Browse Category: Gender and LGBT Issues

Queer Women of Color Still Face Racism During Pride, Among Other Things

In response to mainstream prides everywhere, including both the racism and sexism that pervades the larger gay community, Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) hosts OPTIONZ — in its fifth year — tonight, a highly anticipated annual pride party specifically created to provide a space for lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender and queer women of color and their friends, supporters, and allies during pride. But as excited as I am about QWOC+ Boston’s work in ensuring that we — women of color — are celebrated and visible during pride, that this is not the main subject of my post. If you follow QWOC+ Boston, you may have noticed on Facebook or any of our other social media channels, that our OPTIONZ party needed to be relocated to a new venue.

The reason for the venue change is that, last-minute, the previous venue, Caprice Lounge, presented me with some new terms: “No Hip Hop music, because of issues we’ve had in the past.”

Now, QWOC+ Boston has had a long-standing relationship with Caprice; we’ve been hosting events at their venue for the past three years. The reason, they gave, for the new policy was due to some recent violence that ensued after a Hip Hop show they hosted. Besides the fact that we’ve never had a single fight break out at a QWOC+ Boston event, it seemed ludicrous that the management had decided to villainize an entire genre of music based on a one-off incident. Something else that really pissed me off is that after informing us that we could not play Hip Hop at our party, we were offered a slew of other genres we could play as substitute including… (wait for it)… Rock music. So while we’re on stereotypes, it’s okay to play angry white man music, but not angry black man music? Wow.

Racist stereotypes aside, I was also only told that we could not play Hip Hop music on Tuesday (just two days before our event), which also seemed shady and manipulative. There had been no mention of this during our earlier communications. So, despite the fact that they’d been pushing for a large venue deposit to be made and incessantly trying to get me to sign a contract that would guarantee them two thousand dollars from the bar (of which I’d be liable if it was not met), I’m just floored that they had the audacity to limit whatever kind of music we played at our party.

So, guess what I said? HELLLL NO!

Okay. Not exactly in those words. I needed to be realistic. Despite the outrage expressed by community members after I’d relayed the incident — including the collective push for us to say goodbye to Caprice, I wasn’t sure it would be possible to find another venue, not during one of the busiest seasons of the year — weddings, graduations, prides etc — with just TWO days to go before the event.

So, rather than be seduced by the opportunity to give Caprice a self-righteous middle finger — and run the risk of having to cancel our pride party altogether —  I told the event coordinator at Caprice to send me the contract with all terms laid out; I would look it over and get back to her. In the meantime, I reached out to other venues comparable in size, and after just one day of mass emails and phone calls, I got lucky.

Market Lounge was big enough to accommodate us. Moreover, they weren’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to use the space (since they had no competing events during our event time). In fact, they seemed excited about getting the business of over 150 pride-ful peeps on a Thursday night. We had struck gold! Or so everyone thought…so  the applause began.

Great decision. Excellent. Yay for saying no to racism! But what I didn’t tell people, was that the new venue had a similar (albeit less overtly racist) dress code policy; a variation of the all too familiar Boston ‘dress code’ which goes something similar to “No hats, no sneakers, no do-rags, no athletic wear… women in dresses/skirts, men in collars etc” was prominently displayed on the wall by the entrance to their establishment. Here’s the picture on the right.

Making a decision based on who was less racist seemed impractical, so we went with this new venue because they were responsive, accommodating of our group last minute, the management agreed to not enforce their dress code policy during our event, and most importantly, they weren’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to bring them business (vs. Caprice that was essentially trying to make us pay them to go against our ideals).

Here’s the thing folks… I’ve been an event organizer for over five years, and I know first hand that most — if not all — downtown club venues have similar racist policies intended to keep “those people” out of their clubs. It doesn’t take a genius to note that these policies are overtly racist. In fact, as you read through the banned items of clothing, you’re almost expecting to come across, “No Black People,” towards the end of the list.

Venue policies are a stark reminder of Boston’s deeply rooted history with racial segregation, but racism isn’t the only issue queer women of color have to deal with.

