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Lincoln Park, Old Town

‘Black Queer Equity Index’ To Evaluate Local LGBTQ Nonprofits On Racial Diversity, Equity

The Black Queer Equity Index will grade five LGBTQ nonprofits on how well their organizations are creating opportunity and representation for Black LGBTQ people.

Jae Rice (left), a trans-masculine activist and communications coordinator at Brave Space Alliance, and Alexis Abarca, a trans activist, lead protesters through the North Side during a Black Trans Lives Matter in 2020.
Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — A Lincoln Park racial justice group is launching a report card for local nonprofits to assess how equitable their organizations are for Black queer people.

The Lighthouse Foundation, a Black- and LGBTQ-led advocacy organization, is spearheading The Black Queer Equity Index, which was unveiled Thursday night. It is a partnership among the Lighthouse Foundation and five local nonprofits serving LGBTQ people to collect diversity data on the makeup of their staff, clients and board members; as well as qualitative data on Black queer people’s experiences at the organizations.

Participating groups are the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Chicago House, Equality Illinois and Howard Brown Health.

“These five organizations — and just about every other organization — in 2020 made a lot of statements about racial equity,” said Jamie Frazier, executive director of the Lighthouse Foundation. “The Black Queer Equity Index will build on their commitment to racial equity by defining it in meaningful and measurable ways.”

The Lighthouse Foundation formed in 2019 after founders of the organization started protesting racist incidents within Chicago’s LGBTQ neighborhood. Since then, the group has nearly tripled its operating budget, grown its staff and raised thousands of dollars in mutual aid for Black queer people during the pandemic.

Now, the group hopes to create more opportunities for Black LGBTQ people by partnering with other local organizations on the Black Queer Equity Index, Frazier said.

“We want to to know the extent to which these institutions’ clients mirror their board representation and employee makeup,” Frazier said. “That way we can ensure they have leadership and a workforce that reflects the populations and communities they serve.”

John Peller, president and CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, said the project gave his organization a “loving push to do better and be more accountable to the community.”

“We’re participating in this because we want to do better and must do better in all dimensions of racial equality,” Peller said.

Leadership from the other participating nonprofits echoed Peller and said they appreciated the survey will be done annually to track their improvements over the years.

The Lighthouse Foundation will begin administering the survey in about two weeks with the goal of having all results in by early summer, Frazier said.

The foundation also created an equity task force, which includes representatives from the five nonprofits, that helped come up with survey questions and will evaluate its results. The task force will publicly release its findings along with recommendations for the organizations to improve by the end of the year.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to seek input and concrete evaluation of how we are doing as an organization,” said Chicago House CEO Michael Herman.

The task force will use these results to assess each organization’s effectiveness in ensuring equity for Black queer people and provide recommendations where they can improve, Frazier said. Every year, the participating organizations will be expected to fill out their surveys again to evaluate any improvements.

“We cannot track what we are not identifying, so one of the things we hope comes out of the Black Queer Equity Index is a consistent way for these institutions to document the makeup of their client base and employees,” Frazier said. “We also hope this opens up more jobs and leadership opportunities for Black queer people, particularly those on the South and West sides and Black trans folks, to work at these institutions.”

The Black Queer Equity Index builds on years of organizing to address racism within Chicago’s LGBTQ community.

Last summer, thousands of protesters marched through North Halsted Street to decry racism within the neighborhood during the Drag March for Change.

In 2019, Frazier organized protesters after one bar attempted to implement a ban on rap music and a neighborhood store was caught selling a Confederate Flag among its merchandise.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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