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How Can The City’s Leading LGBTQ Organizations Better Serve Black Queer Chicagoans? New Report Lays Out Equity Roadmap

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

Ballroom group the angels dance while marching in the "Pride Without Prejudice" protest.
Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — A Lincoln Park racial justice group has finalized a roadmap for how five of the city’s largest and most influential LGBTQ nonprofits can combat racism and empower Black queer people in their organizations and Chicago.

The Lighthouse Foundation, a Black- and LGBTQ-led advocacy group, released a report Thursday detailing the initial findings of its Black Queer Equity Index. The initiative — which involves the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Chicago House, Howard Brown Health and Equality Illinois — pushes those groups to add services, improve workplace environments and create more leadership opportunities for Black queer people.

The goal is to start breaking down the systemic discrimination that has created divisions in Chicago’s queer communities and left Black people behind even as the LGBTQ movement has gained more visibility and power, organizers said.

“These five organizations are the most influential and well-funded LGBTQ-serving institutions in Chicago,” according to the report. “Because of their dominance in Chicagoland, they also are charged with serving large swaths of the Black queer community.”

Credit: Jake Wittch/Block Club Chicago
The 2021 Drag March

The Black Queer Equity Index initiative is meant to create more opportunities for upward mobility for Black LGBTQ within these organizations, Jamie Frazier, executive director of the Lighthouse Foundation, previously said.

“Black queer people, especially on the South and West sides of our city, need more leadership and employment opportunities within the institutions that serve our community,” according to the report. “We believe that their empowerment will aid their institutions in more competently serving Black queer clients.”

The report details five “racial equity indicators,” or practices the organizations can implement to ensure Black LGBTQ people can thrive. Those include:

  • Allocating resources to programs for Black and Brown queer and transgender people.
  • Giving voice and power to Black queer employees.
  • Offering trainings and professional development opportunities for Black queer people to advance within the organizations.
  • Systemic action to address racism, acts of marginalization and other bad behavior within organizations.
  • Collecting demographic data that captures the intersections of marginalized identities to understand how best to support Black queer people, and identify how many are hourly employees versus salaried or contracted.

Each organization will have a year to implement the equity strategies and will receive a letter grade in 2022 reflecting its commitment to Black queer equity within its organization, according to the report.

“A root cause of Black queer marginalization is the lack of sustainable employment and leadership opportunities in our communities,” according to the report. “This dearth of opportunity for upward social mobility contributes to the adverse social, economic and health outcomes Black queer people face.”

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Jamie Frazier, lead pastor of the Lighthouse Church of Chicago and executive director of the Lighthouse Foundation.

The index’s racial equity indicators were developed based on results from four surveys that went out to the organizations and their employees earlier this year.

The Lighthouse Foundation gave out two quantitative surveys that collected data on the ages, races, gender identities and sexual orientations of its clients, employees, board members and senior staff, according to the report.

Two other surveys given to Black queer employees and board members collected anecdotal information on fair pay, micro-aggressions, upward mobility for employees, tokenism of board members, internal and external communications and anti-racism training, according to the report.

These surveys were reviewed Northwestern University’s Evaluation, Data Integration and Technical Assistance program to ensure the questions were clear and aligned with appropriate research methods, according to the report.

The Lighthouse Foundation also interviewed several Black queer employees and board members about their experiences in their organizations.

“Everyone who completed the study reported either experiencing marginalizing acts or feeling marginalized at some point in their work lives, and these Black queer employees passionately want to see this shift from marginalization through what we term optical diversity to the real work of creating equity for Black queer people,” according to the report.

Leaders of the five participating organizations praised the Black Queer Equity Index initiative when it was unveiled in April for helping them keep track of demographic data and monitor their improvements over the years.

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.

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

Protesters gathered near Progress Bar in 2019 to condemn their shortlived rap ban — and other racist incidents in Northalsted.

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

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.

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

Next year, the Lighthouse Foundation plans to expand on its Black Queer Equity Index by inviting more LGBTQ-serving organizations to participate in the initiative, Frazier said.

“While we have launched this project locally, we aim to expand the BQEI to assess organizations across Chicagoland, Illinois and the nation, including the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD,” Frazier said.

More information, including the full Black Queer Equity Index report, can be found on Lighthouse Foundation’s website.

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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