My Life as a Professional Token

I was recently invited to a house party style networking event hosted by Fenway’s Development staff. For those of you who don’t know, I’m the founding director of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a not-for-profit social networking organization for LGBT women (including trans-people) of color, so I’m used to receiving many invitations like this; sometimes, as often as three or four times a week.

The majority of the emails begin in the same way:

“Hi, I’m the new [insert position here] at [name of organization] and I’d really like for us to get together in person or chat over the phone about how we can work collaboratively this year to make our programs and services more inclusive of [insert PC descriptors here e.g. “people of color” “women” or “members of the LGBT community”].

Early on in my organizing efforts, I’d get excited about receiving similar communications – what an honor it was to be called upon to provide support and direction on various outreach initiatives of some major non-profits! I strongly believed – and still do – that engaging in these consultative conversations would ensure that QWOC+ Boston’s successful approach to creating and sustaining diversity via community partnerships would be proliferated in the larger queer community and that ultimately, we would all win.

So, I’d happily field questions about what they could do to improve their outreach efforts, connect them to local groups that they could partner with to strengthen their POC or women’s network, suggest modifications to their event programming to create stronger resonance with their multicultural/gay/women’s contingent(s) etc., all to no avail. They would take notes, make a few e-connections, and even send follow-up “Thank You!” emails to me, but they would only ever carry out short-term fixes (such as posting more ‘diverse’ photos on their website, or modifying an event title to include more kinds of people). A few months later, I’d receive a new email from the same organization, but from a new hire or individual professing their desire to “continue the work” or “do better”, and the cycle would continue… I used to be such a sucker.

I’ve since then earned the reputation of being extremely hard to get a hold of and have become methodically selective of which emails I respond to; I’ve only gone on a handful of diversity dates within the past two months and they were each arranged via referrals or personal connections. In the case of Fenway, even though I did not know the sender directly or indirectly, I decided to make an exception. I wasn’t about to get all excited about the initiative they took to reach out to young leaders in their network – myself included, or the extensive list of VIP that was strategically appended to the invite – I’d seen this all before, but I felt like I at least owed it to my community to attend the event. After all, Fenway had been steadfast supporters of QWOC+ Boston for the past several years.

So, accompanied by a fellow POC community organizeer, off I went to yet another event, where I knew I’d most likely be one of two (but hopefully at least three) people of color in the room, hoping to change the world with my charm, energy, and great ideas.

To be continued…