When Khalil Edwards came out as gay to his family in 1998 it was a “nonissue”—his parents had been doing LGBTQ activism for years and his brother was prepared to defend him. But the outside world was not as ready to stand by his side.
“Outside influences were telling me I needed to be the baddest, have the most women, have the most money, and let the world know,” Edwards says. “There is homophobia in every community, but being black and gay not only forces you to deal with double discrimination, there is a cultural element to homophobia in the black community that I believe is rooted in racism.”
Edwards’ parents, Keith and Antoinette, have been working to change the cultural elements at the root of homophobia in the African-American community, and society at large, since at least 1992, when the couple worked with African-Americans Against Measure 9 to defeat the anti-gay ballot measure.
In the years before her son came out, Antoinette had already helped start the Gay-Straight Alliance at Jefferson High School, where she worked as a family resource center coordinator. So when Edwards left the closet, he stepped out into a family already passionately engaged in the struggle for LGBTQ equality.
His parents also knocked on doors in an effort to defeat Measure 36 in 2004 and, most recently, in 2009 the couple helped start the first black chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in the country.
Their son now serves as the coordinator for the PFLAG Portland Black Chapter, keeping the spirit of family activism alive and working to share the Edwards tradition of love and acceptance with the broader community.
“My personal goal and my goal for Black PFLAG is to erase the horror stories of coming out that, thankfully, I never had to experience, but that too many others have, and do, and will,” Edwards says. “My goal is to remind everyone that we all want the same things and should all be given the same things. We all want to be loved, accepted and respected for who we are.”
Despite being a young, trailblazing organization, PFLAG PBC is bringing much needed services to the local community while setting an example for the only other black PFLAG chapter, in Chicago.
“PFLAG PBC is only in its second year, but it has grown and evolved immensely, and fills a void in our region,” Edwards says. “Portland has no other organization that addresses the needs and concerns of LGBTQ black people. PFLAG PBC does not just offer support for family and friends, but for LGBTQ black people as well, providing a place where they can bring all their identities and have them honored.”