Since 2003, The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) has been the premier civil rights organization for the the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) community. It is an organization dedicated to empowerment, advocacy, and the advancement of the LGBTQ/SGL community. Their commitment to the community is why I was elated to intern with them during the spring of 2019. My main assignment during this internship was to draft a toolkit to promote gender justice in the Black community. This toolkit was created to address the importance of accurate, affirming language in creating gender justice. This topic may be uncomfortable, but the importance of using affirming language cannot be overstated.
Because of the power words have in culture, the toolkit begins with a section on learning and unlearning. Gender justice includes addressing gender-based barriers, ending gender-based violence, using language to uplift and affirm, and ensuring equal access to human, civil, and legal rights. In practice, this looks like confronting and dismantling white, patriarchal, and cis heteronormative society and social norms. Oppressive systems are the root of gender-based violence, and attacking our own implicit biases is the key to starting the cultural change needed to protect, uplift, and empower those who suffer the most. We can start by using an individual’s correct name and pronouns, avoiding language that can perpetuate violence, and advocating for the rights of all women, especially women of color and transgender women.
To connect theory to practice, there are a few activities for advocates and allies to use. The first is the Groupthink Activity, adapted from the International Women’s Development Agency. This activity is designed to start a dialogue about a group’s views, perspectives, and lived experiences. In beginning this dialogue, we can build empathy and understanding to help us be better advocates and allies for each other. The second activity is called Vocabulary Extravaganza, adapted from The Safe Zone Project. The goal of this activity is to increase the understanding of certain terms that we might not all be familiar with. Some of these terms include ze/hir pronouns, a set of pronouns used by nonbinary or gender nonconforming individuals; intersex, a term that refers to individuals that are born with a combinations of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, and internal and external sex organs that differ from the expect patters of male or female; and Mx., an honorific for nonbinary or gender nonconforming individuals. There is nothing wrong with not understanding, but it is important to allow ourselves to learn, which is why the final activity is Cognitive Bias from a legal group called Gender Justice. This is designed to address the implicit biases we all hold with deconstructing these biases. When we hold on to our ignorance, we become part of the problem.
This toolkit is not just about addressing our part in upholding oppressive social norms. It is also a call to action. It is important that we all take the pledge and be a champion for gender justice. Using your voice to speak with your Congressional representatives to help pass laws that extend civil liberties and using the toolkit to facilitate these important conversations are the first steps to creating a cultural shift is needed to affirm, uplift, and empower those who need it most.
Visit The National Black Justice Coalition website to learn more and to download the entire toolkit.