Zuna2005_0011_1_1(photo: Samiya Bashir of NY, Me and Courtney Snowden of D.C.)

The third National Black Lesbian Conference convened in Dallas, Texas April 7-10, 2005. The conference brought together hundreds of Black lesbians and bisexual women of all ages, shapes, hair textures and shades of brown.

Organized by Black lesbian advocacy group, the Zuna Institute, conference attendees came from as far as New York and as close as California and everywhere in between to celebrate and embrace “sistahood” and a common bond of culture and attraction.

The opening plenary set the tone for the weekend’s event with a message of finding your role in this movement delivered by the National Black Justice Coalition’s Jasmyne Cannick. Attendees were encouraged to be sponges over the next three days and soak up as much information as they could to take back to their communities.

Other notable speakers included Samiya Bashir of Freedom to Marry who led a charged discussion on the role of Black lesbians in the fight for marriage equality, which also featured Equality CA’s Sylvia Rhue, PhD and United Lesbians of Heritage executive director Lisa Powell.

Donna Payne of the Human Rights Campaign moderated the conference’s political panel, which featured Courtney Snowden of D.C.’s Raben Group, Shameka Lloyd, Samiya Bashir of Freedom to Marry and the National Black Justice Coalition’s Jasmyne Cannick.

“This year’s conference was exciting because it was held in the south [Dallas] where many people think we [black lesbians] are not present,” commented Donna Payne of HRC in Washington.  “The successful work done with the Women of Distinction for the conference proved we are present in the south.”

The impact was immeasurable,” said Courtney Snowden from Washington.  “I was personally reminded that we have an army of activists ready to do the hard work necessary to change the culture of the black community and society as a whole.  We exist, and thanks to Zuna we have a supportive environment in which to network and a powerful voice advocating on our behalf.”

Other panel and workshop subjects included economics, spirituality, media, health and grassroots organizing.

A highlight of the conference was the banquet where Black lesbian comedian Karen Williams delighted attendees with her quick repartee and insightful commentaries. At one point, Williams, who is a well known and popular comic, stopped to reflect on how few opportunities there are for her to perform for Black lesbian audiences and how indebted she was to the Zuna Institute for having the conference.

“I felt honored to share in the learning, laughter and the chance to be uplifted by the collective experience, strength, hope, wisdom and wit of such a dynamic group of
women,” commented comedian Karen Williams. 

This year’s conference was dedicated to the life of Black lesbian activist Wanda Alston who was recently found murdered in her D.C. area home. Wanda, a supporter of the Zuna Institute and friends of many of the attendees was remembered by a candle lighting tribute as well as other lesbians who had since passed. The tribute was put together by Los Angeles’ Angela Odom.

Additional events included a spoken word jam and film festival.

Bishop Yvette Flunder of San Francisco’s City of Refuge United Church of Christ brought the house down at Sunday’s Gospel Brunch where she delivered a message that was well received by the standing room only crowd. Known for being an inclusive pastor, Flunder validated, lifted up and prayed for the healthy lives and relationships of the conference attendees and lesbians everywhere.

“This [GLBT] movement is political, yes,” declared Bishop Flunder. “But the under girding of everything we do must be our faith and our spirituality. We are a minority by color, by ethnicity, by sexual and affectional orientation and gender identity. But God does not need a majority to move.”

“One of the most memorable moments, for me, was to see so many woman being
delivered and loosed from their own [self] bondage,” shared Minister Doris Deckard of Dallas.  “Healing took place during the Zuna Conference and women gave their lives back to God.  That, in itself, was powerful!”

This year’s conference was sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Black Justice Coalition, Human Rights Campaign, Abbott Laboratories,

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, International Institute of Human and

Healing Arts (HaHA Institute), Black AIDS Institute, Felicia Miller, Six Star DJ and the Dallas Voice.

The National Black Lesbian Conference organizers included Vallerie Wagner of Los Angeles, Cynthia Walston of Sacramento, Zandra Conway of Atlanta and local Dallas Black lesbian group Women of Distinction.

Zuna Institute board members include Francine Ramsey, Joi Rhone

Cynthia Walston, Wendy Herndon, Karman Jarvis and Donna Payne. The organization’s executive director is Francine Ramsey of Sacramento.

The fourth National Black Lesbian Conference will take place in 2007.

For more information on the Zuna Institute and the National Black Lesbian Conference, please visit www.zunainstitute.org.

Additional Information

Zuna Institute – www.zunainstitute.org

Women of Distinction – www.dallasfamily.org