If I turned my nose up at every venue that had a racist policy, homophobic and/or sexist staff etc, QWOC+ Boston would never have succeeded in pushing the physical boundaries of our community and creating new safe spaces for LGBTQ people of color in the manner in which we have. I daresay our willingness to push through the discomfort of so many tough, frustrating, awkward interactions has created more “ally venues” today for LGBT people of color — and the larger gay community as well as evidenced by a number of organizations / producers hosting events at venues after we’d done so successfully — than if we immediately walked away whenever we faced policies we didn’t agree with.

But this is not to say that we should ignore blatant signs of discrimination. There are venues that I’ll never send a dime of business (and LGBT organizations that I simply refuse to work with) until they’re willing to meet us halfway on the issue of white privilege/racism, male privilege/sexism etc. However, if we are to charter new territory, we must be patient, and more importantly, we must learn to speak the language of the gate keepers. In this case, that means knowing how to use money to send a message.

You should know that once I told Caprice that I was moving the party to a new venue, they came back with an O.K. to play whatever we wanted. This made for a great opportunity to explain that we would NOT be working with them this time around. And whereas, the loss of business may not result in the dissolution of their policy, the owner will remember that he lost a big event — a pride event, big dollars consumed at the bar, ouch — because he dared to broach the subject to the queer women of color who had been repeatedly giving him business for the past three years. (Incidentally, we first worked with Caprice during the second year of OPTIONZ, because we were in a similar situation; the venue we’d been in talks with slapped us with a racist dress code last minute, and wouldn’t budge on enforcing it. Caprice opened their doors to us then, and we’ve been working with them since. Isn’t it ironic, that the venue that has been the most flexible and easy to work with as far as hosting QWOC+ events, is the one being villainized for being racist today?)

I keep going back to the strong push I felt from our community to say F-U to Caprice and stand against racism, and can’t help but wonder if another ism or form of discrimination would have been met with the same level of engagement (and anger). What if I told you that via my work as an event organizer, I’d run into minority-owned/run venues with similar racist music / dress code policies? Can we remind ourselves that in women’s spaces /feminist circles, there is still so much language riddled with homophobia and transphobia? Shoot, I still pray for the day when sexism will be met with as much anger and outrage as racism from Boston’s LGBT community, when the political war being waged against women (via Planned Parenthood funding cuts, the GOP redefining rape etc.) will be treated as seriously by QPOC as they do AIDS/HIV prevention.

It’s easy to call out isms when the perpetrator is perceived to be a straight white man — the icon of patriarchy, which most of us can relate to wanting to take down. But the reality of being a queer woman of color is that you’re burdened with calling out offenses and violations against multiple facets of your identity, and forced to reckon with the harsh truth that your allies in one arena can be your oppressors in another.

Activism, for so many of queer women of color, is a constant negotiation of which ism to address. We don’t have the luxury of snubbing everyone that offends us, or we would have no where to go. We can’t — and shouldn’t have to — fight everyone. As a direct consequence, for queer women of color, standing up for what is ‘right’ in the face of racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia — all issues that significantly impact our community — can sometimes mean drastically limiting access to resources that we need as a community. So, whereas we should never compromise our ethics (as in this case — for the sake of a good party), QWOC+ Boston’s work isn’t just about one event, not just about today. I don’t think that I speak out of turn when I say that we all work our asses off so that tomorrow can be better, for everyone.

So, as we march, rally, dance, and speak out during pride, let us not forget those of us who are marginalized within the gay community, those of us who don’t have the luxury of approaching “Equality. No More. No Less,”, per the 2011 Boston Pride theme, as an isolated single issue. Most of the time, I hear louder, more aggressive forms of activism (against one kind of ism) encouraged and celebrated. But today, I feel humble as I reflect on the patience and perseverance that must have been maintained by my mentors and predecessors against so many injustices, that have enabled me to come this far. I celebrate you. I salute you. And I wish you all a happy pride.

We Will Not Be Unwritten: Preserving Queer Women of Color History

A few weeks ago, the Fenway Women’s Health Team posted a blog on Bay Windows about their upcoming 2nd annual women’s health fair. QWOC+ Boston had organized and tabled at this event for the past three years. Yet, written in an authoritative third person omniscient voice was the line, “Thanks to the dedication of a single woman, Fenway Health is proudly hosting its 2nd Annual LBT Women’s Health Fair…”

The women’s health fair wasn’t in it’s second, but third year, and long before the dedicated efforts of a single woman, an entire community of queer women of color, myself included, had worked with Fenway Women’s Health Team via a series of conversations and community-building initiatives to delimit access to health resources for queer people of color. This ultimately led to the planning and execution of the first health fair, appropriately titled, “A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action,” and hosted collaboratively by Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), Queer Asian Pacific Alliance (QAPA), and Somos Latinos (now Unid@s, under the umbrella of Boston Pride).

