Rep. Barbara Lee introduces resolution supporting Black LGBTQ leaders

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

In the final days of Black History Month, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation honoring the contributions of Black LGBTQ+ Americans.

Lee is vice-chair and a founding member of the Equality Caucus. On Feb. 26 Lee proposed her resolution “to uplift the contributions of Black LGBTQ+ individuals, both past and present, as fearless trailblazers in American culture and society. Black LGBTQ+ Americans have made significant strides in the fields of politics, entertainment, athletics, and more. This resolution recognizes and celebrates these contributions.”

Lee, who voted to pass the Equality Act on Feb. 25, has long been a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. She has been in the House since 1998 and before that was a member of the California State Senate. In the 1960s, she volunteered with the Black Panthers and worked with Bobby Seale in 1973. Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against authorization for the use of force after the 9/11 attacks.

That long legacy of activist politics led her to the latest resolution. The historic and present impact of Black LGBTQ leaders has been minimized and even erased. Lee seeks to remedy that with her resolution and highlight the importance of Black LGBTQ leadership in the ongoing movement for racial justice.

“The accomplishments of Black LGBTQ+ citizens have often been downplayed or ignored while they face the compounding impacts of racism and anti-LGBTQ+ bias,” said Lee in a statement on the resolution. “However, these harsh realities have not diminished the impact of notable Black LGBTQ+ leaders like Barbara Jordan, Marsha P. Johnson and Bayard Rustin.”

Lee added, “As we celebrate Black History Month, it is critical that we honor the remarkable and unique contributions of all LGBTQ+ Black Americans throughout U.S. history — those whose names we easily recognize and those whose names we’ll never know. This resolution is an important step in ensuring that their contributions are remembered and properly commemorated.”

As PGN reported last month, for the first time in LGBTQ history, three primary national LGBTQ organizations, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), National LGBTQ Task Force, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) are helmed by Black leaders: Alphonso David, Kierra Johnson and Imani Rupert-Gordon, respectively.

David tweeted he was honored to be included in Lee’s resolution.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) is the first out Black Latinx gay man elected to Congress. In a press release he said, “Too often the contributions of Black LGBTQ+ Americans to our society have been ignored or erased. They made contributions to various aspects of American culture and numerous fields and industries that significantly transformed our country, yet many of us are not aware of them.”

Torres said, “This resolution uplifts those accomplishments and finally recognizes the indelible impact that Black LGBTQ+ Americans had on our country and that we still feel today.”

Rep. Mondaire Jones is the first out Black gay man elected to Congress. In his statement on Lee’s resolution, Jones said, “Black LGBTQ+ people have played critical roles throughout our nation’s history, but all too often, their contributions have gone unrecognized. By recognizing their contributions, we are recognizing the fact that Black LGBTQ+ history is American history.”

Jones added, “This resolution sends a powerful message that Black LGBTQ+ history matters, that Black LGBTQ+ stories matter and that all Black lives matter.”

In a press release on the resolution, Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur said, “We are beyond proud to partner with Congresswoman Lee to introduce this important resolution highlighting the accomplishments of so many inspiring Black LGBTQ+ leaders.”

Zbur said, “The struggles for racial justice and LGBTQ+ equality are not the same, but they have always been intertwined. From Bayard Rustin and Marsha P. Johnson to Alphonso David and Imani Rupert-Gordon, Black LGBTQ+ civil rights leaders have had a major impact on our shared histories — and they are shaping our movement today. We’re grateful for the opportunity to celebrate their work and their transformative impacts on our nation.”

NCLR’s Imani Rupert-Gordon echoed the importance of support for Black LGBTQ leadership. At the Creating Change conference, she said, “In order to support Black leaders, people need to remember that we are ‘firsts,’ and that it’s harder to run an organization as a Black person, when that hasn’t happened before. As Black leaders, we’re creating solutions we haven’t seen before.”

Rupert-Gordon also delineated the problems Black activists face when addressing racial inequities and biases — a significant reason for Lee’s resolution.

“Intersectionality and understanding how a person’s social and political identities create different means of discrimination and privilege is really important.”

In January, Lee introduced a resolution against name-calling and bullying, which she said impacted LGBTQ youth dramatically. She said, “This initiative aims to address the impact that bullying and name calling have on LGBTQ+ youth and encourages schools to consider a more comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policy.”

She added, “All students and young people should feel safe and respected regardless of their gender identity or expression.”

Lee explained that her resolution had the weight of science behind it, noting in her statement, “According to the CDC, one in five high school students reported physical, verbal, or social bullying and over 70% of LGBTQ+ students were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. This is unacceptable. As a founding member of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, I will continue to work to ensure that all young people can feel safe and be protected from bullying in school.”

For the full text of the Black LGBTQ+ leadership resolution visit https://lee.house.gov/.

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Victoria A. Brownworth
Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.