(from left) Rev. Irene Monroe; National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director David Johns; HU.G.S. Movement founder Marsha Bonner; actress/model Amiyah Scott; Kiera Johnson, deputy executive director, National LGBTQ Task Force; Center For Black Equity President/CEO Earl Fowlkes Jr.; businesswoman/actress Angelica Ross. Moderator (in blue) was Shijuade Kadree, public policy and advocacy senior director, The Center.
(from left) Rev. Irene Monroe; National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director David Johns; HU.G.S. Movement founder Marsha Bonner; actress/model Amiyah Scott; Kiera Johnson, deputy executive director, National LGBTQ Task Force; Center For Black Equity President/CEO Earl Fowlkes Jr.; businesswoman/actress Angelica Ross. Moderator (in blue) was Shijuade Kadree, public policy and advocacy senior director, The Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Participants of a workshop at the 2018 NAACP national convention agreed Tuesday that much of the black community has been slow to embrace LGBTQIA people and their struggle for equal rights.

Even the NAACP lagged in officially and thoroughly addressing LGBTQIA issues, said its Board President Leon Russell and California NAACP President Alice Huffman, who paid the convention a surprise visit on its final full day at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

“You don’t know what some of us went through in the early days,” Huffman said, explaining that many failed to see LGBTQIA issues as civil rights issues.

The NAACP now sees marriage inequality as an issue of discrimination, Russel said. “Discrimination against anybody is wrong,” he said. “You can’t say ‘I’m for everybody’s rights – except for them.’”

There’s a world of difference in access to services and privileges between people in heterosexual and same-sex marriages, said panel moderator Shijuade Kadree, senior director of public policy and advocacy at The Center in New York City.

“There’s plenty of studies that show being married expands your life span, but not because they’re heterosexual, but because they’re afforded the legal and financial protections not afforded to same-sex marriages,” she added.

Kadree pointed to recent Vanderbilt University research showing that legalizing same-sex marriage has provided gay men greater access to health care. But while progress has been made in recent decades, there’s much more work to be done, she said.

Traditionally black churches, and other community, social, and spiritual institutions that historically have lacked acceptance of the LGBTQIA community members should strive to be more inclusive of the issues for which they advocate, panelists said.

“Acceptance is letting people in the door, inclusion is letting people come to the table so they can have their say,” said Marsha Bonner, founder of the H.U.G.S. Movement. “I’m striving for inclusion.”

A “policy of silence” has caused some black people to not see homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality, said Rev. Irene Monroe, a speaker and LGBTQIA activist. “Sexuality is an essential part of being human,” she added.

Young people – especially LGBTQIA youth – struggling with their sexual orientation or identity want to find a safe spiritual place free of judgment, said Kierra Johnson, deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

“They’re at the door looking for that [progressive] kind of leadership from our faith community,” Johnson said, but some black churches’ traditional views have hindered that progress and inclusion.

Actress Amiyah Scott, the first transgender woman to tape for the “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” said she uses her celebrity to raise awareness of LGBTQIA issues.

Scott encouraged people of all walks to life to fight for their beliefs however they can. “Your voice is much stronger than you think,” she said. “We’re going to be the difference we want to see.”

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.