I have had the personal pleasure of getting to know an amazing woman and activist, Darlene Nipper, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF)’s deputy executive director. With an impressive resume that makes her well qualified for her position at the oldest LGBT advocacy agency in our nation, I thought I would ask Darlene about her thoughts on life and the obstacles, challenges and personal triumphs she faces on a daily basis while walking stoically along the road to equality.
How long have you worked with the NGLTF, and what was your desire to be a part of the oldest LGBT organization in this country? I’ve been at Task Force for just under 3 years. Rea Carey, the executive director, hired me shortly after she took her role. It is such an honor to work with Rea and the extraordinary team at the Task Force. Also, it’s the national LGBT organization where I feel [most] at home. I love the history and its focus on economic and racial justice, reproductive rights, progressive values and the explicit and historic inclusion of the transgender community members into the fabric of the organization’s work. I’m proud to be at the Task Force.
As a black woman and out, I wonder about your journey of personal expression to becoming the woman you are today. In your estimation, is it more difficult to find acceptance in the black community when coming out or is this just folklore, if you will? Do you believe there is any truth to the belief by some after Prop 8 that the black community is disapproving of someone being gay or lesbian? It’s been a long journey for me. I began my coming out process very young – around twelve. By the time I was 16, everyone in my family knew – including cousins, etc. I personally had a lot of family acceptance and community acceptance. I saw a community that was filled with urban challenges accept everyone who was in it. But I do think there’s a dichotomous experience occurring in DC because I know that DC has one of the nation’s highest hate crime rates and that the majority of those crimes are perpetuated against LGBT victims. I find this appalling and I don’t think it’s only in black communities. I think violent hate crimes are the price our country is paying for hiding behind a code of so-called moral conduct that is thrust upon those whose lifestyles are mainstream ideas of what’s normative. It’s sad really because this spreading of hate goes beyond LGBT status to race, ethnicity and more. I don’t get why so many of us are afraid of people who aren’t exactly like us.
But I digress, there is no monolithic “black” community. Like Latinos and other ethnic groups, there is a broad diversity within black communities. I do think that after years of oppression many of us in the LGBT community have internalized homophobia and we, unfortunately, spread that hatred on our own community members, and that goes both ways. Still, I think that blacks are dealing with structural racism combined with anti-LGBT bias and hate so that some within our community experience extraordinary levels of discrimination and suffer the brunt of the multiple oppressive systems in our society.
With June being Pride month, what do you feel about pride celebrations? I find it a bit overwhelming personally in one regard and wonder if we are losing our way of understanding why pride parades started. Are we just exhausted and need to blow off steam, or could we be more effective in June if we were to use these public events to educate and inspire change? I think pride is important and there are many reasons for our parades and festivals. For one thing, those of us on the coasts and living in major cities ought to try to remember that in many cases we have more and better access to LGBT centers and services and policies. So much has changed for many but remember, we have a [long] way to go. We need these festivals for learning, sharing, celebrating, and rejuvenation for the coming challenges. Showing up and being visible is important work for all of us. I plan to attend as many festivals as possible this year. I also think it gives our younger community members hope when they see us being visible.
As one person, I feel strongly that we have the power to see change and effect change in our lives. If you could offer a challenge to each LGBT person for just the month of June, what would you recommend as a personal goal to effect change in our community? Donate, write to your congressman, talk to someone you thought would not listen to you, etc.? I would recommend all of those things. ….The challenge is for each person to stretch personally and to do something. We are all very different and have different opportunities and means. I would ask each person to do more than you did last month or last year. Give more, share your story more, volunteer more, and celebrate your life more. There’s so much one person can give to the world. If we each step up, I know that we will transform society so that everyone will be able to experience unconditional justice and freedom to love and live freely.
If you ever hear that Darlene is in your town, take the time to attend – she is an eloquent and passionate speaker and will certainly inspire you to be a part of your LGBT community. Read more about Darlene here.