Adam Polaski

Mag Explores Being Gay & Black in Corporate America

Filed By Adam Polaski | July 21, 2011 11:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: black, Black Enterprise, Lettman-Hicks, National Black Justice Coalition

BlackEnterprise.jpegThe new issue of Black Enterprise magazine, which hit newsstands on Tuesday, dives into the subject of people who are both black and gay in corporate America.

The magazine introduces the feature, produced by Sonia Alleyne and Carolyn M. Brown, by asking, "Who is the gay Black professional?" Alleyne continues:

If you were to rely on media images, they are overtly flamboyant and dramatic male hairstylists and fashion designers. Depictions are often skewed comedic renderings of members of a community who in real life too often lead separate lives to buffer themselves--and their families--from ridicule. "Many professionals are out in their community but private in the world," says Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization that seeks to empower the African American LGBT population. "There's a healthy Black, educated professional class of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community in this country. But there's no recognition of their existence. There's no protection for their rights--for silent or overt discrimination. Black people in general treat the existence of gays and lesbians and transgender people in the African American community like 'don't ask, don't tell,'" the former U.S. policy governing homosexuality in the military.

The content in the issue is quite extensive, and it encompasses significant information on employment non-discrimination policies - most of this information, really, applies to all LGBT people, not just black LGBT folks or members of other racial minorities. This is important data, of course, but some of the most interesting information in the Black Enterprise feature is the dissection of the identity of black, gay businesspeople as "double minorities." The writers suggest that the media - mainstream and otherwise - generally portray the gay rights movement as an almost entirely-white movement.

"African Americans overwhelmingly turn a blind eye to the existence of LGBT persons, Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, says in the article. "Politically, black folks see gay rights as a white America issue."

Of course, since Black Enterprise is a business magazine, we get a look at the intersection of profit and diversity with regard to being gay and black. The writers examine how companies balance marketing strategies for the two populations, and how they especially look to capture the LGBT consumer market, which the magazine reports has an estimated buying power of $835 billion.

Aaron Walton is co-founder and co-CEO of Los Angeles-based Walton Isaacson (No. 8 on the BE Advertising Agencies list with $12 million in revenues), which has helped develop campaigns for Dove, Courvoisier, Harrah's, and Maytag to reach this growing segment. "Black gay consumers and employees have a different perspective on LGBT marketing because they have lived with being a minority within a minority," says Walton, who is openly gay and has been with his partner for 24 years. "We make sure brands understand that being inclusive is not going to hurt their general market efforts. It will actually bring in new consumers and help build their business."

The issue's features also hone in on the black community's unique relationship with the church, which often informs views on LGBT issues, plus a look at some of the most prominent black gay rights activists from past and present and a video with the story of a black transgender man. Check it all out at the Black Enterprise website.

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"If you were to rely on media images, they are overtly flamboyant and dramatic male hairstylists and fashion designers. Depictions are often skewed comedic renderings of members of a community who in real life too often lead separate lives to buffer themselves--and their families--from ridicule."

I'm sorry, but this is simply outdated thinking for anyone today who is not living in a cave on Borneo. Did someone throw a brick through their TV set when In Living Color went off the air? The Black world has seen several high-profile coming out's in recent years, and Wanda Sykes, John Amaechi, Will Sheridan, and Don Lemon -- not a one fits any of these stereotypes, not to mention the always-been-out Black journalists and political pundits whose careers have come into their own before our own eyes, such as Keith Boykin (who founded NBJC, by the way), Jonathan Capehart, and Herndon Davis. The only Black public figure that does fit this stereotype even loosely is Rupaul -- who is excellent enough at what she/he does that most people who notice her at all take her seriously.

But ... Black Enterprise is to be highly commended for even broaching this subject. Their current examination is more than just a good start. With all the discussion needed on our problems with Black homophobia and gay racism, throwing corporate homophobia/racism plus a challenging economy into the mix gives us plenty, plenty to talk about.