But, if you’re one out of the 55,000 people that follows Bay Windows, firmly established as New England’s largest LGBT newspaper, you wouldn’t have known any of this.

A Brief History Lesson: The inaugural health fair took place on Thursday April 30th, 2008, exactly three years ago, during which various organizations tabled at the event, presenting a plethora of resources from free breast cancer screenings, safe sex toys, HPV vaccination information, and acupuncture. The main part of the event, the panel on the impact of stress, addressed health disparities between women of color and white women, from varied perspectives, including public health, mental health, socio-economic status, and more.

Additionally, the inception of the first health fair happened almost four years ago at the inauguration of QWOC+ Boston’s Pride Festival — QWOC Week — during a panel focused on health issues in WOC Communities. The QWOC Week Panel featured inspiring and touching personal stories and perspectives from an older generation of Black Lesbian activists (a few of who are my mentors/sheroes — Lula Christopher, Jacquie Bishop, Reverend Irene Monroe), Lisa Moris, a local community organizer in housing development, and was moderated by Dr. Konjit Page, then a Psychology PhD candidate focused on the mental health of queer women of color. The room was bursting with inspiration and empowerment when the panel ended. So much so that Reverend Irene Monroe even published a piece about it called Sisters are Doing It For Themselves

The chronology of these dates, collaborations, and events are important to note as they weave together an important part of history for Boston’s queer women of color community, highlighting the actionable steps that we took together to improve access to health resources for queer and transgender communities of color.

Yet, in one line, history had been omitted, or in this case, un-written.

It is also important to note that even though our initiative had originally set out to empower LBTQ women of color, the language that had been previously used to indicate a conscious targeting of this marginalized group had been dropped completely, however inadvertently, under the umbrella of empowering all women.

Given the context around the origination of the health fair (at a queer women of color festival), and its subsequent success — a small but important piece of history — you must imagine my deep disappointment at the ability of a single blog post to completely erase almost four years of hard work that had actually resulted in a tangible benefit for LGBT people of color.

But let me be clear: I don’t for a second imagine that this near erasure of history happened intentionally. The blog about Fenway’s Women’s Health fair sought simply to highlight the efforts of their team to preserve the health fair in the face of funding cuts and limited resources. And, for that, they have my deepest gratitude and support. Without their hard work and dedication, there would be no women’s health fair at all, and the future we’ve worked so hard to create would dissipate right in front of us.

Still, as our community continues to push against the walls of oppression, whether funding cuts, racism and homophobia in the health system, and other social justice fronts, we must remember that preserving the stories of our past is just as important as fighting for a better future; history is the only way the world will ever know about the many battles we have fought, about the battles we have won, and most importantly, the only way we can leave a clear path for the generation behind us to follow. In the words of Audre Lorde, “ It’s a struggle but that’s why we exist, so that another generation of Lesbians of color will not have to invent themselves, or their history, all over again.”

It is from this place that I could not stand by while the contributions to the improved livelihood of queer women of color in Boston by community members — including my own mentors, women whose shoulders I am proud to stand on — were at risk of being erased, and not just due to an inadvertent error with dates. Perhaps Fenway failed to appropriately contextualize the event, but Bay Windows’ carelessness (or complete absence of) fact-checking, and the general callousness that I find in mainstream media outlets when covering issues affecting women, people of color, transgender people etc., isn’t a problem that I see going away any time soon.

So, as a leader I have to acknowledge my own role (or lack thereof) at arriving at this juncture i.e. my neglect for the past five years to formally document gains QWOC+ Boston has made as far as increasing visibility for queer people of color and the movement of embracing diversity we’ve created in Boston, save this blog.

As LGBT people (esp. members of marginalized groups: women, people of color, transgender, disabled etc), we all need to do a better job of telling our own stories, and in effect, writing ourselves (back) into history. As I learned from this experience, we’re not just at risk of being completely ignored by mainstream media, but about having our history being talked over, our pronouns mixed up, our hard work being told in passive voice i.e “It happened.” We do a disservice to each other when we fail to affirm the actions of the generations closely following behind us, when we fail to let them know that “We were here,” and as such, that they can do it better, and get further down the path to equality than we ever imagined possible.

I can’t say this enough: Get to it. Start a blog. Create a Youtube channel. Write a book — you can self-publish. Support organizations like the LGBT History Project who work tirelessly to record our histories (orally if need be). But whatever you do from this point, remember the words of Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you,” or the words of my mentor, Letta Neely, if you like your wisdom plain, “Write that shit, down!”

Kitchen Table Conversations: LGBT African Diaspora Speak on Culture, Queerness, and Media

In partnership with Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!), I’m hosting a virtual panel that features the perspectives of LGBTQ African Diaspora on African culture, queer identity, and the media.

The focus of the panel will in part be driven by pre-submitted questions from listeners, but will also aim to highlight the panelists’ experiences with various kinds of activism, including the use of new media to promote awareness and social justice issues surrounding Queer Africa.

I couldn’t be more excited (and nervous!) about collaborating with WAM! (to whom I owe much of my passion and enthusiasm for advocating for the increased role and influence of women in the media), and for the opportunity to share stories and reflections with my fellow queer African friends and colleagues.

I’ve called the event “Kitchen Table Conversations” because I’ve found that I’ve experience the most thought-provoking, enlightening, and inspiring conversations, literally, at my kitchen table… or in my living room, on the train, at the back seat of a cab.

Too often, right after a juicy pow wow with friends who are also African, queer, women of color etc., during which each of us weigh in on whatever issue it is — dating, family, politics, white people, westerners, “political correctness” and the like — by making a podium of the stove, delivering truths with the nonchalance of throwing salt into stew, and thickening our accents for dramatic emphasis, I’ve slammed my fist on my wooden kitchen table in frustration, shocking everyone with an American, “Dang! I should’ve recorded this.”

The Kitchen Table Conversations happen so frequently, that now my friends and I actually joke about doing just that — recording ourselves over dinner — before we begin; it’s become somewhat of an adventure to see what political insights we may discover before our eventual end-of-dinner gamble with wine (which we’ve found can either fuel or extinguish the uncensored passion we all carry underneath; the burden of having to feign resilience or resolve is washed away). I live for these moments, when our eagerness to speak and be affirmed causes us to interrupt each other, constantly, so that we share the experience of telling and shaping one story, our feet planted comfortably into soil. I wish I could share this with the world.

I doubt that a facilitated e-panel without food, wine, or in-person comraderie will serve to recreate the Kitchen Table Conversations that I’ve come to look forward to during almost every half-potluck (some cooking must take place before hearts bleed). But I do wonder what would happen if people could actually listen in to us at our most vulnerable, most desperate. I wonder what people would do if we dared say what we say over jollof rice, fried plantains, pepper soup, and egwusi… if we let loose the rawness we’ve been trained to sugar coat as tokenized peoples at podiums in western conferences.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of havinIn any case, it’s Women’s History Month, which makes this panel featuring Queer African voices — and this on-going series (yes, I intend to keep hosting conversations like this) — even more important. Despite a variety of forums and media honoring women this month, queer African women (past and present) aren’t being celebrated for their work and their bravery. But whose fault is that? Mainstream media’s? Psssh. I gave up on that a long time ago. In fact, I’m grateful for the lack of coverage I see, and thus, the motivation to continue encouraging queer African women and trans people everywhere to continue making waves, making media, and making trouble.

So mark your calendars for Wednesday March 23rd (12PM-1PM EST), and stay tuned for more from the Kitchen Table Conversations series. It’s going to be fun!

