National Black Justice Coalition

The National Black Justice Coalition is a civil rights organization of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our allies dedicated to fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia. The Coalition advocates for social justice by educating and mobilizing opinion leaders, including elected officials, clergy, and media, with a focus on Black communities.

Video From The Discussion

Part I:  features opening statements from Jasmyne Cannick and Alexander Robinson and the first speaker of the day, California  State Assembly Member Mark Leno. 

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Part II features California  State Assembly Members Mervyn Dymally and Speaker Emeritus Herb Wesson.

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 Part III features California  State Assembly Member Mervyn Dymally.

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Part IV features Compton Councilman Isadore Hall III.

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Part V features California residents Xavier Leonard and Troy Brookins.

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Part VI features California State Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg.

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Part VII features California State  NAACP Conference President Alice Huffman and concluding statements from Jasmyne Cannick and Alexander Robinson.

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