About This Issue: Coming Out At Work

We’re not going to pretend this was an easy topic for Black Enterprise to consider...

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Black & Gay in Corporate America Black Enterprise Cover July 2011We’re not going to pretend this was an easy topic for Black Enterprise to consider. Let’s face it–the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is one of which our society whispers, mocks, ignores, and, in extreme cases, vehemently rejects. For Black members of this community, the emotional backlash can be even more intense. Editor-at-Large Carolyn M. Brown and I spent months producing this feature. Due to the topic’s controversial nature, we had some difficulty finding subjects. Even some of those who agreed to participate in our cover story, “Black and Gay in Corporate America,” felt some trepidation about how revealing their sexual orientation would affect relationships with family, friends, and associates outside the workplace.

Who is the gay Black professional? 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.

That code of silence has been the mode in which many LGBT employees have operated for decades. It’s one of the reasons we structured our 40 Best Companies for Diversity differently this year. In addition to listing companies based on the percentage of African American and ethnic minority employees, senior managers, and board members, and on the procurement spend with Black and minority firms, we identified those corporations that also made the Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work list for LGBT employees. It’s an indication that these firms believe in the power of full inclusion, and also that they’re choosing not to overlook an $800 billion-plus market.

What also drove the development of our feature is the growing number of professionals who have decided to share with the world their true selves (see sidebar on CNN anchor Don Lemon). Advocacy is never an easy journey, particularly when an individual has been thrust into such a position. The need to live behind a protective shield is very real to those who have suffered rejection, embarrassment, humiliation, and sometimes even violence. Sometimes, however, it becomes evident that coming forward with a personal testimony and an example of success could help improve the lot of others. We developed this feature to communicate that anyone can make a significant contribution. They just need to gain the opportunity to stand up and be counted.

Be sure to pick up the July 2011 issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE when it hits national newsstands Tuesday, July 19 and look for more of our Black LGBT coverage all month long at dev.blackenterprise.com/BlackLGBT.

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  • ROD Brown

    A friend on Facebook posted a message saying it’s surprising to see a Black magazine publish Black same gender loving anything.

    I applaud you for broaching this issue. YOU HAVE MY RESPECT! THANK YOU!

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  • ABilly Jones-Hennin

    From where I stand, you get five gold stars and three snaps. Thank you for at last recognizing that Black LGBTQ persons contribute a wealth of skills and creativity to Corporate America;that we are a significant part of the diversity in the workforce; and that being out is about being honest and comfortable about who you are. I just retired from corporate America after 22 years of service. I was as open about my being bisexuality and same gender loving relationship (invisible to most) as I was about being Black (impossible to hide). My company gained a lot of respect and business from clients who respected the fact that LGBT persons were visible and supported by the executives of the company. Doing our job imposes enough stess on all of us; why add additional stress by hiding in the corporate closet. Thanks again for a great article.

  • Theresa McClellan

    Blessings on Black Enterprise Magazine for highlighting who we are, everywhere that we are. This will move the conversation forward. While a reporter for the daily Grand Rapids Press in Michigan, I came out in a 1997 newspaper article as an African-American Christian lesbian working in a socially conservative community. After 28 years of reporting, I recently retired from the Press and am now the Faith Advocacy Coordinator for Gays In Faith Together where we are letting people know that yes, you can be Christian and a member of the LGBTQ community. While this message is important for all churches wanting to know how to become more affirming, this is a message crucial to Christian members of the African-American LGBTQ community sitting in silence or worse, swallowing the fear and loathing that sometimes comes from the pulpit. When we are free to be how God made us in our homes, workplaces AND houses of worship, all are blessed. Thank you for your fine journalism and kudos to the National Black Justice Coalition.

    tough put another face of gay.

  • Donald Burch, III

    Well, since I lived long enough to see an African American president, maybe it’s possible that I’ll live to see something close to equality for lgbt people in the African American community. Thank you BE!

  • Whitney Stewart Harris

    Thank you BE. African American communities need continuing education regarding GLBT issues.

    Great job.


    Im going to buy 2 copies today…

  • hephzibah

    I wonder, do you think Dr. King would have advocated for gay rights? Coretta Scott King was an advocate for rights for gays. Dr. King niece has said that Dr. King would not have advocated for gay rights.

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  • Black Boiz

    Will featuring this cover on the site:


    all month all July 2011!

  • Tavarious Butts

    BE I applaud your willingness to shed light on one of the most hidden groups in the African American community. Living in the Washington DC metropolitan area, I have been fortunate to witness first hand an active and successful African American LGBT professional mecca. I hope you continue the conversation.

  • sharondavids51sha@yahoo.de

    Hello My Dear!!

    My name is Miss sharon, I saw your profile today at this site and i become interested in you, Please My Dear I will like you to contact me back as soon as possible through my email address (sharondavids51@yahoo.de) so that i can give you my pictures for you to know whom i am, I believe we can move from here. Please Remember colour or distance does not matter, but Love matters allot in life. Reply me back on time,

    from sharon

  • joe

    “Who is the gay Black professional”

    A double whiner?

    Someone who thinks everyone should care about their color and the sexual choices they make, when REAL PEOPLE CARE ABOUT YOUR WORK ETHIC.

  • Jay

    BE you have me back as a reader after 10 years. I grew up reading your magazine but stopped reading once I was an adult because of skirting certain issues rather than facing them head-on. I only read publications that actually reflect who I am and since there seemed to be pink elephant syndrome going-on I did not want to spend my money with you.

    I applaud the awesome article and the conversations from professionals who I can look up to as champions of self-love. To be able to fully express ourselves as human beings and go to work as a whole person is what everyone wants. However, there seems to be a big gap with LGBTQ employees who still have not been given the room to be their wholeselves.

    As a Human Resources Professional, African American, Female, Lesbian I find it insulting not to accept all types of people in the workforce. Marginalization of any employees due to bias is wrong and in many cases illegal…however people still do it unless they are called to task by people who “know better”.

    If you want to hide behind being African American, or use cultural biases that you were taught at home or in your church as your reason to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the workforce then you are no better than those who discriminate against African Americans or Asian Americans or White-Americans for the same reason. Discrimination is wrong especially in the workforce where all should be judged by their skill level not their hue or their sexual partner. Some African Americans have created a safe hierarchy as to who it is ok to discriminate against as long as it doesn’t include them. This faux hiearchy allows them to justify there own place in the workforce while negating others rights.

    The people who were not discussed in this are the assistants the admins the co-workers who often hear the back-stabbing comments and who feel the need to speak up and call the discriminators what they are to their faces. I can only hope that these co-workers will be the future leaders and not those who live in a fantasy world of protective hierarchies.

    HR Diva

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