Comedian Wanda Sykes and CNN anchor Don Lemon were among the panelists on the NAACP's first forum to discuss LGBT issues at i's 102nd annual national convention.
Leaders of the national civil rights organization, including President Benjamin Todd Jealous and Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond, have expressed their own concerns over homophobia among African-Americans, and in recent years the NAACP has sponsored some localized events to address homophobia.
Jealous opened Monday's discussion with the organization's three-pronged mission to increase acceptance of black LGBT people among African-Americans, including strengthening the NAACP's knowledge of LGBT issues and policies, building alliances with LGBT organizations, and advancing awareness of LGBT issues "as they relate to overarching programs and interest of the NAACP," PeoplesWorld.org reports.
Sykes, who publicly came out after Proposition 8 passed in California, said that a key part of building support for gay rights among African-Americans is getting churches on board. She said that she felt pressured to stay closeted because of church sermons that vilified homosexuality.
"You just suppress everything and become this other person," she said. "You start living that life that you think that you're supposed to do. I worked it so hard I got married! It just hit me, like, wait a minute. Why aren't my relationships going further? Why can't I really open up? And I realized oh, that's right. I forgot; I'm a lesbian! That's what it is. You don't have breasts!"
While the event was intended to be an all-encompassing discussion on LGBT issues, the panel had no transgender or bisexual representatives. Activist Ashley Love told Free Speech TV that organizers could have done more to be inclusive.
"The NAACP was founded because black people were being excluded from having a seat at the table," she said. "So why would we as an LGBT black coalition exclude transsexual and transgender people, who are the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, the most endangered in the entire coalition?"
Lemon moderated the panel, which consisted of Sykes, Bond, activist Kenyon Farrow, Spelman College professor Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and actor Darryl Stephens.