LGBTQ+ is Not the New Black: Moving Toward Belonging

Rev. Dr. Lacette Cross, a Black bisexual woman, reveals a compelling tale of navigating diverse identities, co-founding a Black Pride festival, and the pursuit of true belonging. Delve into her thought-provoking journey, guided by compassion, care, and commitment, as she unveils the keys to advancing racial equity and justice in Richmond and beyond. Find out how she unravels the mystery of cultivating authenticity in a world filled with complex intersections.

Richmond Racial Equity Essays — 2023 Series
Rev. Dr. Lacette Cross

Bringing Our Whole Selves

In every room I enter, I bring all of who I am, all at once. This is true for every one of us. Each time we walk through the doors of places we live, work, play, worship, and visit, parts of who we are enters with us. The essence of our humanity consists of the individual identity characteristics that make us uniquely ourselves. I am privileged to navigate this world as a Black, bisexual, baptist-ordained fat femme woman. Born and raised on the West Coast and now living in the South, my diverse identities shape who I am and how I engage with the people and places around me. These intersections also influence the community work I am involved in. Embracing this, I co-founded UGRC/Black Pride RVA, Virginia's first Black Pride LGBTQ+ festival. I also became the first Black queer woman to lead Diversity Richmond, the region's LGBTQ+ community hub. With this background and through the lens of an experienced DEI facilitator, I hope to offer insights on advancing racial equity, inclusion, and justice work in Richmond. 

In my opinion, a true mark of an inclusive community is the ability of everyone to show up as they are and experience a sense of acceptance and belonging. This is the hope, but there are challenges to achieving this ideal. Challenges Our community is ready to face directly with compassion, care, and commitment. 

Turning Our Focus to Belonging

To advance the work of racial equity and justice in Richmond, we have to pivot away from forcefully making people like everybody around them to inviting people into a deeply introspective, relationship-building process. One that brings in and advances values like safety, freedom, collaboration, trust, and belonging. To do this, we'll need to redirect our previous efforts that focused primarily on memorizing vast lists of terms and move toward seeing the fullness of humanity in every person. We must refrain from practicing political correctness with one another and start valuing the differences that make us better together. The time is now to deepen the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion centered on the premise that we all deserve to experience a sense of belonging.  

Belonging is defined by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place. The idea connects to a core human need to be in relationship with others. Brene Brown, most famously known for her research on shame, vulnerability, and courage, suggests that "[w]e confuse belonging with fitting in" by creating environments where people are expected to show up as others want them to be rather than showing up as their full authentic self. The work of what is next for equity and justice in Richmond and beyond is moving the needle from transactional tactics to transformational work that invites each of us to "transform [ourselves] to transform [our] world."  

Shifting Away from Oppression Olympics 

In 2020, we were all impacted by George Floyd's murder and the national, global amplification of racism in its many insidious ways. Many of us remember the rolling out of solidarity statements from nonprofits and small and large businesses. How could we ever forget the influx of knowledge and information that overflowed on social media, in our teams at work, and even in our places of worship and community? There was no place we could turn without hearing the buzzwords white privilege, equity, racism, white supremacist culture, capitalism, etc. This trend started with primarily focusing on blackness and how not to be racist. However, for all of my colleagues/siblings with other racial/ethnic identities, the Black/White conversation was not enough. And for those comrades experiencing the world from various sexual orientations and gender identities, the conversation consistently felt exclusive. Before realizing it, we all became complicit in oppression olympics.  

Oppression olympics is the idea that people from marginalized identity groups are competing "to determine who has it worst based on their overall experience of oppression." Meaning one marginalized identity fights to make the compounding nature of their oppression greater than another. For instance, this concept might suggest that an Asian, disabled, queer person is somehow more impacted than a Black, neurodivergent, transgender person. However, within systems of domination, there is no prize for being the most marginalized group or the singular community that gets the most attention at any given moment. It is critical to recognize that oppression systematically divides all of us, and it does so intentionally. Nobody wins in oppression olympics. We can, however, shift away from these games by owning the fullness of what makes us who we are. Naming our identity intersections with pride powerfully shifts our sense of self. It opens the possibility for a greater belonging.

