The National Black Justice Coalition, the country's only nationwide black LGBT civil rights organization, has named its new executive director. Sharon J. Lettman succeeds Alexander Robinson and Dr. Sylvia Rhue, who has served as the interim ED since June. And this is major: Lettman is a straight ally and becomes the only straight black woman running a major black LGBT organization.
Lettman has impressive progressive credentials. She comes to NBJC after eight years at People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Letterman spearheaded the African American Religious Affairs Program at PFAWF that addressed homophobia in the black church. The Gill Foundation highlighted her in its 2008 annual report as a "key ally" to the LGBT equality movement.
Lettman says: "We must bring our families together. Gay and transgender people are our children, our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, parents, co-workers and friends. They are a vital part of the black community, and it is time for everyone to recognize the real issues we all face when our brothers and sisters are denied full participation in the life of our community."
NBJC Deputy Director Jason W. Bartlett, who made history as the first openly gay black state legislator in the nation when he was elected to the Connecticut assembly in February 2008, tells Rod 2.0 that hiring a straight ally to lead the NBJC was the right thing to do. "NBJC is poised to go to another level. The question was, 'Who could bring us there?' Sharon is fierce in her advocacy and I am convinced she can open a few doors, She can begin the conversation especially with black women. As one of the few [black gay] elected officials in this country, nobody understands this better, you have to build bridges to the straight black community and deal with homophobia. Sharon can be our bridge."
In recent months the National Black Justice Coalition has made inroads working with straight black allies. In July, it became the first black LGBT organization to address the NAACP's annual convention. NAACP also announced an LGBT Equality Task Force partnership with the group. NBJC also coordinated with NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus to demand a congressional investigation into the death of Navy Seaman August Provost III, the black gay sailor found brutally murdered at Camp Pendleton.
Lettman's appointment makes a strong statement about making inroads with the larger black community and building potential bridges to the black church. They're desperately needed. Congratulations to Sharon Lettman and the NBJC.
Thanks: Donna P @ HRC, Jason B @ NBJC. Kellee and Cindi @ GLAAD