Widening the Lens
Equality Act & Active Accomplices
The Equality Act & Active Accomplices: How We All Get Free
By David Johns, Ph.D.
Despite often being forgotten about, erased, and ignored, Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+, and same-gender loving (LGBTQ+/SGL) people have always been here, making history, fighting for liberation, and thriving. We show up when it is not safe and often live on the front lines of efforts to ensure racial equity and to address LGBTQ+ stigma, bias, and discrimination. While noteworthy progress has been made, there are too few legal protections for Black people who are also queer–which restricts the ability for any members of our beautifully diverse community to be free. The Center for American Progress found that nearly 1 in 3 Black transgender, queer, and nonbinary/non-conforming people report avoiding public spaces such as stores or restaurants to avoid experiencing discrimination, and 1 in 5 avoid travel.
Too many states throughout the country lack clear, explicit, and consistent anti-discrimination protections. These glaring gaps leave many members of our community, especially those who live in the South, vulnerable to discrimination and without legal remedy to fight it. The Equality Act would modernize the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protecting our community from sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression based discrimination in housing, employment, education, public spaces/accommodations, and other key areas of life. Every member of the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed the Equality Act, and it has passed the House of Representatives twice, once in May 2019 in a bipartisan vote of 236 to 173 and then again in February 2021 by a vote of 224 to 206. A survey from Data for Progress found that 66% of likely voters support legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In spite of this, the Senate has failed to act.
In addition, state lawmakers have proposed a record 238 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, the majority targeting trans people. It should not be lost on anyone that each subsequent year over the last decade has set a new record for the number of trans victims of homicide, and Black trans women are always the most impacted. These bills prevent teachers from introducing concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity, or race and ethnicity to their students and criminalize parents and families ensuring that trans youth receive the gender-affirming care they deserve and need.
For our community to achieve the equity our ancestors sought and that today’s activists are fighting for, we must not allow lawmakers to abdicate the responsibility they have to legislate in ways that improve life outcomes and opportunities for their constituents. Current lawmakers should be held accountable for passing legislation that protects our community, that ensures our babies can learn about our history without the threat of gun violence, and receiving the support they need to thrive. We are in midterm election season and each of us should do all we can to protect elections and support candidates fighting for, not against our community.
The Black LGBTQ+/SGL community is still in a fight of our lives–for basic human rights and the ability to thrive both now and in the future. Liberation requires collective struggle–it looks like active accomplices joining in efforts to ensure equity for people of all races/ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.
There are no lay people in the efforts to ensure we can all get free. Read books (with citations) to increase your competence and to demonstrate compassion for people with diverse lived experiences. Consider running for office and supporting elected officials working on our behalf (not against us). Ensure the young people around you know they are beautiful, brilliant, and safe. Demand that we teach the truth and learn about our history so that we can create futures not mired by the worst parts of humanity.
Get into the good, necessary trouble that civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis talked about.
Let’s get free.
All of us.
THE LAVENDER BOOK: MAPPING AFFIRMING SPACES
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) has partnered with Out in Tech to create the Lavender Book, a web app built for and powered by our community. Just as the Green Book helped Black people navigate the country during the Jim Crow era to find places welcoming to Black customers, the Lavender Book is designed to help Black LGBTQ+/SGL people find safe and affirming spaces. Whether users are looking for spaces in a new area or in their community, the Lavander Book helps Black queer, trans, and nonbinary people move safely through the world and thrive. The app also highlights Black LGBTQ+/SGL-owned businesses and those that are affirming and supportive–by design. We encourage you to ensure that your businesses provide culturally-competent support for employees and in ways that reach customers.
You can join the Lavender Book, add safe businesses you have visited, or add your own affirming business lavenderbook.org.
Dr. David Johns is a longtime friend and recognized leader of BEQ Pride magazine and the Business Equality Network.