Solidarity Rooted in Black History
by Anne Price
As this month draws to a close, so does our national February ritual that marks King’s I Have A Dream speech and touts our nation’s “progress.” But in the lofty oratory and the watered down retelling of our Civil Rights legacy, what’s most obscured from view is the economic reality Blacks face today. The fate of the children and grandchildren of the heroes we celebrate reveals a disturbing reality many prefer not to mention.
The fact that the typical Black household has a mere $200 to draw upon in times of economic crisis indicates that, despite any Dream, the next generation of Blacks will be worse off than our parents. Black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans face even more dire prospects and harsh economic conditions.
Black LGBT people endure a gauntlet of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class and sexual orientation or gender identity, each one a separate and compounding obstacle to economic security. Evidence suggests that Black LGBT people collectively experience greater struggles than their white, heterosexual and same-sex counterparts. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, Blacks in same sex couples are twice as likely as heterosexual married Black couples to be confined below the poverty level. Black men in same sex couples are more than six times more likely to be living on the economic brink than white men in similar relationships. Black women with female partners are three times more likely to be scraping by than white women.
Hidden beneath those statistics is an even more startling reality. A substantial number of Black couples raise children. About 47 percent of Black lesbian couples are caring for children, nearly the same rate as Black married heterosexual couples. One third of Black same sex male couples are also raising kids. Yet, these children are more likely to grow up without the assurance of food on the table or a roof overhead. Over half of Black children with gay male dads are denied economic stability, more than any other type of household.
Research also shows that Black LGBT persons are more likely to live among other Blacks in communities of color rather than living among whites in communities with a large percentage of same-sex couples. As sociologist Mignon Moore points out in her research about Black gay and lesbians, Blacks who are LGBT remain in their communities despite conflicts over their acceptance of their sexuality “because these conflicts are part and parcel of a sense of community and belonging.” Black LGBT persons, she found, feel that “group membership is not about sameness or having one voice, but having a commonality, a perceived link that connects its members regardless of other differences that might also exist.”
It’s time this solidarity runs both ways.
Perhaps the most important reason Blacks can no longer ignore the economic fragility of Black LGBT people is that it is the truest test of whether we will act in accordance with our beliefs, that the fate of all Blacks are linked. Nowhere is this notion of rising and falling security and tumult more evident than in the economic well-being of Blacks, whose climb back from the Great Recession has been met at every turn with higher obstacles. We were losing ground well before the economic downturn but between racially tiered mortgage rates, color-coded layoffs and pay freezes, we saw half of our wealth, in the form of our homes and our savings, vanish into wealthier hands during the recession. And today, for two in five Black families raising kids, living in debt has become a modern-day shackle, even for those with the highest levels of educational attainment.
To dismantle the barriers to prosperity faced by Black LGBT people, politicians must enact basic protections that are essential to economic stability, like antidiscrimination laws that protect people from being discriminated against or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would extend workplace protections to LGBT Americans. Without a federal law, roughly 900,000 Black LGBT persons, many of whom live in the South, are left without any workplace protections. In addition, according to the Center for American Progress, addressing other LGBT discrimination, like in housing, must be met with an expanded effort surrounding race discrimination.
We cannot afford to perpetuate the alienation of Black gay and transgender Americans. The life, liberty and ability to pursue happiness of future generations depend on our unyielding pursuit of equality. This month, as we reflect on Black history, let us learn from that history. Let us stand in solidarity with those in our communities who desperately need and deserve the protections we have fought so hard to secure.
Opportunity Agenda Report: