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


My sister Zara, wrote this recently for me (it is also posted on her blog @ 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.

To Hell With Mainstream Press Coverage: Women, People of Color, and Trans People Should Create and Control Their Own Media Stories

For those of you who don’t know, my group – QWOC+ Boston – produces a week-long multicultural pride (LGBTQ) festival every year. It’s an impressive (if I do say so myself) array of art, music, discussion, and social justice events for LGBTQ people of color and diversity-conscious allies. We’ve spent the past 3 months creating these events and now they’re ready to go out via official announcements!

Next Steps: Generating so much buzz that people from neighboring states visit Boston to attend the events (and in so doing, validate our weeks of hard work).

As I prepared to send out the official QWOC Week Calendar today, I paused to take a look at my really long ‘Press/PR’ to-do list and noted the slightly underwhelming list of journalist contacts. Some would call that a #fail on press release day, but where there arguably should be an uppity list of noteworthy press contacts, I have, instead, a list of connectors — bloggers, event producers, community organizers, and crucial tweeps to reach out to for grassroots promotional support. This came as no surprise to me since I’ve been pretty successful leveraging social media to do outreach, promotions, and build QWOC+ Boston’s brand. Plus, mainstream media has routinely pissed me off with their half-ass coverage of issues pertaining to people of color, much less about LGBT people of color.

In the past, the media coverage QWOC+ Boston events have received has been light and fluffy at best — who-what-when just about summarizes the general approach, with opinion or speculation — usually from the lucky friend of a friend of an editor — driving the why-and-how portion (vs any sort of ‘investigative’ reporting). At this point, I’ve become accustomed to the two or three paragraphs (usually a composite piece) dedicated to highlighting “people of color” (usually the male, LGBT, african-american community) during pride, and not much else in terms of press coverage (unless of course it’s around the AIDS epidemic); women’s/feminist grassroots movements are almost always an afterthought (or viewed as ‘cute’  and thus, not ‘news-worthy’), so a part of me has given up on hoping for more.

But it’s not that New England papers don’t know how to cover POC issues (or women’s issues for that matter) — they should be treated as every other subject matter — with tact, professionalism, and thoroughness; it’s that they’re too lazy to challenge themselves to do more than just ‘highlight’ and ‘profile’ and deep down, they don’t think that we’re important enough. However, they’re notorious for shadily snapping photos of the 2-3 brown people at every mainstream event and then featuring them in their next media blast when everyone knows there were practically no people of color present. I’ll never forget the year my friend and I (unbeknown to us) made it the front page of Bay Windows as part of a “success!” news story on the popular Fenway Health Women’s Dinner event (see picture on the right). Great job! You scored a QWOC and a trans guy.

Incidentally, a few years ago, QWOC+ Boston received a front page profile piece in Bay Windows, written by Ethan Jacobs, a former staff writer. It was a well-written article I think because my bestie (who works in PR/Communications) prepped me for the interview; she gave me client-strong guidance as to how to manage the ‘reporter’, how to ‘brief my organizers’, how to make sure I got my ‘sound bites’ in, how to ask for the questions ahead of time etc. The result was a well-rounded story on QWOC+ Boston’s contributions to the local scene and our plans for the future. They did introduce us as “new” (I guess if white and mainstream media isn’t writing about you then you don’t exist, right?) even though we’d been around for two years, but at least it was a start; QWOC+ Boston was given visibility, credibility, and that article, which featured an overzealous quote by yours truly about our future, was the inception of QWOC Week.

Since then, we’ve been covered mainly via pretty pictures and short sporadic event blurbs within which they routinely misquote me, misspell my name, and repeatedly refer to us as “QWOC Friends” or worse, “QWOC” (without the plus, without the f**king plus), no matter how many times we insist on including this symbol (which represents our valued ally supporters) or having our name spelled out — Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) — so that new people can recognize that we’re an LGBTQ organization that mainly caters to women of color. [Seriously, what does “QWOC” mean to a grad student who just moved here from Tenessee and is seeking community outside her stark and stoic chem lab at MIT?]

