A group of prominent Black LGBT activists and advocates gathered online Feb. 8 for an online discussion of how ongoing challenges stemming from HIV/AIDS tie into larger racial justice issues.
The discussion"Building Black Power in the Age of COVID-19," which was sponsored by Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policywas moderated by AIDS Foundation of Chicago's (AFC) Coleman Goode and was the first in a larger series of conversations centering Black LGBTQ Chicagoans. Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy is an AFC project.
Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and stakeholders have repeatedly emphasized that those disparities grow from systemic and structural socio-economic challenges and inequities. On Feb. 8, the panelists suggested that bridging communications gaps in numerous realmsbetween politicians and community members, older and younger LGBTQ folks, and gay men and transgender and gender non-conforming individuals were three such exampleswould be an auspicious start.
Activist Chris Wade noted, for example, that politicians seeking outreach to the larger Black community frequently do so by going through Black churches. But, given the fraught history between Black LGBTQ people and their churches, many are not there to be part of the conversations.
"We need to start getting in the ears of our politicians," Wade said. "If we don't create the narrative, they're going to create the narrative for us."
Activist Angelina Nordstrom emphasized that much research about HIV transmissions amongst Black LGBTQ people is siloed, noting that such research usually "involves leaving out part of the Black community in order to collect data on another part of the Black community [and is undertaken] by people who are not part of the Black community."
"It's important that we continue to be advocates for one another in this fight," said activist Keith Green.
Green and other panelists explained that shaming still plays a part when various stakeholders address health and economic disparities Black Americans contend with. But Green emphasized that such rationalization only masks structural and systemic inequities that leave people facing poverty and other problems.
Brandon Wright, of Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, said that his organization has tried to address the marginalization of trans and gender non-conforming individuals by cisgender LGB people. He added that, historically, cisgender people worried that trans individuals somehow erased advancements the overall community made by defying gender norms. That perspective, he emphasized, was both unjust and unsound.
"It's about being together in the fight," he said. "I'm going to stand with my trans sisters and my trans brothers."
Nordstrom added that the LGBT needs to recognize the scope of the challenges trans people face, and understand the nature of their differences and similarities: "Being gay or lesbian is about who you go to bed with, and being trans is about who you go to bed as."
Activist Randolph Johnson spoke at length about ageism within the LGBTQ community and said that both older and younger community members have to take initiative to speak with their counterparts in different age demographics.
"A lot of it goes back to having conversations," Johnson said.
Green nevertheless added that the Black LGBTQ community has the resilience to meet its myriad challenges head on.
"We have come through far worse than this in our country," he said. "We have the wisdom and the knowledge to push through it."