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IU club Black and Bold explores intersection of black, LGBTQ communities


Black and Bold began in fall 2018 as a small weekly discussion group in the LGBTQ+ Culture Center. Senior Deja McKenzie, left, and graduate student Phillisha Wathen, right, are the club’s student leaders. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Black and Bold, one of IU’s newest student organizations, finds its home at the intersection of the black and LGBTQ communities at IU.

The group became official in February, but it started in fall 2018 as a small weekly discussion group led by Jenifer Berry in the LGBTQ+ Culture Center.

Berry, who uses they/them pronouns, is the lead academic adviser to IU’s 21st Century Scholars program. They said they noticed a need for the discussion group when students kept returning to them, a black member of the LGBTQ community, to talk about their experience as black LGBTQ students.

“I realized there may not be other places they’re going to talk," they said.

Berry said black LGBTQ students may not always feel welcome to the LGBTQ+ Culture Center or the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. IU needed a space for the students who identify with both groups, Berry said.

“We’re wanting to bring those two spaces together so that everybody’s involved, everybody’s being educated and learning about each other,” they said.

When senior Deja McKenzie showed up to the discussion group that paved the way for the Black and Bold club, dripping sweat from running across campus, Berry was the first person to greet her. McKenzie said she planned to leave after an hour, but she stayed for four.

“It was just nice having a place where you could come together and people understand where you’re coming from,” she said.

The small group continued to meet weekly and discuss issues affecting its participants as both black and LGBTQ students, including the stigma of being part of the intersectional community, Berry said.

Eventually the group realized it could become something bigger than weekly small discussions, McKenzie said.

“There are so many of us on campus,” she said. “But we don’t know who each other is. And a lot of us don’t feel like we have a support system.”

Berry acts as faculty adviser for the group. McKenzieand graduate student Phillisha Wathen are the club’s student leaders.

The group is planning events and programs for the upcoming academic year, Berry said. It hopes to partner with other organizations on campus that are LGBTQ-based or minority-based to discuss and bring awareness to issues such as relationships and dating, sexually transmitted infections and domestic violence.

Some events are only for official members of the group who are black and LGBTQ, Berry said. But public fundraising events and some discussions are also open to students and faculty who identify as allies or partners in solidarity.

“A lot of our friends may not be black and LGBTQ+,” Wathen said. “But they’re still part of our existence, and they still make us being here at IU an enjoyable experience.”

Wathen pointed to her sticker that read “Black & Bold” in block lettering, the word “bold” designed with colors of the rainbow.

She said some African-American students might not have had the space to explore the LGBTQ community growing up because of their religion or culture, and some students might not be out yet.

The group named itself “Black and Bold” rather than a title with LGBTQ because it hopes to be a space for those still exploring their identities, too, Wathen said.

“The whole bold aspect is an aspirational goal,” she said. “So when you wear the sticker, you want to get to the point where you can say, ‘I’m black LGBTQ+.’ But at the moment you’re just working on being bold and coming out.”

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