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Empowering black lesbians

Empowering black lesbians


Conference attendees came from across the country to celebrate and embrace "sistahood" as well as a common bond of culture and same-sex attraction.

The third National Black Lesbian Conference convened April 7-10 in Dallas and brought together hundreds of black lesbians and bisexual women of all ages, shapes, hair textures, and shades of brown.Organized by the Zuna Institute, a black lesbian advocacy group based in Sacramento, Calif., conference attendees came from New York, California, and everywhere in between to celebrate and embrace "sistahood" as well as a common bond of culture and attraction. Attendees were encouraged to be sponges during the three days and soak up as much information as they could to take back to their communities. Notable speakers included Samiya Bashir of Freedom to Marry, who led a charged discussion on the role of black lesbians in the fight for marriage equality that also featured Equality California's Sylvia Rhue and United Lesbians of African Heritage executive director Lisa Powell. Other panel and workshop subjects included economics, spirituality, media, health, and grassroots organizing.Donna Payne of the Human Rights Campaign moderated the conference's political panel, which included Courtney Snowden of D.C.'s Raben Group, Shameka Lloyd, Samiya Bashir of Freedom to Marry, and me, who represented the National Black Justice Coalition."This year's conference was exciting because it was held in the South, where many people think we [black lesbians] are not present," said Donna Payne of gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "The successful work done with the [Dallas black lesbian group] Women of Distinction for the conference proved we are present in the South.""The impact was immeasurable," said Snowden from Washington, D.C. "I was personally reminded that we have an army of activists ready to do the hard work necessary to change the culture of the black community and society as a whole. We exist, and thanks to Zuna we have a supportive environment in which to network and a powerful voice advocating on our behalf."Additional events included a spoken-word jam and film festival. A highlight of the conference was the banquet, where well-known black lesbian comedian Karen Williams delighted attendees with her quick repartee and insightful commentaries. At one point she stopped to reflect on how few opportunities there are for her to perform for black lesbian audiences and how indebted she was to the Zuna Institute for having the conference."I felt honored to share in the learning, laughter, and the chance to be uplifted by the collective experience, strength, hope, wisdom, and wit of such a dynamic group of women," said Williams. This year's conference was dedicated to the life of black lesbian activist Wanda Alston, who was recently found murdered in her D.C.-area home. Wanda, a supporter of the Zuna Institute and friend to many of the attendees,was remembered by a candle-lighting tribute, as were other lesbians who had since passed. The tribute was put together by Los Angeles's Angela Odom.Bishop Yvette Flunder of San Francisco's City of Refuge United Church of Christ brought the house down at Sunday's Gospel Brunch, where she delivered a message that was well-received by the standing-room-only crowd. Known for being an inclusive pastor, Flunder validated, lifted up, and prayed for the healthy lives and relationships of the conference attendees and lesbians everywhere."This [GLBT] movement is political, yes," declared Bishop Flunder. "But the undergirding of everything we do must be our faith and our spirituality. We are a minority by color, by ethnicity, by sexual and affectional orientation, and gender identity. But God does not need a majority to move.""One of the most memorable moments, for me, was to see so many woman being delivered and loosed from their own [self] bondage," shared Minister Doris Deckard of Dallas. "Healing took place during the Zuna Conference and women gave their lives back to God. That, in itself, was powerful!"This year's conference was sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Black Justice Coalition, Human Rights Campaign, Abbott Laboratories, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, International Institute of Human and Healing Arts (HaHA Institute), Black AIDS Institute, Felicia Miller, audio store Six Star DJ, and the Dallas Voice.The National Black Lesbian Conference organizers included Vallerie Wagner of Los Angeles, Cynthia Walston of Sacramento, Zandra Conway of Atlanta, and Women of Distinction.Zuna Institute board members include president Francine Ramsey, Joi Rhone, Cynthia Walston, Wendy Herndon, Karman Jarvis, and HRC's Payne. The fourth National Black Lesbian Conference will take place in 2007. For more information on the Zuna Institute and the National Black Lesbian Conference, please visit

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