Black on the Outside
Blackness in White workspaces is the quintessential mask of diversity for many social justice organizations. However, for minority members, inequality is a more common and likely experience. In “Rainbow Lanyards: Bisexuality, Queering and the Corporatisation of LGBT Inclusion” published in Work, Employment, and Society (2019), Calvard, O’Toole, and Hardwick discussed how emotional labor and stress can come in the forms of microaggressions and humiliation, when, for example, LGBT individuals are used to illustrate the diversity of an organization’s workforce rather than considered as part of the team. Similar organizational dynamics have been experienced by other minority members, including Black persons. Eventually, exhaustion from trying to be seen and heard takes its toll, and Black persons find themselves compelled to leave yet another social justice organization—a little jaded and a lot more traumatized. These words come from experience, as I am one of the many Black women who have been pushed from social justice organizations because when I demanded to be taken seriously, I no longer portrayed a malleable employee.
How does this issue relate to the discipline of FLE? Let me begin with how I started working with families with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) children. In the early 2000s, I was a young Black mother of two children. They were both assigned the male sex at birth; however, my oldest child stated that she was not a boy, but a girl. It took a year and a half before I realized she was transgender, but once I did, I supported her and her transition. That was 12 years ago, and my daughter is a thriving, brilliant 16-year-old girl. Through a decade of fighting for basic human rights for my child, I became a beacon of knowledge for other families with kids on the gender and sexuality spectrum. My family went public, which went viral, and suddenly, national organizations began reaching out for me to speak on behalf of Black mothers with LGBTQ children. Finally, I found my calling for racial and social justice in the advocacy world and I was coming in with a litany of ideas to increase representation for Black families.
Although there has been an increase in research on families with LGBTQ youth, there also has been an obvious lack of diversity in the literature. In particular, Black families are almost overlooked, with little documentation and few resources available for these families. The few available articles followed the similar tragic trope of what the media often portray as how Black families deal with LGBTQ family members, thus leaving a prominent gap in FLE studies. What was clear to me was that, as a public figure, I would represent a positive approach to raising a Black LGBTQ child, guide other people of color (POC) families and their children, and shift the narrative to one of love. My energy to create change tinted my glasses rose-colored as I went from the unpaid arena of family organizing to working for a large, national nonprofit organization. Excited for the chance to be part of an organization with a well-known name, I did not notice I was brought into a place where my Black face was a contrived attempt at diversity and inclusion.
During my year and a half on the job, I reached out to hundreds of parents and helped them with my personal experiences and other resources. Yet, my colleagues could tell I wanted to do more with communities of color. I wanted to reach “my” people and help them in the same manner. However, each time I brought an idea to staff meetings on how to get Black and Brown people to trust us, I felt talked down to in a manner that was humiliating. After a long talk with those who had a history with the organization, I came to realize that what I was experiencing was not only par for the course, but also institutional racism. Hill and Fields explained it perfectly in “It’s Killing Us!” Narratives of Black Adults About Microaggression Experiences and Related Health Stress” (2015): “Structural and systematic racism persist, and it is hard to make organizational cultural changes in large institutional systems.”
The few other colleagues of color who had been employed longer than me had already lost the light in their eyes and the passion in their voices. Within that same year and a half, they were gone from the organization. Black and Brown faces that could inspire countless Black and Brown families erased because of conflicts over power in a predominantly White-led business. Problematic behavior, such as institutional racism, can take out the most resilient of POC employees; this is a prevalent issue, as expressed in “Rainbow Lanyards” by Calvard et al.: “[A]s such issues go unchanged in the workplace, talented staff may leave and workplace health, reputations, and relationships will suffer as a result.” Losing any Black or Brown employee alters the morale of the company and that of the remaining staff of color; it also affects how outside populations, especially families, view the organization.
My almost 2 years at the organization increased my sense of imposter guilt, a common phenomenon in which persons believe they do not belong in the position they are in, and are therefore imposters. Primarily, this came from overt micromanaging of my tasks, not trusting my experience and expertise on being a Black person with a Black family able to assist other Black families, and outright microaggressions from leadership. My stress, along with the White leadership, made it impossible to provide 100% of myself to the families of color I had reached out to. Eventually, what began as a hopeful dream to increase visibility for Black families, their LGBTQ youth, and the gaps in resources left me physically ill, mentally and emotionally drained, and finally led to my departure from the organization.
As a graduate student majoring in Applied Family Science, I discovered that FLE can play a vital part in Black parents of LGBTQ children’s lives by providing guidance and resources. Sexuality education, a topic that falls under the umbrella of the fourth FLE content area, Human Sexuality, coincides with LGBTQ research priorities; therefore, it is an important component in improving the relationships and lives of Black families and their children. We need more research to close the large gaps between Black and White communities’ support for their LGBTQ youths. The way to do this is by increasing POC in positions of leadership, trusting Black people, and uplifting Black and Brown families. Providing an affirming space for Black advocates to thrive may lead to better outcomes for Black and Brown youth and their families. Representation is a valuable tool that every organization can have at its disposal. When I, a Black mother of a transgender child, speak to a struggling Black family whose child has just disclosed being LGBTQ, my FLE experience takes away the shame they feel and replaces it with love.
We can all do better for Black and Brown communities. Black families matter. Brown families matter. We matter.
DeShanna Neal, B.S., founder of New Castle County LGBTQ Youth Pride, is a lifelong LGBTQ advocate, author, and devoted mother of four. Deshanna is currently working on their master’s in Applied Family Science and starting a nonprofit, Intersections of Pride.