Post submitted by J. Robby Gregg, Jr., HRC Diversity & Inclusion Council Co-Chair

Do you have a mentor? You know, someone who guides your steps, accepts you just as you are and is spirited enough to call you out when needed? For more than thirty years, Dr. Maya Angelou has been my adopted mother and mentor. Sitting here with Dr. Angelou at her home in North Carolina, I can think of no better place to consider what Black History Month means to me this year.

While I have always had the ongoing support and love of sheroes like Dr. Maya Angelou, I have long hoped to be welcomed and openly accepted as a gay man by the broader African-American community. As a diversity practitioner, I have dedicated my career to engaging individuals and organizations around tenets of inclusion. However, I have not always felt a sense of inclusion from my black brothers and sisters.

As we approach Black History Month, I am thinking of leaders like Bayard Rustin, the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin was widely viewed as the only civil rights activist capable of organizing a protest of such unprecedented scale – and he was openly gay. Unfortunately, Rustin was eliminated from Dr. Martin Luther King’s inner circle three years before the March due to the potential of media coverage that might highlight Rustin’s sexuality. When it became apparent that his tactical advice and nonviolent techniques were crucial to the March, Dr. King called Rustin. We now know Rustin as “Mr. March on Washington,” but throughout his lifetime he dealt with the confluence of his race, politics and sexuality in a fiercely homophobic era.

 Thankfully, the national landscape has changed. We see it in our daily lives, in our families, churches and communities where African-Americans are embracing their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters. Fifty years after the March on Washington, and for the first time in history, the LGBT community was referenced in a president’s inauguration address. The iconic image of PFLAG’s founder, Jeanne Manford, stood side-by-side with iconic images of Dr. King on the Civil Rights float in the inauguration. And, in a move of solidarity, members of the black clergy in the state of Maryland convened a press conference at the National Press Club in support of marriage equality. This level of public support, and visibility, solidifies a new confluence of acceptance, freedom and love from the broader African-American community that moves beyond the conventions of race, politics and sexuality.

This year Black History Month signals a feeling of appreciation for my whole person unlike any other I have experienced.

I feel blessed that in both my career, as the Associate Director of Equality & Diversity Partnerships at PFLAG National, and in my volunteerism, as co-chair of the Diversity Council of the Human Rights Campaign, and my work with the See Forever Foundation/Maya Angelou Public Charter Schools,  I get to look daily for ways to create greater inclusion for all.

I invite you to have the courage to share a story, or experience that brings the importance of understanding our black or brown brothers and sisters as we continue to steward the promise of equality for all.

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