#OOTH2015: Annual summit sheds light on LGBT health and wellness


OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit draws nearly 200 community members to discuss health needs and strategies for improved care

WASHINGTON, DC — Last week the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) hosted its sixth annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit (OOTH). For four days, activists, elected officials, clergymen, and various other community members, convened in the nation’s capital to engage in a series of meaningful workshops, forums, and networking sessions, all centered on the holistic well-being of black LGBT individuals. The at capacity event, held at The Beacon Hotel and Human Rights Campaign headquarters, saw leading authorities and experts guide concerned constituents through signature programming under the theme, “We Are Family: Building Stronger Roots Together.” Venton Jones, Program Manager for NBJC’s LGBT Health Initiative, says this year’s summit was by all accounts a success and one of the best thus far.

“It was an amazing experience this year — to see the camaraderie that existed within the different parts of our community, and being able to have a safe space to talk about the issues that are impacting our daily lives,” says Jones.

NBJC officials kicked off OOTH Wednesday morning with a briefing about the organization’s health and wellness initiative, highlighting efforts made since its launched last December on World AIDS Day. As the week progressed a number of workshops kept participants engaged with critical topics such as aging, the effects of dating apps, wealth building, and the health issues impacting women within the black LGBT community. During a session hosted by the Williams Institute, key matters specifically concerning black lesbians and bisexual cisgender women (“cisgender” meaning those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) were brought to the forefront.

“This was a very powerful session,” says Jones. “Women’s health issues are usually neglected in the LGBT equality movement. Here we had the opportunity to talk about the need for more data and more efforts to address the needs of black lesbians and bisexual women.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign partnered with the National LGBTQ Task Force to share pertinent information about the Equality Act. The federal legislation, if passed, would expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act and provide explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in areas of employment, education, housing, credit, jury service, public services and spaces, and federal funding. Jones says following the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in June, the bill is the next big step on the road to full equality.

“After this conversation about marriage, we need to talk about the systems that are in place, whether at the local, state, or federal level, that are still discriminating against people based on their sexual or gender identity,” Jones tells MOSWN.com. “We have to ensure that those injustices are not happening.”

Broader LGBT disparities were discussed on Friday when the Transgender People of Color Coalition and the United States Department of Justice presented audiences with alarming statistics about the violence against black trans women. A 2013 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, cited that 72 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were transgender women, and 89 percent of those victims were people of color.

OOTH culminated on Saturday with NBJC’s annual State of the Black LGBTQ/SGL Community. Broken into two parts, a panel of wellness experts, including longtime trans advocate Valerie Spencer; founder and president of Black Men’s XchangeDr. Cleo Manago; president of BiNet USA, Faith Cheltenham; and activist Rayceen Pendarvis, took center stage to tackle what it means to be well as it pertains to black LGBT persons. The dialogue continued later that day with a special exchange on the subject of religion and spirituality. Various clergymen from affirming churches dissected the common conflict experienced within the black LBGT community of reconciling one’s faith with one’s sexual identity.

>> GET INVOLVED: Click here to discover ways to help advance LGBT equality while strengthening the Black family unit

Jones says this year’s summit overall underscores the urgency for increased dialogue around the vitality of black LGBT people. He insists that all members of the community, LGBT or otherwise, should make creating safe spaces for these types of conversations a priority.

“There’s a desperate need to discuss holistic health in our community and how they are closely related to the black experience,” he asserts. “There’s a need to educate those different parts of our black family, not only our blood family but our chosen family also, so people can be better supporters in our different networks. We need to figure out how to create more opportunities for black LGBT people to have their voices heard in both mainstream circles and traditionally black environments as well.”

Since 2003, NBJC has been the nation’s leading civil rights organization focused on public policy affecting the lives of individuals at the intersection of being both black and LGBT. Efforts center on racial injustice, safe schools, economic empowerment, the inclusion of black LGBT students on HBCU campuses, and holistic wellness. Visit nbjc.org for more information.

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by Deon Newsom

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