#VivaAfrika

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Kitchen Table Conversations: LGBT African Diaspora Speak on Culture, Queerness, and New Media

Spectra, the sassy host and moderator of this panel, is an award-winning queer Nigerian writer and women’s activist. She is the founding director of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a nationally recognized grassroots  organization serving the needs of LGBTQ people of African descent and allies in New England, and the director of QWOC Week, New England’s first pride festival exclusively intended to raise awareness of health and social justice issues impacting queer/trans communities of color. She is the owner of Spectra Events, a socially-conscious event planning and production company that brings together her eclectic interests in Art and Music, Social Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Philanthropy, and routinely blogs about all things women, leadership, politics, and Africa.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan filmmaker, activist and writer with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy and organizing for social and economic justice with working class and poor LGBT communities in New York. She was a founding member of Uhuru-Wazobia, an educational, advocacy and social membership organization for LGBT Africans founded in 1995, and co-director of Liberation for All Africans, an ad hoc committee of African gender non-conforming people, organized in response to a spate of anti-lesbian rapes in South Africa in 2007. She helped institute the Africa Program at the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and served on the international grants panel of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

Akwaeke Z Emezi was born and bred in the south of Nigeria, and is an Igbo and Tamil free love advocate, genderqueer Nutri-C addict, and natural hair aficionado. In the space where parathas and palm oil meet, she dances reverence to dope beats and follows the Christ. As a queer bard, blogger and drag performer, Z infects a message of self-awareness laced thoroughly with love and bravery, believing that only in knowing and accepting oneself utterly can we truly be free. A current Brooklynite, they adore traveling and beautiful people, and are constantly pushing for a life free of fear and full of marvelous.

Bukky Kolawole is the queer Nigerian founder of First Generation group, an organization based in Brooklyn New York that seeks to empower the diaspora to postively influence their communities by raising their voices collectively. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist (you can call her Dr. Bukky) who is interested in utilizing her expertise with behavioral change for the benefit of social change and building community. Her private practice caters to adolescents and adults in NYC, and is particularly passionate about meeting the needs of the LGBTQ community.

Iyayi-Osazeme ‘Lobuhle’ Odigie-Oyegun is a British-Nigerian, South-African-bred food interlocutor, who thinks in the language and poetry of food. She is the head chef and owner of Khandja Kalabash a Harlem based boutique culinary firm, specialising in afro-fusion cooking and the preservation, appreciation and proliferation of African culinary practices & cuisines. She hopes to queer the African Culinary Experience by combining traditional and contemporary methods and ingredients to introduce new dimensions of flavour to African cuisine. She believes that food is connected to every essential part of the human experience, and is a candid way of expressing LOVE. In the battle against homophobia, bigotry and racism, cuisine is her tool of choice!

Several more panelists to be announced soon.

Submit Questions to the Panelists! You are invited to submit questions to the panelists ahead of time by sending an email to the moderator at questions@spectraspeaks.com w/ the subject “Question for the Kitchen Table Conversation w/ LGBT Africans” or simply by commenting below. A handful of questions will be selected for the panel and will be presented anonymously (unless requested otherwise). Questions may be edited for brevity.

Listening Details

Date: Wednesdsay March 23rd
Time: 12PM-1PM

Bookmark this link to listen to the show here.

Reflections of a Straight Girl: What Does It Mean to Be an Ally?

REPOST from http://www.zarachiron.com/

My sister Zara, wrote this recently for me (it is also posted on her blog @ ZaraChiron.com). If you have siblings, parents, family members etc, that haven’t yet come around, I hope you find inspiration in this piece, to be patient (and brave) enough to remain open to their own journey of moving closer to you so that one day, you’ll be as fortunate as I am to know what it means to be loved by an ally.

Summer 2006, my world was redefined by a simple act of bravery.

My sister Spectra, sheepishly and hurriedly flung a letter at me while I slept ever-so-lazily on her frame-less futon, amidst the fur balls also known as her tuxedo kitties, and then exited the room. For a second, I thought I had dreamed it, but noticed the curious expression of the dude-cat as he put his wet nose to the paper.

As I sat up and began to read, I wondered, “Geez! What could I have done this time?” since my sister had taken to reprimanding me through written notes ever since I started living with her so as to avoid full on conflict. I was greatly unaware of the depth and power of the words on the page I held in my hands, words that would reshape the world as I knew it, and raise my personal level of consciousness. By the time I finished reading what I now regard as the “Coming Out Letter” (which I still have in my treasure bag of memorable goodies) I was – simply put – instantaneously changed; and for the better.