I posted an angry Facebook update about this recently, and a friend of mine who’s the director of Villa Victoria Center for (Latino) Arts and Culture sent me some timely words of empathy, along with a sample media kit — a short and simple PDF document that outlines some branding rules which you can make available to press contacts / journalists looking to write about you. It was a godsend — and my intern just recreated one for us. [Please feel free to download and use as a template for your org!].

No doubt, the consistent time and effort I’ve invested in building QWOC+ Boston via partnerships and collaborations has given me a visible position within a strong network of leaders — women, people of color, lgbt, african activists, social entrepreneurs etc. — whom I can not only count on for support, but for professional guidance as well. However, for many people, (practical) tips such as how to work with journalists or even design a press kit aren’t that easy (or cheap) to come by. I feel for non-profit/grassroots leaders who, like me, must often ‘wing’ it, learn by trial and error, or (per the reason of this post), suffer bad press by remaining at the mercy of privileged, mis-informed media professionals.

But as leaders of social change, we aren’t in a position to suffer “bad” press — which in our field, often means mis-informed, mis-quoted, downplayed, and at times, downright inaccurate press coverage on the social justice issues we care about. Our causes — “brands” for the sake of argument —  aren’t celebrities who can afford to say “any press is good press” and wait for the next scandal to hit the stands.

Africa has been receiving a lot of negative press lately around the “atrocities” being committed against queer/LGBT people. But which Africans (I include myself in this) are writing about the spike in homophobia as a manifestation of resistance to bullying from the west? That’s not a narrative you hear or read about everyday, but I assure you it exists beyond the popular argument that Africa is full of barbarians.

Remember the news coverage on the two “gay” men that were facing a harsh prison sentence in Malawi? — they both weren’t “gay”, one of them was a transgender woman. And whereas I do object to the west enforcing their labels on Africa, the fact that many mainstream news outlets blatantly disregarded her gender should be viewed as yet another wakeup call to all of us that taking a passive approach to media will almost always result in the insensitive, inaccurate face-value recounts of events we’re inundated with today (vs. insightful commentary on news stories, which by the way, we really should be telling ourselves).

The great news is, social media is saturated with media consumers, not as many (in fact, in my opinion, too few) media producers; we all have the power to create content in the form of our own stories, and in so doing, make a difference. We shouldn’t have to wait to be ‘given’ press coverage or “be written about”. For what we have at stake, this approach to gaining visibility and expanding influence is too passive to be worth our consideration. This is not to say that mainstream media coverage isn’t worth anything at all; I’m just concerned that if marginalized groups — women, people of color, trans people, immigrants, blue collar, anyone whose voice is always missing/mis-represented — put all their eggs into a basket that’s already filled with a bunch of privileged, cocky, a**holes then our stories are bound to seep through the cracks.

My intern and I worked on a blog post that discusses the concept of “Activism During QWOC Weekin lieu of an official press release. Our words, our vision, our perspective. And it’s been truly liberating to pass the link around to people and receive direct feedback. We’re planning to do several posts about QWOC Week in order to highlight different aspects of the week; inter-generational conversations, music and the arts, etc. See, by creating and controlling your own content, you aren’t subjected to anyone else’s perspective on what’s “important.” Incidentally, we just found out that “Family Week in PTOWN” is happening during QWOC Week and thus Bay Windows Ad prices are for a Special Edition print out that week. I’ve already received several recommendations to pitch a story around our “Family Day in the Park” to see if Bay Windows “decides” to run a story on it. But who cares if Bay Windows wants to cover us or not? We run our own blog!

I encourage you — whoever you are, you’re still reading so you must have something to say — to start contributing your voice to the mass media that’s being consumed by millions of users… every – day. In the short term, we should probably all come together, sit down, and brainstorm  how to proactively gain press coverage for our organizations, movements and causes. But who wants to plan this? Anyone? Not me — I’m too busy changing the world to worry about press releases, and I’m pretty sure you are too. So while we’re waiting for someone else to take this on…

Start a blog. Write an opinion piece — it doesn’t have to be that long. Just make a statement — any statement; celebrities do it all the time. Create a video on your fancy MacBook (so that’s it’s worth the 1000-something-dollars you paid for it) — people love to watch videos. (Did you know they’re the most popularly shared media type on the web?) Write an Op-Ed response to your neighborhood newspaper about an article that pissed you off. Just contribute something. Anywhere.

