During the last final hours of 2009, many of us reflected on what meaning the year and decade had for us, and the hopes and resolutions that waited in 2010. For Denise King, she was unable to revel in the moment and celebrate the end of a decade and welcome in the new.
In February 2008, the South Florida lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was introduced to Denise King and her family when every news media outlet reported of the murder of her openly gay and gender nonconformist 17-year old son Simmie Williams, Jr. With the strong leadership of a young coalition known as the Transgender Equality Rights Initiatives (TERI), a vigil was organized and supported by an exhaustive list of organizations.
After the vigil concerned local residents packed a town hall focusing on hate crimes at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center that captured the attention of CNN. The tragedy garnered the attention of many community leaders and an endless list of elected officials.
The night of the town hall we embraced the King family and as a community understood that not only did we need to financially help a mother lay her baby to rest, but we united together realizing that our streets are not safe for LGBTQ youth and more needed to be done, especially in Black and Latino impoverished communities. As an LGBT community dominated with a white culture, we recognized we needed to cross the tracks and build bridges to support one another.
Many of us recognized this was a very unfortunate but critical opportunity to roll up our sleeves and help the most vulnerable of LGBT youth who lack healthy role models and support to grow up successfully as a Black or Latino LGBT person.
Despite the tragedy, it was a time when the entire LGBT community turned out by the hundreds to honor the loss of such a young and vibrant youth and a time to console a family whose needs would possibly be ignored by their own community because the family member who was killed was either gay or transgender.
The day of and days following the rally, our presence was greeted with polarized responses. One Black newspaper reported that they had never seen so many white people on their side of the tracks who were not real estate prospectors. The local community took notice of our presence. But has our presence been ongoing since that time?
As School Board Chairwoman Jennifer Gottlieb's only openly gay appointee to the Broward County Public School's Diversity Committee, I have the privilege to work closely with school board administrators as they ramp up on efforts to protect and support Broward's LGBT youth. But what is lacking from the effort is the involvement and support of our larger community to prevent the needless deaths of children like Simmie Williams, Jr. or the repeat shooting at Dillard High School.
Over the almost past 2 years, Denise became my close friend and personal champion. She inspired me and enlightened me on the hardships and the struggles in the Black community where LGBT folk are barely tolerated. As a student of social work, the King family inspired me with great hope and each day made me want to do more to bring communities together which are often divided by culture and investigate new ways to meet the needs of underserved populations.
I must commend organizations such as SunServe and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center/Pride Center for their continued commitment to increase their efforts to support our youth most at risk of bullying, suicide, HIV/AIDS and more. Denise King was well known by each of these organizations and the GLCC once again took up the responsibility to establish a special fund to assist the King family with funeral expenses. In 2008 the GLCC initially opened the fund for Simmie's funeral, not less than two years later; the community is now helping to bury Simmie's mom.
In honor of Denise King's passing, I am challenging the South Florida LGBT community take on a heightened responsibility and commit a few hours of your time, energy and money to partner and support SunServe and the Gay & Lesbian Community Center/Pride Center to support them in their amazing efforts to meet the daily and long term needs of South Florida's Black and Latino LGBTQ youth.
We must work harder to reach out to LGBT minorities and youth.