1979: Uniting Voices – The First Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference

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Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference

In the chill of October 1979, a profound warmth emerged in Washington D.C., emanating from a historic gathering that would forever mark a pivotal point in the narrative of the LGBTQ+ movement.

It was a momentous meeting, the first of its kind, where Third World Lesbians and Gay men found themselves shoulder to shoulder, their diverse voices merging into a singular, powerful roar that reverberated through the nation’s capital and beyond. 

Driven by a two-fold ambition – to form a national network and confront the myriad prejudices they faced – this conference was more than just a series of discussions; it was the beacon that led to a trailblazing tradition of Black Gay conferences.

Also Read: Homophobia in the Black Community: The Ultimate Guide!

On October 12th, 1979 an historic event occurred in Washington, D.C.

For the first time Third World Lesbians and Gay men came together in a working conference to discuss past problems, present realities and future plans. The goals of the conference were twofold:

  1. To establish a national network for Third World Lesbians and Gay men.
  2. To confront the issues of racism, sexism, homophobia and “heterophobia” among, by and against Third World Lesbians and Gay men.

And though they may sound like the lofty goals usually floated at these types of events, the conference actually succeeded on several levels.

Many activists at the conference went back to their communities and started their own groups, and a tradition of Black Gay conferences began that would continue for several years.

Also Read: The National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays: The Ultimate Guide!

Saturday, October 13th

Workshops were held that included: Coming Out, Parenting, Homophobia in the Black community and Political Organizing.

The three day event, which was sponsored by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians & Gays (NCBLG) and the National Gay Task Force, attracted 500 participants from 39 states and two countries to the Harambee House Hotel, a new, Black-owned hotel across from Howard University. (Howard now owns the property.)

Harambee, the Swahili word for “together,” describes the mood that prevailed that weekend as Blacks, Native Americans, Chicanos, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders came together as a unified body.

To pick out highlights of the weekend would be difficult, there were so many: the cultural event, the general sessions, and the march down Georgia Avenue, to name three. But all would agree that the stirring speech on “survival” by keynote speaker Audre Lorde on Friday, October 12th would top the list. She moved many in the audience to the point of tears with her powerful words.

Also Read: The Dissent over Mandela’s Tribute: A Battle of Respect and Power

On Sunday, October 14th

Conference attendees marched down Georgia Avenue, through the heart of the Black community, to the site of the first National March On Washington on the Mall

On Monday, October 15th

A group of Lesbian and Gay activists met with a White House aide to discuss Gay Rights, from a Third-World perspective.

The First Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference, October 12th to 15th, 1979. To many who were there, it won’t be forgotten.

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Serwaa, a gifted storyteller with a knack for uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary. Her words dance across pages, painting vibrant narratives on culture, human rights, and everything in between. While she's not weaving tales, you'll find her playing the cello or planning her next globetrotting adventure. You might say she's a bit of a 'renaissance woman' - but she'd just call it 'embracing her curiosity'!