Nakisha Lewis has a singular aim in all the work she’s ever done. Most recently, she’s been the Director of Women, Civil and Human Rights as an organizer with the AFL-CIO. But early in this new year, she’s taken the reins and now leads her own company, Second Syllable Inc.
The consulting firm will focus on creating more creative space and bringing Black queer women into politics and culture. Lewis explains: “I want to disrupt cultural spaces where Black women convene to make sure Black queer and trans women are included and the telling of our narratives. But I am using myself as the founder and building a platform for others also doing the work so that Black women are not added as an afterthought.”
Too often Lewis says, she’d enter spaces in which she was told in essence to be quiet and stop being a distraction which would require her to point out some facts. “We are all Black women, but you're not speaking about all of us. There's nothing here about LGBT issues,” she said.
While that sometimes could shift discussions or policies to a more inclusive and impactful place, Lewis says it’s important to not let those in power or those from the media to mollify their critics with performative crumbs.
“We need to get all of us free,” she explained. “And while places will put Billy Porter or Laverne Cox on the cover, it's not necessarily queer activists telling the story or the people working on the issues or doing the pieces who are LBGT. Our pursuit of justice is not just about pop culture, it's talking about gender identity and how folks are able to show up. There are a lot of people speaking for us, but it's not enough. Just like it's not okay to expect that having good white women telling our stories and being our allies is enough.”
Lewis, who describes herself as being a “Black femme presenting lesbian,” says this has put her in a position where some people want to ignore that she’s lesbian, or they assume she is not.
Frankly, she says, dismissing queer issues because they’re distracting from racial issues is both intellectually lazy and incorrect because it ignores queer identity among Black people. “It’s happened that people could say something derogatory, but they also might say, ‘I've got one queer voice so it's good.’ But the journey toward justice for all black people must include all of our voices and experiences.”