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10 Black LGBTQ Leaders And Advocates Making Big Moves In Business

They're innovating and disrupting, while providing spaces for inclusion.

Human Interest

It's Pride Month, and what better time to highlight amazing Black LGBTQ leaders and advocates killing it in business? Yep, now is the perfect occasion. These entrepreneurs and executives are providing spaces for inclusion, disrupting and innovating in fashion, tech, entertainment, and finance, and giving voice to the struggles, issues, and vibrancy of LGBTQ communities. They are exemplary examples of brilliance we all can admire and take a nod from in our own lives both professionally and personally.


Check them out below:

Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of National LGBTQ Task Force 

This power woman and mother is the first openly queer-identified Black woman to hold the position at the long-standing organization, and she's tasked with leading strategy to ensure equality and justice for LGBTQ people across the nation. The National LGBTQ Task Force works to fight against discrimination in housing, retirement, employment, healthcare, and more.

Kelsey Davis, CEO & Founder of CLLCTVE

Kelsey Davis was a creative professional who worked for major companies including Conde Nast and created content for brands including Coca-Cola before launching her own firm that provides services for matching freelance creatives with Generation Z brands. It's the creating real opportunities for other young creatives to get to the bag for us.

Lena Waithe, Co-founder of Hillman Grad Productions

If series like The Chi, Boomerang, Them, and Twenties, or films like Queen & Slim don't ring a bell, sis, you need to go ahead and pop from under that rock, subscribe to somebody's streaming service, and get caught up. Lena Waithe not only includes diverse depictions of LGBQT stories within her scripts, but she takes the advocacy further via the hiring practices and opportunities of Hillman Grad Productions.

Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy, Co-founders of BLK MKT Village

This fab couple offers super-cool items that show just how rich and beautiful Black culture truly is, and they do it so stylishly. Together, Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy lead their Brooklyn shop and online community of more than 280,000 followers, offering a well-edited selection of collectibles, apparel, and heirlooms that would put any museum curator to shame.

Ariell Johnson, Founder of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse

Ariell Johnson's North Philly shop offers an array of comics that put inclusion and representation at the forefront. From books and magazines to toys and figurines, she provides a special selection of items that ensure all lovers of the genre can find something to enjoy and be inspired by, and she unapologetically includes LGBTQ sci-fi "geeks" and comic enthusiasts in the all.

Natalie Patterson, Founder of Natalie Is Poetry

A self-proclaimed "teaching artist," Natalie Patterson fosters growth, compassion, and integrity via workshops, breakout sessions, performances and lectures. Her client roster includes brands like Sephora, Uproxx, and the United Way, and sis will have you deeply moved with her poetry. Trust.

Arlan Hamilton, Founder of Backstage Capital

As if surviving homelessness, living out of an airport and building a venture capital fund isn't impressive enough, Arlan Hamilton has spent the last six years raising millions of dollars to support more than 170 companies founded by female, minority and LGBTQ entrepreneurs. And get into this latest win: A recent crowdfunding effort reached its $5 million goal via more than 7,000 supporters. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Way to get to that coin, sis!

Angelica Ross, Founder of TransTech Social Enterprises

Her company serves as an incubator to economically empower LGBTQ professionals and their allies by providing training for career skills. The platform particularly provides a forum for tools to fight against employment discrimination, and Angelica Ross, a self-taught programmer and actress known for her role on Pose as well as her work as a transgender rights activist, partners with brands and companies to foster training and employment opportunities.

Corianna and Brianna Dotson, Founders of Coco & Breezy

These savvy businesswomen have been giving twin-rock star-Black girl magic energy since 2009 with their eyewear brand, worn by celebrities including Beyonce, Prince, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Lady Gaga. As a brand, Coco & Breezy has since expanded into a luxury retreat venture, DJing, and visual art projects. They're also huge in LGBQT activism, lending their voices, art, and platform of more than 170,000 followers and supporters to issues of advocacy and rights protections.

Janelle Monae, CEO of Wondaland Arts Society

She's the soulful, ecclectic, tuxedo-wearing, boundary-pushing singer, producer and actress known for her roles in Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Antebellum. Janelle Monae is also a fierce artist mentor, record label exec, and LGBTQ rights activist who has identified as pansexual and rides for equal rights and freedom of expression for all. Word to Django Jane.

Featured image via Coco and Breezy/Instagram

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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