It’s a new web app that was recently launched by a civil rights group to help BIPOC members of the LGBTQ+/SGL community find safe and supportive businesses to patronize across the country.
Created by the queer-focused Black civil rights association, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), The Lavender Book was crowdsourced in collaboration with the non-profit LGBTQ+ tech community, Out in Tech. The site allows users to search for businesses that are black-owned, multilingual, LGBTQIA-friendly, wheel-chair accessible, etc. To better understand The Lavender Book, it’s worth knowing about its inspiration, the "Green Book."
After Victor Hugo Green visited his wife’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia and experienced the difficulties of navigating segregated America as a Black traveler, he was inspired to write the “Green Book.” The postman asked his colleagues to help him compile a list of travel-related businesses that were accommodating to African American customers traveling in New York City. Green wanted to make it easier for Black tourists to find motels, restaurants, drug stores, etc. that would not turn them away on the basis of race, as many businesses would at that time.
The 1948 edition of the “Green Book” included an introduction written by Green in which he predicted “There will be a day ... when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”
Although the United States passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and has since become substantially more integrated than it was during Green’s lifetime, not everyone can, as he hoped, “go wherever they please, without embarrassment.” Many Americans still face descrimination by business owners, whether it be the rejection of gay marriage by refusing to bake a wedding cake, or the rejection of trans rights by refusing to let customers use a gender-affirming restroom.
Executive director of Out in Tech, Andrew Lowenthal, recognizes this problem all too well. “[There] are still states where people can be denied services based on their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,” he told Time magazine.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed in U.S. state legislatures in the past six months. At least eight of these bills specifically target trans youth and have been officially signed into law. In an interview with CNN, executive director of the NBJC, David Johns, explained how creating The Lavender Book was partially a response to the danger that queer BIPOC face.
“Finding safe, supportive, responsive environments can be a tall order for Black and African diasporic LGBTQ+/SGL people,” Johns told CNN. “We created Lavender Book to serve our BIPOC LGBTQ+ community in a time where anti-discrimination efforts and safety cannot be taken for granted.”
Johns also spoke about his own experience being “a Black, same gender loving man” in an interview about the web-app with Time magazine, “[I] know that there are many places in this world that are not accessible to me should I desire to show up with my partner, or in ways that might otherwise invite people to speculate about my sexual identity,” he said.
Similar to the effort made for Black travelers by Victor Hugo Green in 1936, the NBJC and Out in Tech wanted to find a way to make something like exploring a new town or city the enjoyable experience it should be, rather than a nerve-wracking and dangerous search for hospitality, for Black and brown queer people.
While the aspirations are high, the website is still in early stages as 18-year-old Ethan Cristo discovered trying it out. “[The database] is very limited as far as how much is on there,” said Christo. “I looked up a space for ‘LGBTQ friendly’ in Chicago and it came up with nothing, which is hard for me to believe, but the UI (user-interface) and everything is very easy to use, so I think it could be an appealing option.”
As more people start to resume their pre-pandemic shopping, dining, and traveling, the Lavender Book hopes to be a resource for those looking for a business that will make you feel respected and safe.