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Gay Mundo

Black Gay Leadership Group Vanishes
Americans mark the 1963 March on Washington as the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum dies.
By Keith Boykin

march on washington 1963, rustin
March on Washington with Bayard Rustin foreground, 1963.

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AUGUST 21, 2003. While thousands of Americans journey to the nation's capital this weekend to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, the country's only national black gay and lesbian organization will be quietly turning out the lights. After 15 years in business, the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum is finally closing down.

When organizers of the 40th Anniversary March on Washington sought out a gay or lesbian speaker for this weekend's rally, they contacted Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Foreman, a white gay man, agreed to speak.

March organizers also reportedly contacted a prominent black gay activist but, as of Tuesday, no black gay or lesbian speakers have been announced. That's not a criticism of the march. It's actually a sad testament to the state of the black gay community.

Fight For Inclusion
Although the 1963 march was organized by Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man who was one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s close advisers, and activists have fought for the inclusion of black gay speakers in each of the anniversary marches, there may not be a black gay man or lesbian speaking at this march.

At the 20th anniversary march in 1983, black gay activists had to lobby march organizers to allow black lesbian author Audre Lorde to address the crowd. At the 30th anniversary march in 1993, Phill Wilson of the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, spoke. Now, ten years later, the Leadership Forum will take its last breath on the same weekend of the 40th anniversary march.

But don't look for a representative from the Forum at the March on Washington. The Forum's final conference will take place this weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana, far away from the march activities in Washington, DC.

"It is with much sadness, as well as a sense of great accomplishment, that the Board of Directors has decided that this year's conference will be the last one for the Leadership Forum," said Alvan Quamina, who will resign at the conference as executive director of the Forum. In a press release, Quamina said limited resources forced the Leadership Forum to "drop its conference."

Closing the Doors
I'm not sure exactly what that means, but dropping the conference is the same as closing the doors. Since the Forum started in 1988, the annual conference has been the organization's most visible activity. Even with the annual conference, the Forum has been virtually invisible in the past few years.

Founded in Los Angeles by Phill Wilson and Ruth Waters, the Forum started out as a conference for black gays and lesbians and in its heyday grew to a full-fledged national organization with programs and staff. I served as executive director of the Forum from September 1995 to February 1998, and two other executive directors followed me in that position.

Cornel West, Alice Walker, June Jordan, Iyanla Vanzant, Michael Eric Dyson, Meshell Ndegeocello and Dr. Joycelyn Elders were among the many speakers and performers to appear before the group over the years. In October 1995, the Forum organized an historic black gay contingent in the Million Man March and the following year it led the media effort against anti-gay gospel recording artists Angie and Debbie Winans.

Despite its accomplishments, the Forum was always plagued by financial and political challenges that left a legacy of baggage for each new administration to unravel. The biggest challenge was fundraising. The Forum was consistently dependent on government contract dollars and unable to raise significant money from the black LGBT community to offset the restricted government funds. Some of the biggest contributions actually came from a few sympathetic white gay foundations, organizations and donors, while those in the black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community rarely gave major dollars.

Without adequate resources, the Forum could not pay its staff or executive directors. The last executive director, Alvan Quamina, worked in a volunteer capacity. In the end, the group's financial challenges doomed the Forum.

Now What?
Unfortunately, the closing of the Forum couldn't come at a more challenging time for black gays and lesbians. Black support for gay civil rights has tumbled in the past few months. AIDS continues to plague the community. Hate crimes from Morehouse College to Newark, New Jersey have been profiled in the news. Gay issues are front and center in the national dialogue, and there's no one black to represent the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

A few weeks ago, an ad hoc group of black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists got together in New York to talk about creating a national voice for the black LGBT community, but it's not clear if this new project will work.

As some leaders in the gay community continue to exclude us and some leaders in the black community continue to avoid us, we still need leaders in the black gay and lesbian community to stand up and represent us.


From the Web

Anniversary March on Washington
Anniversary March on Washington Gay Events
The Guardian: Black Lesbian's Killing Ignored
Village Voice: Morehouse College's anti-gay disgrace
Support for gay rights dropped dramatically in U.S., especially among blacks


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