Preventing LGBT Youth of Color Suicides: A Case for Diversity

Written for Color Magazine (November 2010 Issue)

In September, just short of one month into the new school year, 5 out of the 9 reported suicides were confirmed to have been motivated by “anti-LGBT” bullying. Since then, I’ve witnessed a strong sense of urgency to end what is currently being referred to as an “epidemic of LGBT youth suicides” lead to a push for more LGBT-based protections and formal systems of support (e.g the creation of more Gay Straight Alliances in schools and colleges). However, these singular-identity based solutions fail to adequately address the problem of providing comprehensive support systems to youth of color due to their multicultural identities.

As an activist, I understand the LGBT community’s natural inclination to respond to the recent tragedies via overtly LGBT-specific suicide prevention campaigns, particularly as we face budget cuts to AIDS/HIV research programs, delays in ending employment-based discrimination in the workplace (ENDA) and in the military (DADT), and setbacks to our fight for federal equality via equal marriage. But as a queer woman of color who is also a survivor of attempted suicide, bearing witness to passionate, yet single-issue LGBT political rhetoric that continually lacks inclusion of the voices of people of color, on top of the seemingly lackadaisical response to this issue from straight communities of color, has been extremely frustrating.

Single-Issue Politics Alienates People of Color

I recently participated as a feature speaker at a “Candlelight Vigil for the Victims of Anti-LGBT Bullying” in front of the MA statehouse. That evening, I was delighted to see over 400 people in attendance and a crowd rich in cultural diversity, sexual orientation, age etc. Yet, in spite of a very diverse turnout, all but one of the speakers before me had placed nearly all of their emphasis on political/policy improvement action as it affected LGBT youth specifically, from “increasing funding for Gay Student Associations (GSAs)”, “introducing tougher legislation to protect youth from harassment based on their sexual orientation (via the Safe Schools Improvement Act)” to “calling state senators and demanding LGBT equality.” It seemed that yet again, the LGBT movement was on the brink of being consumed by the same single-issue politics that spear-headed Prop 8 into a brick wall and then blamed the African-American community for not standing by LGBT rights, as though they didn’t acknowledge African-Americans as an intersecting subpopulation of the LGBT community and that the language and/or how the Prop 8 movement talked about equality (framing it specifically around “marriage”) failed to align with or resonate with their (and other groups’) cultural values.

In the case of the vigil, our country, almost overnight, had received a shocking message (or reminder) that LGBT youth weren’t just at “greater risk of attempted suicide” as compared to their peers (a stark 4 to 1 ratio), but that this already alarming data fact had moved from clinical euphemism to harsh reality: LGBT youth were no longer just at risk, they were dying, and we needed to do something about it. Given the impact of these events on the gay community specifically, vigils and rallies such as the one that helped bring Boston’s progressive community together in response to these tragedies, have played a critical role in building momentum for change. However, like the gay white marriage movement, the collective call to legal arms and protections misses the mark by alienating people who are put off by political jargon but are empowered by the idea of more personal, direct, empathic, and inclusive strategies to create safe spaces for all of our youth; one that, for instance, recognizes that transgender youth are still marginalized within alleged LGBT-friendly spaces, and that the voices of people of color are often muffled by the cultural incompetencies of whitestream organizing strategies; one that is aware that equal protection as described by mainstream LGBT activists doesn’t automatically guarantee equal protection for the people that fall into any of the afore-mentioned identity groups, myself included.

Lack of Cultural Competency within Formal Support Systems

When I left Nigeria for the world’s largest melting pot, I was met with a shocking reality. Ironically, a group of African-American students — the students who actually “looked” like me — became my biggest bullies and oppressors for the two cold years I spent in boarding school in New Hampshire. Go figure, my African accent and cultural mannerisms were target for ridicule in a racially diverse school with almost no Africans represented.

I received daily hate mail in my PO Box with words that would be inappropriate to disclose, a group of girls began spreading really nasty rumors about me, and they sang profane songs with my name inserted whenever I was in sight. This soon escalated to more physically aggressive attacks — name calling in the cafeteria, stalking me back to my dorm, shoving and worse. I remember staying in my room for two whole days, starving, because I was afraid of running into them in the dining hall.

