The late filmmaker and gay rights activist, Marlon Riggs, ended his 1989 masterpiece film "Tongues Untied" with an empowering revelation: "Whatever awaits me, this much I know: I was blind to my brother's beauty, and now I see my own," followed by the onscreen text "Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act." When I first watched this groundbreaking film recently, I was beyond moved by the authentic and vibrant exploration of what it means to be a Black gay man living in the United States during the 1980s. To be honest, I was quite floored at how the images and themes captured in this film are still so relevant to the state of Black gay men today. We as a community of Black gay and same-gender loving men continue to deal with an intense silence around our lived experience, facing daily challenges rooted in racism, homophobia and marginalization, in and out of our homes.
Too often when we do find the strength to vocalize our challenges, our own communities can serve as barriers working to prevent us from truly making progress to build a brighter future. I personally experienced this disheartening reality in 2013 when I wrote a blog piece about my journey to own my truth as a HIV-positive man. Shocking does not even begin to describe the way I felt when several mentors of mine told me that I should not have gone public with my status because it would only make life harder for me and perpetuate negative stereotypes about Black gay men. I thank God that I had enough sense and support in my family and friends to disregard these conversations and only use them as inspiration to move forward with being a model of how an HIV diagnosis can push one forward to realizing their dreams. It's with this sincere hope, regardless of life's predicaments and in the spirit of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, that I write to proclaim that our lives matter too!
As an advocate working to empower Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people at the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), I witness daily the unique challenges of our beautiful community living at the intersection of the movements for racial justice and LGBT equality. Black LGBT people are making waves like never before in our world, visibly leading to break down systems of oppression that harm Black people. Our work at NBJC is solely focused on providing a platform for Black LGBT voices on the national stage to build a public policy agenda that removes inequalities and strengthens all Black families, neighborhoods, and communities in order for us to live authentically and freely.
It must be noted that when we "come out" and own our truth, our blackness does not magically go away. In the United States alone, Black LGBT people are most likely to identify as LGBT than any other racial group with approximately 3.7 percent of us self-identifying as LGBT according to a recent Williams Institute report. According to the same report, 84,000 African Americans are living in same-sex couples and roughly a third of those couples are raising children. Black individuals who identify as LGBT are disproportionately young and disproportionately female--58 percent of Black LGBT people are women.
We, as Black LGBT individuals, also primarily live where other Black people live (in the South and on the coasts) and not in "gayborhoods" like Greenwich Village in New York City or the Castro District in San Francisco. The Williams Institute report further captures that the top ten states where Black LGBT couples live include Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama. This means that when states like the ones mentioned do not protect LGBT workers or ensure fair housing for all people, no matter their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, Black people and our families are the most impacted.
We must also remember that Black LGBT people are not a new phenomenon, but Black LGBT trailblazers like Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde, and Bayard Rustin, to name a few, have always been at the forefront of movements for Black liberation. At the same time, it is our duty to remind the public that the modern LBGT Equality Movement would be nothing without Black people. It was because of the sacrifices of primarily Black transgender women and gender non-conforming people at historic riots like the Cooper's Donuts Riot (Los Angeles, 1959), Compton's Cafeteria Riot (San Francisco, 1966), and the Stonewall Riot (New York City, 1969) that the modern movement for LGBT equality was fueled and sustained. We have to work to ensure that this rich Black history is preserved and plays a central role in informing our path forward.
When I think of our future as a Black community, both here in the United States and abroad, I am reminded of the ancient African proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child." It is this collective call to action that should lead us to always embrace each other as human beings, deserving of the dignity and space to live our truth. We must be intentional to focus the present #BlackLivesMatter movement and any other future Black liberation movement on the needs of the most marginalized in our communities, including LGBT people. No longer can mainstream Black organizations and movements be silent on LGBT issues like the HIV/AIDS epidemic that continues to ravage Black families or the all too frequent murders of Black transgender women in our own neighborhoods. Our collective survival depends on us all working together in order to see positive change in our world. We all have to play a role in the village working to build a community where we all have the ability to flourish, free of the chains of oppression that have hindered us. This is not about individual advancement, but this is about recognizing the power in us all to advance together as one people, determined to see a better tomorrow.
We'll know Black lives matter when LGBT lives are acknowledged and celebrated across the board, and our differences are no longer used to hinder our progress as one beautiful community.
Follow NBJC on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NBJContheMove
This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.