At first I felt relieved, grateful, even flattered that she would share something so personal with me at all, given our shared understanding; that in Nigerian culture and society, it is both socially unacceptable and illegal to be gay. As in, literally, illegal! I am thoroughly embarrassed and saddened to admit that a gay person is seen as spiritually abominable, emotionally unstable, mentally ill and generally perceived as decadent. No doubt, these perceptions are hypocritical and outrageously revolting to me — especially since there is so much that is truly decadent about the greedy puppets that control (and perpetuate further corruption of) Nigerian society. But how would my sister have known how I felt? Am I not Nigerian — like her? Did we not both grow up in the same homophobic environment riddled with discriminatory vocabulary, aggressive ignorance and deep-rooted disapproval of the gay community?

Her bravery was deeply touching and evoked an emotional response in me. I began to cry; not because she let me in on something so delicately significant, but because she had taken the monumental step to face, accept and explore the truth about the person she is; a spirit that will not, cannot be dictated by society or even manipulated by an intelligent, yet societally programmed mind; this person she was revealing to me could only ever be expressed and seen by an open heart.

I felt I had been given the ultimate gift: a chance to Love.

Even more beautiful than having somebody love you is having someone to let down their armor, open a door to let you love them in return; when they say, “This is me and I am giving you permission to know and love the entire person that I am” it is nothing less than absolute power bestowed, and that comes with a depth of responsibility.

My sister had kept out of sight, watching my expression through the hinge cracks, no doubt nerves on-end as I read the letter and began to cry. She peeked into the room, and as I sniffled confirmed that it was safe to enter. As she crouched next to me on the carpet, crying and reaching out for a hug, I remember, I said to her — a little choked up, how “I had never loved her more.” I meant it, and her relief in form of free-flow weeping confirmed that she understood, but I am not sure she truly grasped my words or the meaning behind them. Still, I recognized the moment for what it was; a beginning. And, I promised myself I would evolve along with Spectra and be a better sister to her — to every aspect of who she is so that one day she would come to know those words of mine to be as deeply true.

The transition has not been entirely smooth. I had to banish any and all remnants of cast-off ignorance that lingered in my system and get to know my sister all over again, as queer; this is still and always should be work in progress. And by work, I mean ‘work’ from both parties. I’ve been resourceful — what would I have done without my handy cousin Google, the L Word, Will & Grace, and a whole lot of QWOC+ events?! It helped that my sister was constantly inviting me to ‘see’ her, to be a part of something she’d once been afraid to share. Whether it was a QWOC+ event she wanted me to help her with, a lesbian film she wanted to watch (and could actually relate to, “Saving Face”!), a book for me to digest and discuss with her, etc, she always showed me that she wanted me to be a part of her life. I’ve had many illuminating conversations with Spectra herself, but I’m sure she will agree that we’d never have gotten to the point where we are now — sisters, friends, and loyal allies to each others causes — if I didn’t keep pushing myself to learn, and grow.

It is easy to not notice prejudice when you have the luxury of not needing to do so. It is easy to overlook, neglect and breeze over things that “do not (directly) concern you.” It is even easier to not acknowledge your own privilege, dismiss obvious inequalities under a countless number of justifications and excuses, because in so doing, you rid yourself of the only humane course of action — to take a stand for something.

Sure, it’s not that hard to continue pretending (especially to yourself) that you are all that and a bag of gummy bears when it comes to your “open-mindedness” and “inclusivity” (“Hey, look, I’ve got so many gay friends!”), but you cannot escape the truth; it will always find you and test you in the most personal way. What then will you do? When “the truth” cannot be hidden under a phony political discussion over cocktails to make you appear like the conscious intellectual sort? What will you do when the “issue” is now a “person” that you know and claim to love?

Before Spectra really let me in, I honestly felt like I was “for” the “gay community”, but now I understand that being an ally is way more than just a social or political “stance” on an “issue” — it is truly personal. When it comes to justice and equality for human beings, there is no in between, no neutrality; passivity might as well be aggression for you are either for or against. Period. I am a person who loves my sister, all parts of her, and will stand up to anyone, movement, person, or drunken slurr-throwing a**hole to protect her. There’s nothing political about that.