I felt completely alone. My family was halfway across the world, worried enough that their 17-yr old was alone in a foreign country. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that staff from the “multicultural students office” (a school-sanctioned support system for students of color) to whom they’d entrusted me accused me of “constantly evoking aggression by asserting my African identity all the time”. They frequently dismissed my pleas for intervention for fear of “making other students of color look bad.” When my dormitory head noticed my mood and school performance were on the decline, she encouraged me to see student counseling because I knew the school policy on harassment but didn’t want to get anyone suspended or expelled. Unfortunately, the counselor’s casually expressed class prejudices about the “poor” and “unexposed” black students who were bullying me (even though they were, in my defense) made me uncomfortable. Needless to say, I never went back.

To the outside world, it would seem that my prestigious boarding school did provide me with sound systems of support: a multicultural students office, a resident authority figure in my dorm, unlimited access to confidential counseling services and much more. But none of these formal support systems were equipped to deal with me wholly. In fact, they contributed to the feelings of isolation I felt by warranting that I fragment (or silence) parts of myself to receive the aid and support I needed. They couldn’t appreciate the complexities of my experience as an international student, or a student of color who wasn’t American, nor as an African student struggling to define herself in a world where even black people saw me as an “other”.

The result of a lack of diversity within the formal support systems in my school was that resources became inaccessible to me. I didn’t trust anyone to understand what I was going through. In addition to cultural barriers, their incessant recommendation of resources — brochures, peer hotlines, counselors etc — felt too much like the feeling you get when a doctor prescribes Ibuprofen before you disclose the nature of your symptoms. Too often, I was told what to do — report the bullies, stand up for yourself, ignore them — to counter one part of my problem, when all I needed was someone to listen to me, acknowledge the entirety of my experience rather than offer me impersonal “resources” for select parts of my identity.

Lack of LGBT-Awareness within Multicultural Support Groups

Two years later, a really diverse orientation week at my new college campus confirmed that I no longer had to suffer the loneliness of being an “other”. Relief. There was an African students association, a Black Student’s Union, and even an International Co-Ed living group that I decided to join. Moreover, my dormitory housed multiple language houses, which further satisfied my need for a cross-cultural community. I made friends easily and figured it’d be smooth sailing to graduation. But just when I thought I’d finally arrived at a point in my life where I could fit in, I began to question my sexuality, which alienated me almost instantly from all of the perceivably homophobic affinity groups to which I belonged.

The most cited approach to LGBT suicides that I’ve heard is the creation of more GSAs. I won’t speak for every student, but will say that for me, as a person of color, I never sought out the GSA because every flier, brochure or representation (in the form of students or faculty) that I came upon didn’t resonate with me at all. I often thought to myself that those weird white people that hung out in some lounge on Thursday evenings didn’t have anything in common with me. How could they? They talked about shunning their families for independence and recreating families from a network full of strangers, a philosophy that clashed too much with my cultural beliefs.

But even with my initial resistance to my school’s GSA, I’m sure that I’d have visited at least once if the director had been person of color. Conversely, the black student union was no better. I never felt comfortable among devout Christians who went to church as a group every Sunday, then casually expressed their homophobia over brunch, along with a tirade of derogatory comments made about my African heritage. In a campus that was overzealous with providing resources, support groups, and counseling, I faced the same issue I’d experienced in my high school: lack of diversity within each formal support group, which left me feeling isolated, fragmented, and one night, without any hope. I attempted suicide.

Diversity Saves Lives

Diversity is about perspective. None of the formal support systems at either of my schools had been equipped with adequate enough perspective to empathize with my needs and so they failed in supporting me. It isn’t going to be enough to just harp on administrators and legislators to act quickly to improve anti-bullying policies and create more formal support systems if students with multiple identities continue to fall out of the scope. We must put just as much (if not more) effort in expanding the reach and improving the relatability of formal support systems as we do in creating them. Hiring more POC staff — not just “white allies” — toincrease cultural competency in LGBT spaces is a good start. But straight communities of color must also commit to developing LGBT leadership within POC spaces if we are to achieve full equality for all.

