The Forgotten Family: This House is Also a Home

By Serena Johnson, Chief Program Officer at Family Equality

For years, the ballroom houses and community have provided a safe haven to Brown and Black LGBTQ+ youth, giving them a home when their biological families have disowned them or failed to acknowledge them for who they are. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Only 10% of LGBTQ+ youth often hear their biological family express pride in their LGBTQ+ identities.”  When considering family building within the LGBTQ+ community there are several accepted, valued, and supported identities seen as “true” families, but one historically-dismissed group has worked for years to gain visibility and be accepted for what they are: a family.

The modern ballroom culture has been in existence for over five decades. Behind the glitz, glamor and lights of ballroom festivities are the house mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents—queer folks of color who have made their ballroom houses a home. In short, these homes have all of the traditional make-ups of their counterpart families, providing safe spaces, shelter, love, guidance and protection to the familial members.

So, what’s different here? Are these spaces not homes? Do the nights of music, makeup, elaborate costumes, and performance categories disqualify this family from being considered a home? Or is it simply that they are excluded based upon race? Why don’t self-identifying LGBTQ+ organizations seek to include this family and the larger ballroom community in their events, visibility efforts, and as financial recipients, like any other “traditional” LGBTQ+ household? As a largely marginalized and excluded family in itself, is there really a traditional LGBTQ+ family? Or are we all made up of equally valuable families with diverse intersections that all coincide with and are founded in Love?

Watch: An Interview with Jey’nce Poindexter

Family Equality’s Chief Program Officer, Serena Johnson, sits down with Jey’nce Poindexter, the Iconic House Mother for the Legendary House of Mizrahi—her family, safe haven, and community for nearly 20 years.

Jey’nce Poindexter is a nationally acclaimed advocate for the LGBTQ community. She serves as a voice for survivors of racial injustice, domestic violence, sexual assault, partner-on-partner violence, and HIV/AIDS. Jey’nce is the Trans Sistas of Color Project’s vice president and a co-chair of the Fair and Equal initiative. She recently joined the staff of the Ruth Ellis Center

As many organizations have shifted towards a realization of what truly matters most over the past year, and with injustice and inequality becoming harder to ignore, building a race equity culture that prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion has become increasingly important for the mainstream. For communities who have faced the highest rates of oppression, this is a glimmer of long-awaited light at the end of a far too long tunnel. With this in mind, it is vital for leaders within LGBTQ+ organizations and the community-at-large to build equity, make room for visibility, and develop recognition efforts for the often ignored family system.

Need to know where to start?

  1. Incorporate Black AND Brown representation on your boards to help shape the way your organization operates.
  2. Seek out and engage Black AND Brown queer folks within your community, or a nearby community, to hire as consultants with equitable pay to bridge the hard to fill cultural gaps that are so often present within non-profit sectors.
  3. Be open to what you don’t know and avoid overtly allowing personal bias to creep into these conversations.
  4. Think creatively when requesting grant and donor funds, seek opportunities to provide financial assistance to non-traditional LGBTQ+ families most impacted by oppression.
  5. Use your privilege to be a voice and build increased visibility for the forgotten families within the LGBTQ+ community.

Let’s get this right. Let’s seek ways to become inclusive of all LGBTQ+ family systems including those families that have been formed out of a love for each other and the ballroom community.