African American LGBTQ youth are gathering today in Washington DC to share their experiences at the intersection of black and queer identity.
The White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans (WHIEEAA), the National Education Association (NEA), and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) are hosting the first-of-its kind event on supporting African American LGBTQ Youth.
This event, the White House Summit on African American LGBTQ Youth, is bringing together students, educators, parents, and thought leaders to discuss the need to better advocate for African American LGBTQ students.
The Executive Director of the WHIEEAA, David Johns, said recognizing the intersectional identity of African American LGBTQ youth is essential in order to provide tangible tools and tips to support them in educational spaces and at home. An intersectional perspective takes into account that an individual can experience discrimination in many forms, overlapping with multiple identities such as race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.
“There is power in precision,” Johns told NBC’s Parent Toolkit. “When we don’t think about intersectionality, we miss significant opportunities to acknowledge every challenge that black people face and that they have additional challenges being LGBTQ. If we only focus on the black or gay part, their experience goes unrealized in its entirety. We are required to move beyond the surface.”
The goals of the summit are to give voice to and honor the stories of black LGBTQ youth, but also to equip adults in the education space and parents to be inclusive of these students.
Karamo Brown, a father and the first openly gay African American in the history of reality TV, will be moderating a panel at the summit about the role and responsibility of caring and concerned adults and advocates.
Parents Ron Ford Jr. and Vanessa Ford will also be at the event, talking with educators about their experience as parents of a transgender child. They recently wrote an Op Ed for the Washington Post, praising their transgender daughter’s school on being a “model of inclusiveness.” They posed the question, “What if? What if we lived in a place that wasn’t so supportive of transgender youth?”
That’s the reason this summit is important in starting conversations around inclusion, explained Johns.
“If we don’t support these students, the consequences are too dangerous,” Johns said. “They are more likely to experience bullying, have poor mental health, they have a greater risk for HIV and other STDs, and they are more inclined to be living in poverty.”
A study published in the June 2014 issue of the America Journal of Public Health showed that LGBT youth of color has a significantly higher prevalence of suicide attempts compared to their white LGBT youth counterparts. LGBTQ Youth of Color are at a high risk for homelessness and harassment according to a 2007 report published by Advocates for Youth. A 2009 California Safe Schools Coalition study found that “there was a significant overlap in race-based and sexual orientation-based harassment; nearly a third of students who were bullied experience both types of harassment, and this group reported the lowest feelings of safety at school.”
At the summit, students will have an opportunity to theorize about policies and practices needed to foster supportive and inclusive environments.
“By acknowledging this part of their lives and making them a part of the conversation, we affirm that they’ve always been here,” Johns said.
The summit will also incorporate a discussion with parents, both LGBTQ parents themselves and parents of LGBTQ youth, about working to ensure that African American LGBTQ children are healthy and supported mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.
“It’s important to remember that there have always been black LGBTQ people,” Johns said. “Every February, we celebrate black leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., but seldom do we think of queer, black leaders like Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Audre Lorde.”
To further the conversation, WHIEEAA produced a web-series for educators and parents about supporting inclusive and affirming environments for African American LGBTQ students. These videos will be available as resources on the WHIEEAA website in the next two weeks. WHIEEAA is using the hashtags #AfAmLGBT and #AfAmInclusion to continue the conversation on Twitter.
“As a black man who has struggled, while as a student and a professional, to find examples of people who show up in the world like me, I am excited to bring together a group of young, queer people already making important change in their communities,” Johns said. “That’s the thing that I’m most excited about and I’m honored to be a part of it.”