I do, of course, recognize my privilege in the knowledge that I am a straight, petite “girly” young woman who loves stilettos and baby doll dresses with a heterosexual preference for men that is globally accepted, but I passionately honor my personal linkage to the fight for LGBT equality and for the right for anyone to express the “self” by speaking out in spaces in which my sister is not as comfortable or present. It’s one thing to be an ally at QWOC+ events, it’s another thing to be an ally when you’re outnumbered by narrow-minded and/or ignorant straight men and women. But trust, l am always ready! Lock and Load! *half-kidding*

I may not be a direct member of the community–but I am sure as Helen a sister to it because at the end of the day, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gender-queer and everyone in between who refuse to adhere to “labels” are human beings like me; we are all just people. And we all should have the right to be ourselves. We are all human beings and citizens of this interesting (and often twisted) world of ours. So — my sister aside — that is reason enough for me to care enough to want to read a book (or RSVP “yes” to all 300 QWOC+ events on Facebook).

As human beings, the more we connect to each other; recognize, explore, accept and even celebrate how we differ-the more we see of who we are inside of our own individual selves. I feel connected to more people in the world than I did before and, in turn, my world has expanded, my experiences are more conscious, and I am a much better person.

So I call on all of you, friends, brothers, parents, sisters, school teachers etc., of the brave people of the LGBT/Queer community. Push yourselves. Check yourselves. And grow, via  healthy balance of stepping out of your comfort zones, listening, asking questions, and seeking new ways to learn about the struggles (and victories!) of your loved ones. If you don’t do this — become a more purposeful ally to someone else — for someone you claim to love, then at least do it for yourself.

New Narratives, New Voices: Why I Hate the Word Diversity

I am so excited about this new workshop I’ve designed to highlight new narratives and redefine “diversity”! I’ll be presenting it at the Join the Impact conference this weekend, so if you’re in Boston, register to attend and check out my session!

Thoughts That Came to Me As I Designed This Workshop:

As a bicultural Nigerian, I identify very strongly with the African immigrant experience and obsess about not doing enough for my parents at home.

On American soil, I wear my afrofeminist label proudly, and fight with words alongside other feminists to raise women’s voices on the web (and the page, very soon).

As a queer community organizer, I advocate for the increased visibility of people of color within the LGBT movement (so that it doesn’t get reduced to the current conversation about “black community and black churches”).

To say that I wear “many hats” is an understatement. But in my fight for “diversity”, I’ve often found myself pigeon-holed into choosing one fight — the “people of color” fight — over others (sexism, immigration etc), and losing critical ground on those other fronts as a result.

I am often asked (however inadvertently) by white organizers to compartmentalize my anger, and then intellectualize it (read: “present at conference”, since diversity has become synonymous with choosing one or two issues to orate about). So, when I was casually invited to present on the “(Lack of) Inclusion of People of Color in the LGBT Movement”, I found myself thinking of the many swords I carry, and wishing that I could hold them all in front of me with  both arms, heavy and close to my heart, so that people could see how wearisome fighting for and against  the intersecting communities I belong to can be. It’s not so easy; I often imagine myself crouched defensively in the center of a circle lined by all the isms, privileges, and human rights violations I face — homophobia, racism, americanism, sexism, feminism, transphobia;  blunt and shining swords lay scattered in the dusty ground around me from switching blades and direction too quickly in concurrent battles for social justice, and sometimes, for survival.

But in my ideal world, I would fight for one kind of justice — and for many — with the same sword. I am tired of having to choose which parts of my identity to include or exclude from my rants. So, in response to the invitation, I decided to design a session that explored this new idea: What is Diversity? And how can we redefine it in the context of a younger, multinational, pro-feminist, and trans-positive movement?

Currently, the “LGBT movement” sounds like the white gay man marriage fight (supported by a smart troop of butch white women). The Q is left out. The I is left out, and inquiring about other letters begets played out, trivializing “alphabet” jokes instead of a sincere commitment to make sure everyone get the invitation next time.

“People of color” narratives often focus on the African-American experience and ignore the complexities of the immigrant subset (Latin@s, Africans, Asians etc ) — and let’s not even talk about non-immigrant Native Americans). As a person of color myself I’m often called upon to present comprehensive solutions to this problem (or “facilitate dialogue” about “people of color issues”), as if all people of color were berated equal; I’m Nigerian/African, and quite honestly, I can’t always relate to the black people in this country.

Feminist perspectives often carelessly leave out women of color, though they’re often able (and encouraged) to intellectualize this popular snafu and re-present well-articulated, buzz-word-filled theses about “gender” and “sexuality” to eager auditoriums across the country. Have you attended a Women’s Studies seminar, panel, or conference session lately? I have — and it’s very scary to hear decisions being made, leaders being influenced, and demonstrations being organized in the absence of (all but 2 or 3) women of color.

