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Fight my battles: gay pride month special, June 2005: books to tackle life's legal complications in the black LGBT community.

Debates about the legal issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community have a couple of things in common. Most frequently, the discussions center on the rights that accompany the recognition of same-sex unions, and that they seldom hold the community of color as their central focus. Clearly, the black LGBT community faces the challenge of alienation.

The current literature's ambivalence about race suggests that racism in America is a non-issue. As the daily lives of nonheterosexual African Americans prove that the facets of their identity are inextricably connected, how should this community respond to a body of literature that presumes that its legal problems begin and end with its sexuality?

According to the 2000 United States Census, black same-sex households constitute 14 percent of all same-sex households in the country. Not only do the census results point to the fact that these individuals exist, but they also identify a community that embodies a nexus of the issues facing black Americans and gay Americans.

For example, black same-sex couples report lower earnings than black married couples do and considerably less still than their white counterparts. In short, both race and sexual orientation play undeniable roles in determining the livelihoods of black LGBT people. These economic distinctions, in turn, affect access to legal counsel, which may serve as a portal through which LGBT individuals secure rights and benefits otherwise unavailable to them.

The importance of legal counsel is not lost on John Keene, author of the 1995 novel Annotations (New Directions Publishing), and his partner, Curtis. The assistant professor of English and African American Studies at Northwestern University has been partnered for 17 years. The couple recently registered as domestic partners in New Jersey, the fourth state to enable same-sex couples to gain next-of-kin rights, file joint state tax returns and have access to hospital visitation, among other things.

"When we purchased our home in New Jersey together, we had to do so under joint tenancy to protect our rights as a couple and as individuals," Keene says. "Our lawyer, based in Jersey City, has been very helpful in helping us think about our will, which will only reinforce the domestic partnership statute's powers in preserving our rights."

Among other legal issues that concern LGBT individuals and couples are workplace discrimination, hate crimes, child custody, adoption rights, sex classification changes and health insurance issues. Finding books and other resources that address these issues is often difficult.

The Invisible Market

The magnitude of the legal issues is corroborated by the policy priorities identified in the watershed 2000 report Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud, a study conducted by nine local Black Pride organizations, five prominent African American researchers, and the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. This study, which surveyed over 2,500 people at pride celebrations in nine cities, represents the largest national, multicity sample of black LGBT people ever taken.

While many participants polled identify as "out" to some degree, a presumably larger percentage of men and women do not. Lisa C. Moore, founder of Redbone Press, suggests that the black LGBT community's general lack of visibility could be indicative of why books on the legal issues that accompany the black LGBT experience do not exist. "If we are not visible, it makes it harder for publishers to market to us," she says.

As the LGBT movement surges ahead, it will continue to be challenged to acknowledge and honor its own diversity. The visibility of black LGBT individuals seeking equal rights, benefits and protections under the law is key in securing their place in a national dialogue that all too frequently focuses exclusively on one aspect of identity or the other.

Steven G. Fullwood is the author of Funny: A Collection of Essays (Vintage Entity Press, May 2004) and the project director of the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Larry D. Lyons H is a Ph.D. candidate in Princeton University's department of English. They are engaged to be married in 2006.

The Help Desk

Here are a few titles on LGBT legal issues. For more information on resources, log on to our Web site in June:

Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage by David Moats, Harcourt, January 2005 $14, ISBN 0-151-01017-X

Moats chronicles the battle over gay marriage in Vermont, which culminated in 2000 with the first state law allowing gay civil unions. The author brings a balanced perspective and urgency to the judicial and legislative drama, which registers on a personal scale.

HIV, AIDS, and the Law: Legal Issues for Social Work Practice and Policy by Donald T. Dickson, Aldine, June 2001 $49.95, ISBN 0-202-36127-6

Dickson integrates two fields of knowledge (law and social work) by choosing selectively those laws having particular relevance to social work practice in the area of HIV/AIDS.

Homosexuality and the Law: A Dictionary by Chuck Stewart, ABC-Clio Inc. April 2001, $55, ISBN 1-576-07267-3

A comprehensive and thoroughly researched work that considers the legal issues that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people face daily.

Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples by Hayden Curry, Denis Clifford and Frederick Hertz, NOLO, February 2004 $29.99, ISBN 0-873-37998-5

Completely revised and updated to cover new domestic-partnership laws in California and New Jersey, same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and Canada, the latest on raising children and updated estate planning laws.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:out; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community
Author:Lyons Larry D.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
Previous Article:Noteworthy titles.
Next Article:Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America.

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