Companies are doing a much better job around diversity and inclusion today than 10 years ago, says Pate. “But what is going to drive the workplace is the politics and community outside of that,â€ he adds.
Gaining Acceptance in the Black Community
Research shows African Americans face greater challenges coming out in their own communities where homophobia is prevalent. “African Americans overwhelmingly turn a blind eye to the existence of LGBT persons. We function like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ within the African American community. We don’t acknowledge our black LGBT with the respect and dignity they deserve,â€ says Lettman-Hicks. “We prefer to use stereotypical or derogatory references instead of uplifting a valuable sector of our society. Politically, black folks see gay rights as a white America issue.â€
There is the added social pressure for African American LGBT workers in part due to the historical relationship between the black community and the black church, which often sets the climate and tone of political and social movements. Walton, whose mother is a minister, says Julian Bond is one black civil rights leader who has spoken eloquently about the gay rights movement. Bond also has repeatedly acknowledged the contributions of openly gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who was a friend of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the chief architect of the 1963 March on Washington.
It’s not just religious institutions. “We have to also look at institutions of higher learning, especially historically black colleges and universities, in fostering inclusion,â€ says Lettman-Hicks. This past May, nine historically black colleges and universities held a summit at Spelman College (funded by the Arcus Foundation) to address issues facing LGBT students, breaking the silence on a subject considered taboo on most black college campuses.