The United Kingdom general election dealt the Labour party a big defeat at the polls, but it also broke many important records, including the election of 27 lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer Members of Parliament (MPs). This makes the UK the country with the highest number of openly gay parliamentary members in the world.
While this is cause for celebration, when it comes to black and minority gay MPs, we have work to do as there has never yet been an MP from that demographic. This year, only two of the 130 LGBQT candidates running were from black or minority communities. Neither was predicted to win, and neither did. This is unfortunate because the black and minority gay community makes up an estimated 400,000 people in the UK and should be represented in Parliament, and not just to dutifully check off a "diversity" box.
The UK is not alone in this representation gap. When we look around the world at the election of LGBT persons of color in government there is a call for concerns. In the U.S, 20 percent of the members of Congress are persons of color, but that includes only one openly black gay person. It was only last year that South Africa swore in its first openly gay black Member of Parliament. Countries like France, Canada and Belgium have not had a single black gay Parliament Member, which should be shocking.
Black LGBT individuals should have representation in government because we're some of the most marginalized people in the world. Within the LGBQT community we may face racism or within the black community we may face homophobia. This is true in country after country. Some people may be forced to undergo conversion therapy, either voluntarily because of fear and shame or pressure from their family. Others may face homelessness after being rejected by their family. These forms of marginalization can result in social exclusion, feelings of rejection and stigma, and high rates of depression and suicide. Seeing someone like them in government could go a long way toward helping them feel more accepted and welcome in their country and toward others being more accepting of them.
We are the best people to represent the issues that disproportionately impact us. Issues like homelessness, arranged marriages, rejection by family and religious community, conversion therapy, discrimination by police, and even honor killings. We need to have the principle of "nothing about me without me" applied and to have black champions who understand -- and likely have lived through -- these issues represent them.
Further, having a diverse government can benefit everyone. Having varied viewpoints among top government officials can allow a government to be more responsive to the needs of its citizens and operate with more efficiency and effectiveness. When we look to the business world, there is much literature showing that companies benefit with diverse leadership and boards, in part because they then have a wider range of talents and viewpoints. Outcomes can include more innovation, better decision making, and improved problem solving.
What can we do to change this? One solution is to identify and mentor people within the black gay community to recruit others who have the potential to be government leaders. No doubt this can be hard since there are very few who are out and most of them are not interested in politics, but it is worth working to find those who are. Community-based recruitment will be most successful if done through charities that focus on the needs of that demographic.
Of course, I am not saying having an openly gay or lesbian government leader from a black or minority community will solve all of the problems. However, to help improve the lives of some of our most marginalized people, we must make it a priority to elect people from this demographic.
In the UK, while the 2020 election seems far away, now is the time for the political parties to start laying the groundwork to break a new record in five years, and they need our help. I, for one, plan to work with them in identifying the people with talent and interest in politics who can mentor, recruit and even run from within the community.
In whatever part of the country you reside, I encourage you to get involved and help encourage and support black LGBT individuals running for office. We need their perspective and voices as well.