You are important. Your voice is important. Your content should be shared on Facebook. Damn it.


Update: We win! Bay Windows profiled QWOC Week in this piece here, aaaaand the reporter pretty much copy-pasted the blog piece that my intern and I wrote on our blog. The result? A well-rounded profile on QWOC Week (save a few errors — really, she estimated 2 dozen people showed up because she arrived at the beginning and was POC-shy so awkwardly approached a few people with her notepad, took a few notes, and jetted. Ah, white people… why are POC still so scary to you in 2010?)

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)

A Fishbowl Discussion and Workshop Featuring the Big Fish below:

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)

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) –

A Rant — The Ugly Business of Good Social Causes

I really wish the LGBT and non-profit industry in general would stop hiding behind “good causes” and own their mistakes/shortcomings so we can all move forward. [Free Idea: Someone should create a for the non-profit industry]

Companies in corporate America (yes, those ugly ‘for-profit’ entities) get “reviewed” all the time. And guess what? The smart ones make it their business to incorporate both positive and negative feedback into their marketing campaigns, products, and services. They’ve learned that alienating their customers by guilting or scaring them into silence is a sure way to fail. Moreover, they only ever defend themselves from competitors, which — at least in this analogy — would be warranted if a similar non-profit / group was using internet slander to harm your reputation or to make themselves look better.

I was just perusing some non-profit blogs today, and read a number of disheartening, angry remarks from alleged “community leaders” all across the country. Geez — and I thought Boston had issues. It seems it’s not uncommon for people, who are supposedly working angelically towards social justice, to sling low-blow internet shots at social commentators for stating opinions that expose new flaws (or highlight old ones). *In one case, a blogger simply mentioned that a certain social group / organization wasn’t her cup of tea in passing, and was called a fame-monger for using negativity as a means to receiving more site hits. Are you kidding me? This really got me thinking…

Shame shame shame to organizers, non-profit execs, promoters-for-a-cause, or anyone who thinks that manipulating others into feeling guilty for admonishing your “good” work, or worse, threatening them with internet attacks is justified or “good for the community.” None of us are above judgment. I work very hard to bring racial equality into dialogue within the LGBTQ movement but it doesn’t mean that I am without fault — ask my volunteers, I drive them nuts — and it certainly doesn’t do much for my popularity ranking, even if I’ve just been cited as a “celesbian” (lol, I love this new word). Plus,  I know that at the core of our resistance to hear negative feedback (I include myself in this) is a strong desire to be recognized for our efforts, to feel as though people do acknowledge how hard we’re working. However, as leaders, we should learn to pat ourselves on the back. In so doing, we can rid the general public of the responsibility of prefacing each and every criticism with praise, and learn to not take things so personally. Moreover, if we all learn to give cross-issue support to each other, we’ll have each other to lean on (or to rant to) while the crowd chants on…

Moving forward, we should remember to thank community members who voice their opinions (no matter how callously… ok – I take that back – some people need to chill out), and tell them “Thank You” for keeping us accountable. Shoot, at least some of them have an opinion you can take direction from; this certainly trumps the blank stares and shoulder shrugs one typically receives after requesting constructive feedback. But, I digress… Regardless of what kind of feedback you choose to accept, at the end of the day, it all boils down to whether or not you’re sticking to your mission statement. If your mission is too narrow to matter, or too broad that you do a piss-poor job of including all the relevant stakeholders (who then start complaining), consider redefining it, or better yet, scrapping it altogether. You’ve gotta be clear, and listen, cause fact: some companies —  non-profits, organizers, promoters, and lobbyists included — will do a much better job than you if you’re not.

The non-profit LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to deal with mediocrity due to lack of competition or options. Our social justice movements can only be as effective as our ability to listen and incorporate both kinds of feedback into our work.

So, to community members, if an LGBTQ promoter hosts a night that sucks, tell them why, and let them know how it could be better. If a grassroots movement leaves out people of color, damn right speak up, even if they throw buzzwords (like “diversity” and “inclusiveness” at you). Moreover, I dare you to take the next step — volunteer your time. If black people forget to advocate for latinos, asians, white allies etc during conversations about “people of color” then it is up to anyone who notices to call it out. Being unpopular isn’t fun (I should know), but it does get people to sit up and listen (even if they don’t admit that they will).

