Employees from a national company supporting LGBTQ+ rights march during the city’s annual Gay Pride parade on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Robin Rayne)

The murders of several LGBTQ+ people and allies in recent weeks are raising alarms across the U.S. Recently, O’Shae Sibley was stabbed to death in Brooklyn after he was confronted by a group who made homophobic slurs and Laura Ann Carleton was killed in California for refusing to remove a Pride flag from her store.  

The untimely death of the victims is symbolic of the hate still faced by the LGBTQ+ community, particularly against queer Black people. 

According to GLAAD, a non-profit organization focused on LGBTQ advocacy and cultural change, nine out of 10 heterosexual Americans (91%) think that LGBTQ people should live without facing discrimination; 84% support equal rights for the LGBTQ community.” 

However, according to CEO of GLADD Sarah Kate Ellis in a PBS NewsHour interview, GLADD documented a “more-than-300 percent increase in anti-LBTQ incidents during this past Pride Month over last year.”  

The Atlanta Voice spoke with Charles Stephens, CEO of the Counter Narrative Project (CNP), about the safety of the Atlanta LGBTQ+ community. 

Photo: B&B Visuals

The Atlanta Voice: Considering O’Shae’s death and other recent queer violence, what are some topics CNP are discussing regarding LGBTQ+ safety in Atlanta? 

Charles Stephens: Safety for the Black LGBTQ+ community has always been a programmatic and advocacy priority for the Counter Narrative Project (CNP). We are currently working with our network of media partners and content creators, to raise awareness around violence, and safety for our community.  

AV: What are your thoughts on everything that has been happening lately involving the LGBTQ+ community? 

CS: I have a number of concerns about the lack of safety and continued vulnerability of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically the Black LGBTQ+ community. My hope is that: (1) There is more support and resources available for Black LGBTQ+ organizations and efforts to advocate for our safety and combat violence. (2) More spaces will emerge to facilitate movement building across communities. Marginalized communities are under attack at this moment. We must find ways to stand in solidarity and support each other. (3) Build and strengthen coalitions, especially in Atlanta, to advance the safety of our community. Coalition building is the practice of intersectional politics. (4) More resources and support from the philanthropic community to strengthen rapid response anti-violence work, and also, community healing to repair the harm that was done.  

AV: O’Shae’s passing made it very clear that just expressing yourself can be dangerous. What kinds of tips can people use to stay safe? 

CS: Though I do care very much about safety and being safe, I also want to be careful that engaging in conversations around personal safety does not suggest we are letting the people and institutions who hurt us, harm us, and murder us, off the hook. The solutions, I don’t believe, exist only in attempts at personal safety. We must address institutional and societal failure. The utter lack of value placed on the lives of Black people, and Black LGBTQ+ people specifically, is a societal failure. Until we change the systems and institutions we live in, I’m not sure if any of us will ever really be safe.   

AV: What are some tips to diffuse a situation where you are in a situation where you feel unsafe or in danger?  

CS: My hope is that, in the short-term, as a community we create safety systems and networks available for us when we are in need. I’m more interested in collective community protection and healing, than individual safety. But I can’t express enough that as long as we experience structural violence, we will experience physical violence, even death.  

AV: What is the importance of staying unified as a community in such a hateful period? 

CS: We must not only remain unified, but practice compassion for each other. Compassion is what sustains unity. It’s difficult to fight a system without absorbing some of its poisons. We must be careful not to reproduce, or even become, the systems that we are hoping to transform.  

AV: There’s a silent, yet loud battle against the LGBTQ+ community, what could be done to help educate people and shed light on these issues? 

CS: The role of journalists, content creators and storytellers has never been more important. The silent but loud battle you describe concerns policy, but I would argue, and just as critically, is a battle of narrative, and we must shape it. My hope is that more media organizations will create community journalism programs to encourage activists, organizers, and other community members, to document what’s happening to us. Organizations must also convene activists and storytellers together, because successful advocacy, issue education, and political mobilization, requires effective storytelling.  

AV: Do you have anything else to add? 

CS: Even in my moments of greatest despair, I take inspiration from the words of the Black gay poet Essex Hemphill, “Let us not accept partial justice. If we believe our lives are priceless we can’t be conquered.”