And yet, while we support the efforts of school administrations and advocacy groups, it is important for all of us to be open, transparent, and visible, so that kids/teens don’t feel so alone, or like their struggles can’t be overcome. It is hard to know which parts of our identities a kid/teen may need to see to feel real hope. But diversity begins with the courage to present all aspects of ourselves to the world, all the time, and without fear. So for the sake of our youth, we must be brave enough to be ourselves.

Activism and The Dark Side of Leadership

Last weekend, QWOC+ Boston hosted our annual fall social to welcome newcomers to Boston, build community, and celebrate both my birthday and achievement via my Lavender Rhino Award — given to an emerging activist whose impact on the local LGBT communities deserves recognition — from The History Project. My birthday had already happened earlier in the month, but as an astrology-enthusiast who believes in manifesting the energy within the “realm” of Virgo, I’ve always made it a point to award myself a month-long period of reflection, celebration, and life planning each year. Indeed, my birthday marks the beginning of my new year, and I’ve never taken this lightly.

Perhaps escaping the shackles that were my last relationship freed up some long-time buried aspirations, ’cause this past year was filled with more creativity in the form of my writing, photography, and drawing, new social entrepreneurial business ventures, deepening relationships with friends and a wonderful new partner, punctuated by an amazing award from a prestigious organization, coming out to my parents, and applying to business school. Craaaazy. And even though the fast pace of my eventful life was overwhelming at times, it felt good to be finally investing in myself, for a change.

I’ve been working my tail off for QWOC+ Boston in the spirit of community for over four years. And I’m only just now beginning to realize that I’ve never actually thought about all that I have compromised on (and, at times, sacrificed) in the name of community: definitely lots of money, my mental and physical health — I had to have surgery last year due to high stress levels creating too much cholesterol and thus, gall stones, for chrissake! — and, most importantly, my privacy.

For instance, last year I went through a painful breakup and had to suffer through the effects of this publicly. At nearly every QWOC+ event, people inquired (or demanded) to know the whereabouts of my other half. I avoided these questions at first, but this only led to whispers and speculation happening all around me. The woman who I’d thought I’d be with forever had just dumped me right before the holidays (ouch!), but I didn’t have the luxury of mourning in private; I was continually forced to relive the breakup with each question and judgment that was passed by people who didn’t know who I was, what I was going through, or even really cared about me…

They say that leadership is lonely. We tweet cute paraphrased quotes about this on the daily but so many of us never know this truth until we get there. And funny enough, the closer the HistoryMaker awards ceremony drew near, the more overwhelmed I became with the task of writing this speech, a speech that no doubt had to include some passionate call to action filled with strength and rhetoric. After all, I was the first woman of color recipient of the Lavender Rhino Award, no doubt it was my responsibility, for instance, to get up there and call out The History Project for asking the community for nominations and then essentially uninviting them by setting the ticket prices at $125 in the middle of a recession. I’d be surrounded by a room full of “white people that could benefit from hearing what I had to say.” At least that’s what someone told me.

At my birthday party, when I was already feeling disappointed that none of my organizers thought to bring out the cake, let alone get people to sing Happy Birthday or make a few remarks to acknowledge the occasion, several other activists (no doubt with a chip on their shoulder), reminded me that I was the “token person of color of the moment”, and my award was “nice and all” but that the History Project was just using me to make money. Sure, we all know that’s the way award shows work — you honor people of value so that you can sell tickets of value (cause someone’s gotta pay the caterer). But it still stung to hear other organizers/activists — who know what it’s like to toil and sweat over a community you love for no money and little to no recognition — attempt to ruin my moment with bitter sentiments and thus trivialize all the work that I have done, consistently, creatively, and collaboratively, for the past four years.

However, before permanent resentment had the chance to sink in, it occurred to me that we, as activists — whether you’re an educator, community organizer, youth worker, artist, parent, lawyer, etc — probably all feel used and unappreciated in some way. Almost every activist I know complains about feeling under-appreciated, tired, regarded with the admiration and disdain of a celebrity (for way less to no money), and yes, at times very lonely. I wondered about how that could be, when there are so many of us complaining about the same things, commiserating in the fleeting moments we walked by each other during community events during which we all had to be “on”. Was it possible that we still didn’t know that we each weren’t alone in this struggle to consistently rise to the occasion on behalf of others? Was it possible that we’d fallen into the dark side, resenting everyone else for the lack of empathy, encouragement, and support we ourselves were failing to give each other?

