At an event on January 19, the Center for American Progress released its groundbreaking report, “Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality,” which draws together data to prove that severe economic, social, and health disparities continue to affect the black gay and transgender community.
According to Aisha Moodie-Mills, Advisor on LGBT Policy and Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress and the report’s author, “marriage alone is not the silver bullet” for reducing these disparities. Her report lays the groundwork for policies that specifically target the needs of this underserved population. Moodie-Mills is also the founder of a new CAP initiative, Fighting Injustice to Reach Equality, aimed at overcoming the disparities outlined in her report.
In her opening remarks Nicole Mason of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University spoke about the lack of data on this community, which impedes researchers’ and policymakers’ ability to tackle “the experiences, social conditions, and barriers to equality” black gay and transgender Americans face.
“In almost 100 percent of the cases,” she stated, federal surveys do not ask questions about sexual orientation or gender identity. Without this data, Mason emphasized that researchers are unable to provide concrete recommendations to policymakers. She urged federal and state agencies to begin collecting such data.
Moodie-Mills then provided a brief summary of the findings from “Jumping Beyond the Broom.” Acknowledging the lack of data Mason mentioned, the report touches on three main obstacles affecting black gay and transgender Americans: economic insecurity, low educational attainment, and health disparities.
These groups experience many economic problems. Moodie-Mills pointed out that black gay and transgender parents are twice as likely to be living in poverty (30 percent) as white gay and transgender parents (13 percent) and heterosexual black parents (15 percent). Further, unemployment rates among the black gay and transgender community are disproportionately high when compared to the general population.
When it comes to education, black gay and transgender students⎯likely seeking reprieve from harsh antigay school climates⎯are nearly four times more likely to be truant each month than their black heterosexual counterparts. Moodie-Mills pointed out that 85 percent of black gay and transgender youth report being harassed in school and students who are harassed report grade point averages a half point lower than their heterosexual peers.
On health issues Moodie-Mills urged the audience to look not only at the disproportionately high rate of HIV and AIDS in the black gay and transgender community, but also at other disparities. Only 35 percent of black lesbian and bisexual women, for example, have had a mammogram in the past two years, and the demographic is at a higher risk for cancer and diabetes. Yet black lesbian health is all but ignored in the research.
Moderator Jamilah King, news editor at Colorlines, next led a discussion with the panelists who discussed reasons why this group has fallen through the cracks of previous advocacy efforts.
The panelists agreed that there needs to be more accurate and comprehensive data collection on gay and transgender Americans. Jeff Krehely, Director of LGBT Research and Communications at the Center for American Progress, stated that the “huge data-collection problem” creates a “sense of invisibility” surrounding this community. The other panelists echoed this sentiment throughout the discussion, focusing on how a lack of data can hinder advocacy efforts. They praised “Jumping Beyond the Broom” for supplying research on these largely unstudied communities.
Panelists then turned to the need for coalition building to bring attention to this overlooked demographic. Gary Flowers, executive director of the Black Leadership Forum, suggested that advocates create organizational coalitions to work on shared concerns. He stated that we must “not separate and bifurcate gay issues,” and instead, “see them in more of a collaborative and collective context.” Flowers said drawing together leadership from different backgrounds would encourage collaboration and prevent the tendency of advocates getting locked in their own areas of expertise.
Michael Wilson, national director for Americans for Democratic Action, emphasized the need to bring together not only straight allies but gay and transgender leaders who are working in different parts of the advocacy world. He urged the audience to organize the movement to “have people speaking in many ways but for the same fights for justice.”
Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA, expressed a similar sentiment when she urged the audience to keep an open mind when seeking out potential allies. Johnson suggested that advocates should leverage core values to unite advocacy organizations. By focusing on fundamental goals, Johnson said, we can “fin[d] our community within the issues that we care about.”
To continue the dialogue we started at this event, please follow us on Twitter with the hashtag #CAPfire.
Rachel Wilf is an intern with Progress 2050. Melissa Dunn is an intern with LGBT Progress.