''Who speaks for the black LGBT community?''
That was the question around which a recent "community conversation" centered.
''Why don't we act like family? Why don't we just talk to each other?" asked Carlene Cheatam as she sat across the room from Sterling Washington, vice president of the DC Coalition of Black LGBT Men and Women, the group presenting the evening meeting Thursday, Aug. 20, at the Reeves Center. Cheatam and Washington were two points on a circle of about 60 people.
As moderator, Cheatam explained that the meeting was organized to talk about issues of importance so that the DC Coalition can develop workshops for a conference in October.
''We need to know what is of interest to you, what is important to you, so that we might be able to form something that will be informational to you, that will be empowering.''
Washington encouraged input from everyone in the room.
''We wanted to get a sense of what's important to you guys," he said. ''It's time for us to sort of sit back, shut up and listen to you all.''
Participants included Christopher Dyer, director of the Mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs; June Crenshaw, board chair of Whitman-Walker Clinic; Jeffrey Richardson, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Jasper Hendricks of the National Black Justice Coalition; Clark Ray, candidate for City Council; and Brian Watson, president of the DC Coalition.
''I don't think we're ever going to agree on who should speak,'' Watson said, ''[or] what we should say.... What I [want to know] is how do we move forward? Do we want to move forward still as just a few select people speaking? Or do we really want to be a coalition? A coalition of people who represent themselves and represent groups?''
Watson told those gathered that it's important for members of the black GLBT community to engage in all issues, not just those that are specific to their own lives.
''We all have issues,'' he said. ''Gay marriage is not my issue, but I still am going to those meetings because I want to make sure there's a black face there, and because I want to be supportive.''
Longtime activist Earline Budd cautioned that many are already spread thin, adding that while she's compassionate to all the issues involving the black GLBT community, her efforts are mostly limited to the transgender community.
''I represent a population that actually a lot of folks want nothing to do with,'' she said. ''I think that we have to really figure out when is it going to be real that when we say 'transgender' we really mean transgender, and that we really support them without them reaching out, to help that community.''
While participants offered a variety of views, there was general agreement that no single person or group speaks for the community. They further agreed that boosting membership in the DC Coalition would be an empowering step for the black GLBT community.
''People are being killed out there on the street because of their sexual orientation,'' Cheatam said. ''What do we do about that? There needs to be an organization to speak about that.''
Whether or not that organization will be the DC Coalition was not answered at the Reeves Center that night. But as the 31-year-old group continues to stir, following a long period of inactivity, it remains the prime candidate in the District.
For more information about the DC Coalition of Black GLBT Men and Women, visit www.groups.yahoo.com/group/DCCOALITION78/