As part of the Leading Through our History series, Out Leadership held a panel on June 16th to talk about the need for intersectionality within the LGBTQ+ equal rights movement. Co-moderated by Out Leadership’s Manager of Programs and Partnerships, Jane Barry-Moran, and PWC partner, Jenny Machida, the panel featured Nadine Smith, the Executive Director of Equality Florida, and Kate Kendell, the former Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Smith opened up the discussion by emphasizing this important fact: the Black liberation movement and the LGBTQ+ equal rights movement are inextricably linked. Blackness and queerness are not mutually exclusive, and so if a non-Black LGBTQ+ person truly believes in LGBTQ+ equality then they must believe in it for everyone, including queer Black people. And if one believes in equal rights for those queer Black people, then they must also be part of the fight for Black liberation. And this duty goes both ways and applies not only to the Black liberation movement, but to every movement in support of marginalized groups whether that be undocumented people, Muslims, disabled people, poor people, etc.
When asked about their thoughts regarding the recent supreme court decision to protect trans people’s rights, Kendell made the point that the ruling was just a first step. Companies now need to adopt LGBTQ+ protections policies that are in line with the law, and that is a journey that may take a long time. She also mentioned that there is still a lot of inequality present within healthcare, housing, private services and more, and those are issues that the supreme court ruling cannot just erase, but that we as a community and as allies have to actively fight against. And building off of her point, Smith explained that we cannot achieve the magnitude of change that we need – and that we are seeing in small pockets – without queer Black people in these roles of leadership where they are able to make important decisions that can better the lives of others firsthand. Even though a lot of Black people are doing the grassroots work that is leading today’s movements, most of the people who actually have the power to cause significant changes right now are white men, and that is a problem
Kendell implored the listeners to imagine what life would look like if we as a society truly dismantled white supremacy and elevated racial, sexual, and economic justice instead. What would life look like, if instead of systems of punishment and violence, we had systems of rehabilitation and communal care in place? That might be a difficult world to imagine if one has never been exposed to that kind of thinking, but it is a world that is possible. And it will only be possible if, as Smith said, we focus on and protect the most vulnerable in our communities. Because if the most vulnerable people are protected and cared for, then we are all protected and cared for, and if they are not, then any protection that others may have is inherently volatile and will one day be taken from them.