Donna Payne is the Human Rights Campaign's Deputy Director for Diversity. She's also one of the highest profile out black lesbians in Washington D.C. and a friend of Rod 2.0. Donna was gracious enough to share with Rod 2.0 her personal story of meeting the late Dr. Dorothy Height for the first time, and, the how the "godmother of civil rights" became an inspiration.
Reflections on Dr. Dorothy Height from an Out Black Lesbian by Donna Payne
The first time I met Dorothy Height, I was 29, a member of the Political Congress of Black Women, and struggling to find my place in the civil rights movement as a black lesbian.
It seemed back then, that I had an awful choice to make: I could ignore my sexual orientation and remain active with the Civil Rights movement. Or, I could come out and forget about following those aspirations. I felt the African-American Civil Rights community would never accept an out Black Lesbian. But then again, I hadn’t talked to Dorothy Height.
I had read about Dr. Height and was simply in awe. Dorothy Height had been mentored by Mary McCloud Bethune. In the Sixties, she organized "Wednesday’s in Mississippi" which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding. I knew that she regularly advised First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and encouraged appointments of African American women during President Lyndon Johnson’s term.
One day, while ushering at an event given by the Political Congress of Black Women, I got to meet her. Far from being tongue-tied, I had a million questions beginning with, "What can I do to help the world like you have done?" Dr. Height politely asked my name and then said, "Donna, just be yourself and get involved wherever you feel comfortable." It was transformative. I replayed that message over and over for years: "Be yourself, do whatever feels comfortable."
Donna Payne continues and watch Dr. Dorothy Height at the 1997 Human Rights Campaign Annual Dinner AFTER THE JUMP ...