With this in mind, I decided to write a personal speech. I simply needed to express the conflicting emotions I’d been experiencing over the past month — coming out to my African parents, feeling tokenized, burnt out, unappreciated, proud… ? I didn’t have it in me to get up on a soapbox and rally – yet again – for a cause. For once, I wanted to advocate for myself. In so doing, I really believed I could touch someone else, the way I was touched when  first saw a woman of color speaking at at a Dyke March, openly and vulnerably about, well, being a gay woman of color in a sea of white people. At the time, I was feeling exactly the way she did (organizing with the Dyke March will do that to you), and the inspiration I felt after hearing her, moved me to create QWOC+ Boston.

I fought against the feeling that I was letting people down and committed to writing something deeply personal I hoped would resonate with other activists in the room. I wanted to be brave enough to out myself as human if just to reach one person with this message: “You are not alone.”

Still, the guilt of selfishly using my moment for my own personal therapy vs educating people as the public persona that is the sassy afrofeminist warrior woman continued to weigh me down. Could I really get up there and whine about how hard it was to be an “activist”? Or how I’d often felt a sense of estrangement being surrounded by fans all the time (vs. my real friends)? Would people, as they do with celebrities, go “Boo hoo, how hard it must be for you winning awards and having so much attention.”?

Or would they listen if I said that I was almost one of those kids I’d just read about on the news? That I was almost a teen suicide statistic because I wasn’t given enough opportunities to feel accepted, heard, and truly be myself. Shouldn’t we as adults, learn to value human beings as they are — open, vulnerable, complicated, diverse — rather than talk and orate ourselves into thin air…? Sometimes to prevent others from feeling completely hopeless, all we need to do is listen, not harp on about societal expectations or worse, send insensitive messages to people who are struggling to “get over it” based on some self-serving hierarchy of oppression.

By noon on the day of the ceremony I’d written a personal speech (which was originally intended to thank my close friends and family for a wonderful earthly-bound journal of letters they’d just given me for my birthday). But, just in case I lost my nerve, I had also crafted the beginnings of another speech, which was way more risque — calling out elitism and tokenization within queer organizing, urging people to consider their role in creating safe spaces for youth to feel accepted, namely, by being all of who they were, themselves —  and was stuck on which speech I should’ve been rehearsing for the evening.

Naturally, I did what any smart millenial leader would do, I tweeted and posted a Facebook question about what kind of speech to write. “Personal or Call to Action?”, I offered. The responses I received were overwhelmingly for the Call to Action. “It’s what people need to hear right now,” someone said, including “I think you’d write a compelling call to action.” I was flattered by all the votes of confidence. But a part of me was angry with the idea that, once again, giving of myself, I’d have to go against my emotional needs for the greater good, for the sake of invigorating others, for the sake of giving visibility to yet another important issue (in my mind, mental health and suicide prevention) when I was running on empty due to the same issue. How about what I needed to do? How about what other leaders needed to hear to encourage them to continue fighting?

My closest friends urged me to go with the personal and last minute, I decided to trust them, and myself. After all, these were the people who actually knew who I was, who were privy to the late nights brainstorming, the bar tab looming at poorly attended events, the fake displays of affection from others for the sake of associating with the “woman who runs QWOC+”… These people knew me simply as “the introvert who loves writing” and supported my need to express myself, personally. Moreover, the news about TWO recent teen suicides touched me in a way I couldn’t explain. I just needed to express somehow that depression and feelings of isolation based on your identity affect everyone, not just kids.

