NAACP’s Ben Jealous visits Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center; promotes One Nation Working Together

This week history was made as the first visit by the President and CEO of the more than century-old NAACP to Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center. Jealous was there to promote the upcoming One Nation Working Together rally a coalition of over 150 groups from across the country committed to ensuring that everyone is treated equally. It will be held in DC on October 2. The coalition of over 150 groups with many different constituencies and missions, have bound together for the march to support equality, including:

  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex.
  • Expand anti-discrimination laws to be inclusive of everyone.
  • Respect all families.
  • End all forms of workplace discrimination.
  • Provide all children equal access to high quality education in a safe environment.
  • End all forms of discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing and housing.

The policy platform of One Nation Working Together is here.

Among the LGBT organizations that have endorsed One Nation Working Together are the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, PFLAG National, the Equality Federation, the National Black Justice Coalition, National Stonewall Democrats, Immigration Equality, Lambda Legal, Pride at Work, UNID@S, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the Bronx Community Pride Center, Equality Maryland, and Equality Pennsylvania.

Jealous was peppered with questions during the event at the Community Center, that was covered by Gay City News.

A Rhodes Scholar who formerly worked at Amnesty International on issues of prison rape, the criminal justice system’s treatment of juvenile offenders, and racial profiling, Jealous earned a warm response from a crowd of more than 100 with a discussion about the possibilities for progressive change through coalition politics; his remarks showed him well versed in LGBT issues. Mentioning having in his family both HIV and a gender-nonconforming brother who’s been beaten up, Jealous talked about the NAACP’s advocacy for black gay student victims of homophobic violence at the hands of African-American attackers in a Coffee County, Georgia college; the school responded by kicking those assaulted out of their dorm.

“It is the NAACP in places like Coffee County, Georgia,” he said, “that is the civil rights institution, not the black civil rights institution, the people of color civil rights institution, the civil rights institution.” The group, he said, let the school “know that nothing like this would ever happen again.”

…Audience members who stepped forward to ask questions voiced appreciation for Jealous’ visit but didn’t hesitate to challenge him on sensitive and politically complicated matters. One questioner was direct in asserting that homophobia is a problem in the African-American community and pressing the NAACP leader to explain how the group proposed to address it.

The moment could well have been a tense one, but Jealous betrayed little defensiveness in his response. He acknowledged the problem was real and serious, but also argued that it was by no means one confined to the black community. He noted that the African-American community is poorer and has stronger religious affiliations than society generally, but said that as with white communities, acceptance of gays is strongest among better off and more secular black Americans, an analysis borne out by a detailed examination of the 2008 voting patterns on the Proposition 8 question in California.

One of the other questions put to Jealous was whether his civil rights organization would support the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as protected classes in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Jealous responded by saying he welcomed the conversation, and noted that the NAACP had not previously been asked to support this measure by the the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, comprised of 30 members, of which the only LGBT representative is the HRC.

Here is video from the event.

Here’s the link for bus tickets from New York to D.C. for One Nation Working Together: http://onenationlgbtnyc.eventbrite.com

More below the fold.
My two cents

In 2009, the NAACP rolled out the LGBT Equality Task Force, a partnership with the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) to help address homophobia in the black community and the socially conservative religious communities (see Eddie Long’s woes, for example, for one pathology playing itself out).

Earlier this year I had a chance to sit down for an informal chat with Ben Jealous when I attended the NAACP Leadership 500 Summit earlier this year. He is sincere in support for LGBT rights and does understand and is frank, as he was at the above event at the community center, in acknowledging the challenges in his constituency.

To be blunt, the bulk of the NAACP’s membership is “well seasoned,” from the same generation that less likely to understand or support LGBT equality in large numbers. Couple that with a membership that is very wedded to organized religion, and you have a ship that will take a long time to steer in the right direction.

That’s why Jealous has deemed the Leadership 500 Summit the place where younger leaders of the NAACP can network, share ideas and resources because the org has a reputation for being out of step and out of touch with this generation’s black middle class. This is a major step in the right direction. I spoke with quite a few young people who are out there in the community having to fight the “old fogey” image of the NAACP, and are LGBT-supportive. These are the people who will be in leadership in the future.

During that conference I decided to become a lifetime member. Why? I found myself, as an out lesbian who discussed LGBT issues on a panel, quite lonely there. That has to stop and visibility has to be upped. I was not disrespected in any way, mind you – I actually had a nice conversations with a number of people who were supportive of points I made on the panel – but there were simply not many openly gay LGBTs there. None approached and self-identified. That needs to change as well to move the culture forward.
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—  John Wright