Radical lesbian feminists (yeah, they deserve a separate title) tend to be a little bit more diversity-conscious and inclusive of women of color (who also claim that title) but side-stepping the ageism that exists within their version of the movement is no easy feat. I was just at Stonewall Communities “Sex and Gender in the City” inter-generational conference, and I remember feeling like I’d been tricked into attending a roast for young people. Every other joke demeaned, devalued, and discredited the work of millennial social activists because apparently we haven’t been beaten or bled enough — and all we do is invent new labels or throw parties. If I’m not yet qualified to speak to (not for) the various experience(s) of queers in my generation then who the hell is?

And don’t get me started with the sexism that is rampant among gay men. Across every social justice issue I care about, there are people who advocate for the inclusion of people of color, but I’m never as chronically overwhelmed by sexism and male privilege as I am within my fight for diversity within the queer community. In my hetero/femme days, white gay men thought I was “fabulous”, bought me martinis, and invited me to their condos for dinner. That changed the instant I went futch. Now, unless I’m introduced by someone from the inner circle, I remain completely invisible.

Meanwhile, the alternative is mother-managing egotistical turf wars between POC-run organizations over whose “good” is “best” “for the community” so that we can at least pretend to these white people that we all play nice (or know each other) and “collaborate”, while behind-the-scenes (and sometimes in public), we’re fighting each other with armor, creating a meaningless number of snazzy acronym-ed programs, reinventing the wheel because we won’t work together, and squabbling for the same seats at the conference table.

And to top it all off, everyone mentioned in the last five paragraphs is failing miserably at even noticing that trans and intersex people — arguably the most ignored/marginalized of us all — are being completely left out of the picture! Aaaaagh!

[… a zen moment of silence.]

The session I’ve designed for the conference is an attempt to bring different voices together, and will explore what it means to define diversity by the narrow lines of “inclusion” or “exclusion”.

As part of a fishbowl conversation, local organizers and allies to communities of color will share their perspectives on the LGBT movement, the role of diversity (or lack of it) and the perceived effects of augmenting / silencing different voices. The fishbowl will be followed by a brief Q&A and open brainstorm around how we can move forward from the popular, yet very narrow discussions of inclusion/exclusion that exist within the LGBT movement.

Diversity is a dynamic collection of perspectives; it is an ideology, a concept, not a quantifiable attribute… or at least it shouldn’t be. To apply diversity (vs. coasting along using it as a buzzword), we MUST recognize that truly including people — as whole beings — implies that we don’t just acknowledge, but address ALL parts of their unique identities, and empower them to fight for all movements to which they belong, because in doing so, we empower the only movement that matters: the human one.

I hope to see you at the session.

———————
Session 4 (3:30PM – 4:45PM)
(LACK OF) TRUE DIVERSITY IN THE LGBT MOVEMENT: NEW NARRATIVES, NEW VOICES

A Fishbowl Discussion and Workshop Featuring the Big Fish below:

SPECTRA 
is a Nigerian immigrant afrofeminist queer woman of color, media activist and social commentator at Spectra Speaks, a self-proclaimed “iQWOC”, and the founder of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston)

ANA CHAVEZ is native to Miami by way of Providence, an Ecuadorian queer woman of color and youth arts educator, and the founder and recipient of the RISD Diversity Awards

CARNELL FREEMAN is a local Bostonian, a gay black professional in finance and HR recruiting, an experienced Connecter and the founder of Men of Color Creating Change (MOCCC)

YARIMEE GUTIERREZ
is a fierce queer femme Puertominican nacionalista, a poet by the name of Idalia, who has a 9-5 fighting for cultural competency around latin@ issues in the corporatized health industry

BONAE L’AMOUR (AKA BAO) is an Asian American queer-identified transguy from New Orleans, a photographer with a consistent blog, and the founder of MAGLOA – a safe haven for academically gifted public school students in Boston

ROBBIE SAMUELS a white, queer, feminist, trans man with extensive community organizing, event logistics and fundraising experience, and the founder of Socializing for Justice, a cross-issue progressive community, network and movement in Boston

Organized by: Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) – http://qwocboston.org


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