Dear reader, I am SO glad that I followed my heart and shared my personal story with all those people in the room. After my speech, during the mingling portion of the evening, so many people come up to me to share their appreciation of my words and bravery in being open and honest during my soapbox moment. A handsome boi of color (there were just a few of us as you can imagine) came up to me to shake my hand for acknowledging the er, lack of “culture” in the room. An Asian guy who had come out to his mother recently shared his story and offered his comfort. My friends stood up for me — including a few others in the room (I mean, there were a lot of elderly people so…). One of the members of GCN news — a pioneering paper that existed long before Bay Windows sold their soul — said she’d gotten choked up listening to my story, and that it reminded her of the need for friends and family in this work. And a distinguished gentlemen expressed being so filled with admiration that he looked forward to seeing and hearing more of me. This was far more rewarding of a post-speech experience than what I’m sure would’ve included firm hand-shakes and kudos for “sticking it to the man.” What we need is to be able to relate each other. What we need is comfort and inspiration from knowing that we are all human, and that anything — even the things that other people get awards for — is possible.

I didn’t offer a call to action yesterday because sometimes I think our lust for rhetoric and “big ideas” makes us lose sight of what’s important: people, and their connection to other people… in the room.

We all need to feel like we can be ourselves, no matter what. That’s why diversity is important — it creates a sense of belonging for more than just the majority. Creating spaces where people feel like they can be themselves and be both accepted and loved, unconditionally, as whole and complex human beings should be our TOP priority. Without a deep connection to humanity and all that comes with it — pride, culture, togetherness, oneness, vulnerability, support — so many of us would still be in the closet, spewing hate unto others, or as the recent teen suicides should tell us, simply not around when and if equality does finally come around :-/

So here’s my call to action: SPEAK, even when you feel like no one’s listening. STOP SPEAKING, long enough to listen to what others need around you need to say to feel SEEN. And BE ALL OF YOURSELF, all the time. You never know who’s watching you in the present, envisioning you as a future holding all that is possible. Oh, and always surround yourself with good friends :-)

Here’s a copy of the original Thank You note I wrote to my friends, family, and girlfriend, which became the motivation and parts of my speech yesterday. I want to share it with you in case you’ve ever felt like me, and in case it gives you comfort, as it will for me always.

A Thank You To My Friends and Family for the Unconditional Love and Support

I woke up this morning with a wood-green, earthly-bound journal of words, affirmation, love, and admiration held close to my chest. In fact, I’d fallen asleep in somewhat of a fetal position, with both arms wrapped around this book that instantly meant the world to me when I received it. Behind my back, my girlfriend had asked my closest friends and family to send me Birthday Wishes that she could compile and hand-write into a journal, and deliver to me on my birthday (which was exactly 3 weeks ago).

I never received this journal on my birthday in part because there were delays in receiving submissions from my inner circle, which is often filled with warrior and trailblazer schedules (read: hard to get a hold of), but also because my sister in Nigeria hadn’t had access to Internet in a while due to the chronic power outages that plague the city. This was, of course, one of the more important submissions and so she had to wait till she received this, days after my birthday. More time elapsed because I’m one of the hardest people to surprise, often “taking matters into my own hands.” So finding the time and space to work on my birthday journal (while listening to me whine and complain about no on caring about me) was probably, er, challenging.

The thing is, when you’re a warrior woman like me, you can’t sit around waiting to be rescued, or wooed, or even given a birthday cake. You see, I’m often surrounded by soldiers, community members, even mentors, who aren’t in tune with my personal needs — that simply isn’t their role. Thus, to avoid being disappointed or feeling lonely or like no one cares, I’ve learned to self-motivate, and self-care for myself. That said, this particular month was harder than usual. I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say that it’s been difficult to focus on perceived public successes and/or celebrate anything — my birthday, and most especially my award — when there’s been so much happening in my personal life that’s left me feeling powerless, vulnerable, and confused.

I recently came out to my mother, who’s still in mourning as we speak, and thus providing a daily source of pain for me. Yet, in spite of this, I’ve had to keep up with the work I do here in Boston and radiate the positivity, openness, and optimism that I know is necessary when leading any project. My girlfriend had first-hand knowledge of this dilemma and I’m sure was bummed when delays kept preventing her from giving me the journal, which she no doubt believed was the “boost” I needed to get through this month.