We are all part of the problem if we choose treading on eggshells vs. keeping people in check.

We are all part of the problem if we discredit our individual opinions based on some smackademic concept of oppression hierarchies.

We are all part of the problem if no one speaks out.

Social responsibility includes more than just donating old clothes to Haiti, or volunteering at a homeless shelter; it means raising your voice whether in solidarity or (respectful) disagreement so that your community leaders never forget who they are serving.  And for leaders, this also means keeping a finger on the pulse of your constituents’s needs, even at the expense of your ego. We can’t call ourselves leaders if we do not learn to hear reason rising from the heat of an angry crowd.

Diversity speaks. (That means you.)

*Note: I’m not posting links to the forums I was reading because the platforms / arguments don’t matter. I’m more interested in debunking the perceived benefits of blogging on the internet, one of which is that free speech is without reprimand (or cost in mental health)

Becoming iQWOC

The name, iQWOC, came to me after I founded Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) and, all of a sudden, felt invisible in my own community. It seemed I had succeeded in creating a safe social space for black lesbians, asian queers, white allies, latina friends, young professionals, power couples etc., but somehow, forgot to include Africans or Immigrant queers as one of the beneficiaries of the group. It had dawned on me one day that although QWOC+ events were rich in cultural and age diversity, they were nationally homogeneous: almost everyone identified as American.

I began to write about this, and one day, I described myself as an iQWOC in my journal. iQWOC: an international/immigrant queer woman of color. I liked it – the techie in me in particular drooled over the lowercase “i” a la the age of Apple, Inc – and began using it online and offline.

Many people have asked why I choose to identify as an iQWOC – after all, QWOC should suffice. Sigh… people. So, below is a brief trajectory of my journey, and why you should never question my (or anyone’s) choice of label again:

  • When I lived at home, I was simply an “Igbo” girl in a predominantly Yoruba state
  • When I left home, and came to high school in the United States, my accent and “strange” (read: polite) behavior routinely gave me away and forced me to identify as “Nigerian” moreso than I ever had in my entire life
  • Then frequently, people would call me “Black” and I’d stare at them blankly, trying to understand if they intended to offend me or not, cause sometimes, for reasons I couldn’t explain at the time, it did make me angry. The American media (read: movies I’d watched growing up) always painted “Black” as a bad thing and so of course I wanted no part in it. It also didn’t help that my parents had lived in a poor neighborhood in CA for a few years before moving back home, so all they remembered of the black people in their community was the gang violence, armed robberies, street loitering, and drugs. This made me cling to my “Nigerian” label even more vehemently.
  • To make matters worse, I was bullied by a group of African-American kids for being “African”, having an accent, the way I dressed etc, for the two years I was in private school.
  • In college, just after I’d gotten over my fear of  “Black” people, women’s studies classes opened my eyes a little more to the racial dynamics of the northeast, and my own internalized racism; I began to empathize. By then, I’d also experienced a few years being treated like a “Black” person so the empathy factor deepened my interest in understanding racism, a social phenomenon I’d never thought about (outside of movies) before. I came to view my racially identity more politically as a “Person of Color” and enjoyed intellectual conversations about racial profiling, interracial dating, adoption, and the power/influence of hiphop music on pop culture.
  • Just when I thought I’d figured everything out, I came to identify as queer, and my world shrank again right before my eyes: I was all of a sudden surrounded by white (American) lesbians, and.. well, that was strange. It was frustrating to feel alienated from my diverse group of straight culturally competent friends and feel stuck with a group of privileged white people (who didn’t think they were because they were queer).
  • I thought diversifying my social network would ease the burden – hence the launch of QWOC+ Boston – but whereas having QPOC friends was rewarding in specific ways (I now at least had an extra pair of eyes to exchange “No she didn’t” glances with! yay!), I felt completely invisible as a Nigerian / international / immigrant woman.
  • In the process of reaffirming my cultural roots, and reclaiming my FULL identity, I coined the term “iQWOC” for myself, which means International/Immigrant Queer Woman of Color.

The End.

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