Browse Category: Thought Leadership

Interview w/ Letta Neely, Black Lesbian Poet, Playwright, Activist and Mentor

I decided to close Women’s History Month with a conversation with someone who has inspired so much of my work as an activist, and is living proof that we can create change in the world simply by speaking out and staying true to ourselves: Letta Neely.

Letta is the phenomenal woman who inspired me to found Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), the only grassroots organization dedicated to serving the needs of queer women of color in New England, and the lead producers of QWOC Week, the nation’s only pride week that exclusively celebrates LGBTQ women of color. We are turning five years old this year, so I think it’s really important for us — and myself as a leader — to not just reflect on our achievements and milestones, but to honor the people who have mentored and supported us through the years. And that certainly includes my friend and mentor, Letta Neely.

In this special edition of my podcast series, Kitchen Table Conversations, Letta, an award-winning black lesbian poet, playwright, and activist, joins me to talk about everything from writing, to activism, to love, and back again. She bares her soul in this interview, and talks about the loss of her brother, wrestling with addiction, burning out as an activist, and schools us all on how ego can win if you let it. But what I loved about my conversation with Letta, is that she (as always), shared her story with so much introspection, candor, and humor, sending the message to anyone who has ever walked a similar path, “You are not alone.”

I couldn’t have been more honored to end Women’s History Month by sharing words with someone I deeply admire, respect, and have come to love as more than just a mentor, but a friend. Letta, you are part of the reason so many people, including myself, are determined to “Write it down!” as you commanded we do, as far as being a visible part of History. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration to so many people like me, for your friendship, and for always keepin it real.

Listen to interview with Letta Neely on Blog Talk Radio

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the written portion of the interview. Enjoy, share, nourish your spirit.

Many New England artists eventually move to New York to pursue their dreams but you left to come to Boston (of all places), and did the flip. How come?

I was sowing love with a woman who lived in Boston. All that early tending that we did (post weeding, pre-harvest) created a phone bill significantly higher than my rent in Harlem. The love, the money, and mostly, a weird situation with my little brother and baby cuz facilitated my dropping my cat with a friend, getting on a greyhound in the middle of the night with 1 bag of clothes, 2 suitcases of books, and a backpack filled with notebooks and cassettes.

When did your identity as a black lesbian first surface in your work?

In my first year of college, my ma picked me up for thanksgiving . I handed her a group of ten poems I’d bound at Kinko’s. At least half of each poem was a nervous riff or a tenuous riff or a fierce chord of “hey ma, I dig females….No ma, not like your girlfriends….hey ma, girls taste real good.” My ma says she knew even when she didn’t want to. Says that when she told me what wives did (cook, dishes, etc). I responded, “l’ll be getting me one of those”

What led you to become so involved in Boston’s local social justice scene?

My activism has more to do with getting to where I want to go. I think “don’t start none won’t be none “ And yet, so many of the systems involved in our living…I mean, a majority of equations and geometries we are told to solve or travel toward the *dream (American, others) are maintained & enhanced by fucked up asinine insecure greedy people all over the globe from then to know. Their strategies try to labyrinth access to baseline human needs: Food, Water, Spirit, Sleep, Laughter, Self-navigation, Dream, Dance, Open places where we can stretch or sit unadulterated. Basic jazz we’ve all been told we can’t simply access.

During busing, the prices and the taxes became unacceptable to me. My neighborhood unbecame community. We lost each other and became valueless. We killed each other. Where there had been fist fights there were bullets. Where there had been alcohol sold from car trunks on Sundays and spirited home there became crack vials left for 6, 7, 8, year old neophyte archeologists. We evolved into a burial ground, burying so many people each summer we forgot their names by winter. Sadness led to large scale depression. Many of us undead yelled, stamped our feet, protested, trying to wake our nearly dead. But in the protest, we neglected kitchen tables, unrushed collard greens, cook-outs, front porch card games. Trying to be free, we forgot that we were free. We forgot who we are. We became adept at using their tools. We punctured a helluva lot but we didn’t dismantle shit that way.

When I moved here to Boston…our people were being stalked and murdered and disappeared in the same ways. Bodies and decapitated dreams were clogging our pathways. Our articulations regarding justice were building too many separate troops. Struggles around Economic justice, racial justice, gender justice, sexual justice had distinct armies, with distinct guerrilla game plans. Our hungers overwhelmed our sight and we were blindly stabbing comrades we’d labeled enemies. I can’t be Black or Dyke or Broke or Female or Artist or Butch. This “or” shit is the shit that makes us crazy makes us dangerous, abettors to murder.

Most obstacles to any freedom are labeled/celebrated/denigrated/codified as specific social justice issues/initiatives. That’s all fine, well, and probably necessary. But most of this “work”, most of this “involvement” is because when I think “don’t start none, won’t be none”…da shit be already started.

What about being an activist or community organizer do you wish you had known ten years ago?

I wish I had known that asking for help for myself was key. I wish I had known how to take a vacation. I wish [other activists] could have read my mind. I had such a hard time asking for what I needed. And then, I ‘d get upset because it seemed no one anticipated my having a need. What’s more true is that I never asked and when folks asked me, I always, always said, “I’m fine”

What would you say to young leaders who are passionate about working to further equality for LGBT people of color, but need advice/guidance?

Please remember to eat well, sleep well, love well. Leadership is a support position. You are not alone. You will make mistakes. Do better next time. Eat. TELL SOMEBODY EVERYTHING.


About Letta Neely
Letta Neely, originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, is a Black lesbian playwright, performer, poet, mother, teacher and community activist who has been involved in progressive, anti-racist and queer liberation movements all her adult life. Her work focuses on the connections and intersections of queerness, Blackness, and awareness.
Letta’s first play, Hamartia Blues, was produced by The Theater Offensive at the Boston Center for the Arts in 2002 and enjoyed great critical acclaim and received two IRNE [Independent Reviewers of New England] award nominations. Letta has written two books of poetry, Juba and Here (Wildheart Press), which were both finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her literary work has been included in numerous anthologies, literary journals and magazines including Through the Cracks; Sinister Wisdom; Common Lives, Lesbian Lives; Rag Shock; African Voices, Rap Pages, Catch the Fire, Does Your Mama Know, and most recently, Roll Call—a Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature & Art.

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!



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 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.

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)

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