My sister finally got around to sending in her birthday message — the final piece to complete the gift. But even after my girlfriend had received the words from all the people that really mattered, finding a place and time away from my eyes and around a tight ‘first-lady’ schedule of networking events, birthday parties, and of course, downtime, took on the plot twists of a James Bond movie. I imagined the Mission Impossible theme playing in the background as she crept from room to room in our apartment that’s too small for my boisterous personality, sneaking in handwritten passages in the bathroom, for instance, as she pretended to brush her teeth (or do something else) while I chopped onions for dinner in the kitchen, most likely singing loudly to RENT or WICKED. Ah, the joy and frustrations of intimacy.

But last night I finally received my gift: messages of love, encouragement, and admiration from my closest friends and family, a reminder of who I am to the people I love and admire the most. And even though it was late, their messages were timely, as they came the night before I have to get on a stage and accept my Lavender Rhino Award from the LGBT History Project in front of a room full of activists that I really don’t know.

What a lot of people don’t know about me — or any activist for that matter — is that though we are constantly surrounded by people, we often suffer from self-imposed isolation. We suffer withdrawal periods from the same communities that we love so much and so hard. I’m pretty confident making this statement because every leader I’ve ever met has told me the same thing: leadership is very lonely. I won’t say it’s lonely at the “top” because I don’t feel like my work can be characterized in this way. I don’t feel any “higher” than the people I care about and thus, fight for. What I do feel is that I’m often at the very center, speaking to, for, and against people all around me, from within and from afar, or at the very edge, pushing the envelope and leading the charge. What this means for me is that I’m often surrounded by strangers, people who don’t really know who I am — what my favorite color is, where I’m from, what I like to do when I’m not “fighting” — and whose connections to me hang ever so lightly on the thread of issues.

Knowing that this camaraderie, this different kind of love is, at best, conditional (what happens if I switch positions tomorrow?) can really mess with you, especially when life happens; when you all of a sudden realize that you’re not superhuman because you’ve gotten sick, or the person who promised you forever dumped you right before the holidays, or you’ve just gotten fired from your job and have no health insurance and your cats are hungry. Sometimes, all you want is to be able to lay down your armor and cry, because nothing’s fair, people suck, you’re tired and you wish you had the money to purchase a small country (with no people in it) so that you can escape from all of this and just be.

It’s easy to lose yourself in a sea of superficial love when you don’t have real friends who know you, plainly, who can look out for you and send you TLC right when you need it. This is why I am SO grateful for all the connections I’ve made over the past four years. I have met some incredible people. I have experiences the most transformative years of my 20s. And yet, I know it’s only going to get better and harder to stay grounded in who I am and what I stand for. That’s why I am MOST grateful for the personal relationships that have sustained and nourished me all these years, including for those of you who I’ve only known for a short while.

To my girlfriend, I know that surprising me with this wonderful gift couldn’t have been easy. So, thank you for staying with it, and for collaborating with the universe to give me this wonderful and timeless gift that all my close friends had a part in, and on the day that I needed it the most.

To my friends and family who contributed to this journal, thank you for keeping me in your hearts even though I know I sometimes appear to be far away; thank you for your constant reassurance that I am not alone, and that I am loved deeply and dearly by you all.

And to all of the people who have supported me as a warrior woman, as an activist, as a sister, as a friend, as a partner, know that I value you deeply, that I have let you into my heart and I cherish you with every fight, with every tear, with every fond memory of peace, play, and justice. YOU are the reason I continue to fight. YOU are my Lavender Rhinos. Thank you for this gift of unconditional love, for it has award me the greatest honor and privilege in my lifetime, which is to be myself.

Anti-Muslim Bigot Literally Takes a “Stab” at Patriotism

I just read the article on ColorLines.com about the NYC stabbing of a Muslim cab driver…

I’m filled with so much rage.

I can’t believe this. And yet, I can. I’m so ashamed today to ever defend this country from foreigners who believe that the citizen collective is a walking head case. Really? An unprovoked stabbing of a 42-year old father and working class citizen just because some drunken, misinformed, a**hole decided to literally take a stab at patriotism?