Moving Towards Belonging with Compassion, Care, and Commitment

Approximately three years after a national awakening regarding racism, I have noticed increased requests for LGBTQ+ inclusion training, at times to the overshadowing or evading of racial equity work. When fielding facilitation and training requests focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion, I get the sense that people think focusing on sexual orientation and gender identity is the logical next step in the diversity, equity, and inclusion process; that somehow this shift away from race to sexuality/gender identity is deepening their racial equity work. This is not true, and it feels a bit like oppression olympics. 

Racial equity work is racial equity work. Inclusion work is inclusion work. Both remain necessary in the places we live, work, play, worship, and visit. And while we find ourselves in a social-political moment that shifts our attention away from race "only" to race "and," the invitation is not to stop one effort to focus on another. The invitation is to find space for both equity and inclusion work that seamlessly threads race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, neurodivergent status, and other aspects of identity into the work of fostering a culture of belonging in our workplaces and communities.  

What, then, will be the thread that connects us? How do we advance equity and justice work together? How can we systematically shift towards liberation and belonging? And how can we do this in harmonious ways, guided by progressive values and honoring the intentions of good people who believe that everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and included? 

We can find the answers to these questions in three practices that center the intersections of our humanity and push us beyond the imaginary boundaries constructed by systemic oppression: cultivating compassion, circulating care, and celebrating commitment

Cultivate Compassion. In the book Holding Change, adrienne maree drown has gathered a collection of essays that offers guidance and reflection on facilitating change with people who share a common goal. She writes, "holding change is to make it easy for people with shared intentions to be around each other." In moving towards belonging, we must create spaces to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. Compassion is best understood as the ability to relate to another person and want to help them. When considering equity work that moves toward belonging, we practice this by: 

  • Listening to what others share about their story, hopes, and needs. 
  • Connecting along shared values that support belonging.
  • Reflecting on who you are and how you want to show up.

Circulate Care. The work to foster belonging in workplaces and communities is hard. Brene Brown shares in Daring Greatly, "When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection." And once we lose our connection with one another, we stop caring about each other's humanity. Every one of us knows the sting of equity conversations gone bad. The practice of circulating care moves us towards belonging by:

  • Honoring each person's feelings as valid and deserving of care
  • Calling out negative behavior with compassion
  • Sharing with others in supportive and kind ways

Celebrate Commitment. The journey of equity and inclusion work is replete with highs and lows. For us to stay on the path and not be discouraged by the difficulty of bringing about collective liberation, we must find moments to celebrate the small actions that move us toward belonging. Each of us brings a commitment to equity and justice work that spurs us forward and is worthy of celebration. We do this by: 

  • Offering gratitude for small wins
  • Saying thank you to someone after challenging conversations
  • Making time to have fun together in creative ways

Why LGBTQ+ is not the new Black?!?

LGBTQ+ is not the new Black because humans will always and forever remain complex, nuanced beings. Just as they did before 2020, our family, friends, colleagues, and co-workers have continued to live at the identity intersections they were blessed to enter this world as. Regardless of the shifts and turns of the social-political landscape, we must contend with what it means to be fully and wholly who we are. We will consistently be in places and spaces where our differences show up, and rather than leaning into oppression olympics, we have an opportunity to create space for everyone to be their authentic selves. As long as humans live in active, vibrant, thriving communities, we will need to feel a sense of belonging. I hope this essay inspires you to cultivate compassion, circulate care, and celebrate commitment as a way of moving us all toward belonging in Richmond and beyond. 

About the author

Rev. Dr. Lacette Cross

Rev. Dr. Lacette Cross, is a faith leader, non-profit professional, facilitator, advocate and professor. She has a wide breadth of experience working with people in diverse communities to make connections across difference in the service of healing, wholeness and liberation. She works at the intersection of topics such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ inclusion, diversity, gender, justice, religion and leadership. She has presented locally and nationally at conferences, seminars, and retreats. Dr. Cross develops models and frameworks that help bring people together who are committed to improving their community, transforming their workplace and positively impacting their world. Her work has been shared across diverse platforms through podcasts, blogs and essays. Rev. Dr. L wears many hats in the Greater Richmond community. She is the pastor of Restoration Fellowship RVA, founder/CEO of Will You Be Whole, a co-founder of UGRC/Black Pride RVA, and an adjunct professor at VCU. She has degrees in social work and theology. Dr. L has participated in community and health-equity focused fellowships and been honored for her work in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Diversity Richmond. Lacette spends the free time she has traveling, reading and hanging with close friends.

Rev. Dr. Lacette Cross
About the author

Rev. Dr. Lacette Cross

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