Lena Waithe talks Black LGBTQ representation, 'bittersweet' election win for Kamala Harris
Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe's identity as a Black queer woman has empowered her to be a force for positive change in Hollywood.
Her intersectional identity "made me stand out," Waithe said during a virtual discussion on Thursday sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign.
Waithe's appearance was a part of the HRC Foundation's annual HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) Leading in Truth Symposium, for LGBTQ student leaders of historically Black colleges and universities.
Waithe has quite the resume to share. She's a writer, actor and producer, and created Showtime's coming-of-age drama "The Chi," which premiered in 2018. As someone who didn't have many Black lesbian role models growing up, she's become one.
Despite the progress Waithe and others have in entertainment and other industries toward representation, LGBTQ and Black youth – specifically those at the intersection of those identities – live in a world where they can't always live freely.
"That saddens me, that they are born soldiers fighting in a war that they never started," she said. She believes the burden shouldn't always be on youth to fix the problem.
Waithe said the fights for racial justice and LGBTQ rights are not connected enough, even though both communities are marginalized and disenfranchised in many ways.
She said that many people who watch "The Chi" are aware she's a Black lesbian. But when a queer character takes center stage on the show, people on social media, they are taken aback. Someone on social media came to Waithe's defense: "Why would you expect a queer Black person to have a show where there isn't queer Black representation?"
Waithe said that artists are merely reflecting society as they see it.
"It really can't be the job of the artist to change the world," Waithe said. "It's the job of the artist to reflect the world back to itself." Some people may want to see themselves through a funhouse mirror, or in HD; everyone sees the world through a different lens. Spike Lee, Tyler Perry and Ava DuVernay are all Black directors who will make different movies about their different experiences.
As for what contribution Waithe hopes to make in the industry: "What I want to do is just support the black LGBTQIA community however I can and and maybe support causes in those communities that mean something to me," she said. "I want to be able to help them build a space where they can continue to tell stories, which I think is as much a part of revolution as walking down the streets and protesting. Unity may be a long way off, but supporting each other is easy. That we can do today."
Waithe is excited for the next generation of Black LGBTQ activists because they have megaphones to reach more people, thanks to social media.
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Waithe called the election of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris "bittersweet," given the country's foundation on systemic racism.
"It's exciting to be turning a page, to be walking into a new chapter, but until we deal with the chapters before it, this will continue to be cyclical," she said. "The pendulum will continue to swing back and forth. At some point, we have to get to a place where we aren't so divided."
Still, "We can't not celebrate" the achievement, "but we also have to acknowledge where we are and how long this took and in the work that we really have to do. Because as we all know, the inauguration is the wedding. But the marriage is going to take work and time and everybody's energy."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lena Waithe discusses Black LGBTQ representation, Kamala Harris