On Friday June 10, 2016, The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (WHIEEAA) in partnership with National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and the National Education Association (NEA) hosted the first ever
White House Summit on African American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Youth. Two days later, on June 12, 2016, a
domestic act of terrorism occurred at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The tragic loss of life and the pernicious attack on the LGBTQ community is an unprecedented mass shooting affecting all Americans. For African American LGBTQ youth, educators, advocates, and allies who attended the White House Summit, a range of emotions that were stirred in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting now informs our work. Among the questions we must grapple with are: How do we commit to affirming LGBTQ youth identities when LGBTQ people are victims of inconceivable acts of terror? How might schools and educators use moments like this to teach inclusion and empathy? How can we move to action that celebrates diversity and strengthens community? What can we do to ensure that no parts of the victims’ identities are erased or rendered invisible? The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans provided an inclusive safe space for Black LGBTQ youth to be brave, to celebrate their experiences, and to make recommendations designed to improve the ways educators as well as parents, family and community members support the cognitive, social and emotional development of African American LGBTQ youth. We organized the summit to ensure that Black queer youth thrive—both in school and in life. David Johns, executive director of WHIEEAA, challenged educators as well as caring and concerned adults to consider the intersectional identities of Black LGBTQ youth: “We do not have a choice in the matter, we are obligated to do the work required to ensure that all students are supported in becoming the adults we expect them to be. “This includes treating Black LGBTQ students with the love and respect they deserve and to honor that we don’t have all the answers nor do we need to if we show up, in love,” said Johns. Johns and other leaders at the Summit, including Karamo Brown (actor and television personality), Becky Pringle (NEA) and Sharon Lettman-Hicks (NBJC) discussed the work required to ensure that in-school and out-of-school learning and development opportunities enable Black LGBTQ students to thrive academically and holistically. Youth leaders provided practical recommendations for ways to make this happen, including identifying students by the name and gender pronouns they prefer. Schools and educators, teachers and leaders, can support the learning and developmental needs of Black LGBTQ youth in the following ways:
Provide relevant, reflective, and inclusive curricula that includes and acknowledges Black LGBTQ leaders like Bayard Rustin, Alice Walker, Brittney Griner, Jason Collins, Karamo Brown, Laverne Cox as well as other local, national, and international Black LGBTQ persons;
Adopt and enforce school policies and accountability practices that ensure LGBTQ students are safe on-campus and off-campus;
Listen to the needs of Black LGBTQ students without judgement (consider hosting an #AfAmEdTeachIn to provide youth with a platform to make recommendations for the programs, policies, and practices that may best meet their learning and development needs and goals);
Provide comprehensive sexual education that promotes healthy, safe, and consensual engagement and includes representations of and practices specific to LGBTQ youth; and
Confront harassment of and disrupt practices that otherwise isolate or discriminate against LGBTQ students and teachers.
Both the White House Summit on LGBTQ youth and the devastating tragedy of the Orlando shooting provide us with opportunities to continue to educate and strengthen our communities and country. Let’s work better together and let’s do so with love for all.
Andrene Jones-Castro is a graduate intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and is a doctoral student studying education policy at the University of Texas at Austin.