African American communities are broad, diverse, and share a deep understanding of inequality gained from a common history and experience. For decades, African American scholars, including Dr. James Cone, Dr. David Levering Lewis, and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, examined the African American experience in America through the lenses of perseverance, hard work, and tremendous accomplishment despite overwhelming odds. Though the struggles of African American people throughout history have helped us develop a more accepting society, there is more work to be done. For African Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), many of these gains have yet to align with the fullness of their experience.

W.E.B. Du Bois’ seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, asked a profound question about the plight of African Americans after the Civil War: How does it feel to be a problem? While Du Bois sought to explore the African American experience at the beginning of the 20th century, today, African Americans who identify as gay or transgender also find themselves with the familiar burden of double consciousness—the tension of being African American and gay or transgender while pursuing the American dream.

A handful of “out” gay and lesbian African Americans are serving in state and local public office today. Groups across the country are fighting to ensure that African Americans have more chances for representation at the local level through the redistricting process. As we continue the struggle for full equality—politically, socially and economically—the face of our community is changing. Openly gay and transgender African Americans are stepping into the spotlight as advocates for their communities.

This toolkit seeks to do two things:

  1. Help legislators talk about gay and transgender issues with African American constituents; and
  2. Assist legislators in gaining a deeper understanding of their constituents who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

This message guide covers five core areas:

  1. Nondiscrimination in employment and housing;
  2. Marriage and relationship recognition;
  3. Parenting and adoption;
  4. Safe schools; and
  5. Hate crimes.

These core issues represent areas where there is ground to be gained in securing protections for LGBT people on the national, state and local levels.

Additional Reading