Enright, who asked to be taken to 43rd St. and Third Ave., was friendly when he first got into the cab, asking Sharif where he was from, how long had he been in America and inquiring about his religion. “As the cab was proceeding, the passenger asked, ‘Are you Muslim?’ and the driver said that he was,'” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters. After his initial flurry of questions, Enright grew silent for several minutes before suddenly attacking the unsuspecting Sharif. Just before Enright whipped out the knife from his multi-gadget Leatherman tool, he barked: “Al salaam aalaykum”

He’s NOT just a “Muslim”, you asshole. He was someone’s father. He’s an American by right.

This could’ve been about anybody — a latino boy in the wrong part of Arizona, another trans person in Puerto Rico, a gay couple in Malawi, a queer in Nigeria… and what really scares me is that his profile on paper seems to suggest that he would be an ally to the Muslim community.

Enright was a volunteer for Intersections International, a Manhattan-based group that promotes peace among different religions. A spokesman confirmed he was filming for the group, which recently threw its support behind the controversial Park 51 mosque project near Ground Zero.

Enright was a volunteer for Intersections International, a Manhattan-based group that promotes peace among different religions. A spokesman confirmed he was filming for the group, which recently threw its support behind the controversial Park 51 mosque project near Ground Zero.

I’m so angry that I’m tempted to say that street justice is the best approach to situations like this; the courts take too long to come to the wrong conclusion. But if we let our anger and emotional need for retaliation lead us, then we’d be no better than this 21-yr who thinks that fear is the only way America can be free…

I won’t give up on people. I won’t I won’t I won’t…

Read the Full Article in the New York Daily News

Obama, Apparently Your Gay Card Has Expired Due to Inactivity

Politics is not my cup of tea, but I just read a series of Facebook posts about an article posted on the Advocate about the LGBT community’s “Disappointment” with Obama that kinda got to me today. This article is certainly not the first of its kind that I’ve come across; negative commentary on news is always current news these days and I’ve tried to ignore all the political jargon that’s been flying back and forth in cyberspace.

To be sure, these politically polarized online conversations often find ways to invade neutral social spaces offline. I should be used to this by now, but lately — perhaps due to the heightened sensitivity around hte political climate — it’s become even more difficult to avoid (or at least compartmentalize) the experience of becoming an accidental participant, much less an incidental spectator. Despite “Hiding” all the Facebook perpetrator Boo-Obama status updates in my News Feeds and RSVPing “(Hell) No” to radical political action committee meetings where at least two people are bound to punctuate their rhetoric with fist thumping on a non-profit budgeted table, I’ve found myself stumped for words on more than one occasion.

No one — gay or straight, liberal or conservative — should be so presumptuous as to slip in a last minute toast to “Electing a president with some balls the next time around” right before a first round of drinks, or offer the lean-in-with-deep-earnest-eyes-and-place-hand-on-one-shoulder gesture while they try to convince you that, “He’s just like all the others.” I don’t sport any visible Proud Obama Supporter merchandise, so I’ve often been confused about what typically prompts the latter (It’s cause I’m black, init?), but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I should invest in a “Back Off, I Love Obama!” T-Shirt, lest I get taken by surprise when I’m having a really bad day and respond less than tactfully.

To cut to the chase, I’m not another queer liberal who’s angry with Obama. However, today, as I scrolled through Facebook News, digesting bits and pieces of social commentary in the anger, disappointment, humor, and hate categories, I was forced to think about whether or not I should be.

Is there evidence that members and supporters of the LGBT community should be angry? Yes. Is there evidence that Obama has made promises (ENDA, DADT) that he’s (so far) failed to keep? Yes. Should we hold our leaders accountable at any and all costs? Most definitely.

I whole-heartedly understand and empathize with where people are coming from. We certainly all have the right to be mad for one reason or the other. However, I’m losing patience with people that presume to think that I’m down with taking down “the Man” on a single issue just because I’m part of the LGBT community at large. “Do you think Obama has kept his promises to the gay community?” I answer, No. But…

Dear angry (and mainly white) liberal gay community, I’m more than just a single poll vote — I’m many polls and many votes. Shoot, I’m a database of hard facts about privilege in this country. I’m one of you, one of “them”, many of “other” — a whole and complex being — so please remember that there are too many other political and social issues at stake (for me, for my family, and for my community) for me to burn Obama for side-stepping a hot potato that’s been baking for far too long in the granite-counter-topped kitchens of rich white gay men.

Now, about this article. Richard Just writes:

“Obama argues that he is against gay marriage while also opposing efforts like Prop 8 that would ban it,” he writes. “He justifies this by saying that state constitutions should not be used to reduce rights. (His exact words: ‘I am not in favor of gay marriage, but when you’re playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that that is not what America is about.’) Obama appears to be saying that it is fine to prohibit gay people from getting married, as long as the vehicle for doing so is not a constitution.

Really? This sounds like a critical reasoning paragraph from the GREs (sorry I’m in grad school application mode). Perhaps I need to brush up on my reading comprehension skills but this sentiment doesn’t describe how I’ve been reading Obama at all. How do we go from a president who’s clearly come out against the amending of the constitution to further legislate taking away basic rights from gay people to trivializing his position with semantics? How do we call someone who’s actually been decent about providing transparency (even if it means we see/hear him go back and forth vs getting to hear PR-proofed-and-puppeteered statements) a liar? Didn’t we hear over and over again that he would not be pushing through gay marriage, but rather, working with us to ensure that civil unions were protected? (read: please don’t force me to jeopardize my candidacy, I’ll do what I can, since no one else is doing it anyway).

NEWS FLASH: Obama is a politician. This shouldn’t be surprising, and it certainly shouldn’t constantly be used to insult him (or anyone else for that matter), especially since politicians are the only pawns we can elect into office. (Outspoken freedom fighters like me do our job on the ground because we wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the world of politics, and that’s the TRUTH). We should try to remember that politicians are subject to politics, bureaucracy, endless debate, soap box fails, and most importantly, our conditional love and support at best. It shouldn’t be so hard for us to see — as leaders ourselves — that sometimes you’ve gotta walk the thin line between proponent and opponent to get to the other side: progress.

I started paying close attention when he didn’t make the daft mistake of running the presidential race on a “black agenda” platform despite pressure to come out and do/say more about the experience of African-Americans in this country. He’s clearly fence-sitting, trying not to cause too many ripples so as not to jeopardize a possible re-election (during a future period where increased tolerance and awareness would better aid us). To do so would mean that he won’t be there to continue digging out the shit from the hole we threw him into in the first place.

And yet, every other day I log into Facebook, some angry liberal is posting about not voting for him, throwing him in the same category as Bush (really? George Double-yuh??), and helping our real opponents, extreme right-wing conservatives, burn him at the stake. I can understand your disappointment. Hell, sometimes I want to wring his neck and shake him into taking a god damn position… like I would do. Sometimes, we need to kick and scream and throw tantrums because this simply isn’t fair… to “us.” But we must never lose sight of the big picture, which includes ALL of us, and I’m not talking about our neighbors or check-box mates. I’m talking about recognizing that we are a part of many different communities that Obama HAS been fighting for — the middle class who can’t afford insurance, small business owners, WOMEN, educators etc. We should Thank Him for his progress in those arenas, rather than continually put him down for areas where his record could show a little more improvement. Isn’t that what good mentors do? Isn’t that what smart citizens should do?

This single-issue approach to ratings and slandering politicians just isn’t helpful. Moreover, it’s hypocritical. If we’re still having discussions about negotiating when and where to come out (based on safety, the age of children in schools, appropriateness in the workplace, generational attitudes re: elders etc), then we shouldn’t expect our president to be excited about outing himself to a sea of still predominantly conservative political voices and media.

And before you retort with, “Well, I’m not the president, it’s his job to…” please think about whether or not you would switch positions with him today, if given the opportunity. If you won’t accept the offer to be Obama for just one day — to be required to listen and engage the voices of over three hundred million people — then fall in line, and support him, especially if you voted for him. If we don’t stand behind our choices, we’d be no better than conservatives who threw Bush to the dogs the minute they ran out of rhetoric to distract the country from his complete and utter failure.

If I lose my gay card because I don’t “hold Obama accountable to the marriage issue” then so be it. One card can’t define me, and shouldn’t define the president of (still) the most powerful country in the world, where citizens are a sum total of the issues they care about. I still choose any president that’s brave enough to approach leadership with this in mind.

Now, don’t let me down, Obama.
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