Browse Tag: lgbt

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.

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?)

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)

Glad about GLAD’s Inclusive Outreach for Annual Winter Dance Party

I wasn’t even supposed to blog today — it’s so nice outside, and I don’t know how long this sun will last so I gotta make this quick. I cannot contain my excitement, intense feelings of hope, and pride in my community as GLAD’s Annual Winter Dance party gets a makeover this year.

Friends across multiple social and professional networks are seriously buzzing about this party — hey, I’m here blogging about it! I’ve been promoting the Winter Dance all week, and have found that many of my friends were already making group plans to attend. Moreover, my new connections (including QWOC+ Boston newbies), have been reaching out to me about it, too — via Facebook, Twitter, email etc — so clearly both offline and online word of-mouth marketing is working full throttle to ensure a fun, energetic, and diverse attendee list at the event on Sunday.

For those of you who don’t know, Gay Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is a non-profit public interest law firm that fights for LGBTQ equality under law throughout New England. Basically, they file BIG legal suits against bodies (including the Supreme Court? Daaang) that discriminate against LGBTQ people, but more importantly, they win :).

Their legal efforts have truly (and practically, down to the dollar) improved the lives of the LGBTQ community; groups and individuals who faced discrimination now have justice for it, and the rest of us can rest assured of increased legal protection due to their remarkable wins. GLAD has performed unimaginable, modern-day miracles. Take for example, their recent win against the US Tax Court, who blocked a transwoman from deducting the significant medical expenses she incurred from her sex reassignment surgery. OR, their ground-breaking Aids Law Project win against the Supreme Court in 1998, which holds that people with HIV are protected from discrimination — right to healthcare, for one — under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

GLAD has been fighting for me for years. So, how is it that an LGBTQ community organizer like myself had no idea who they were up until just over a year ago? And how is it that I only knew ‘of’ them because a friend of mine happens to be their Special Events Manager (ah Robbie, dare I say you’re behind this new makeover? ;)); I knew nothing about their work or accomplishments in the legal realm until relatively recently.

As part of QWOC+ Boston’s diversity-via-partnership-building strategy, I had gotten to know almost every single social justice organization that was doing work in the LGBTQ community — and not just by name. I was well familiar with their service-based programs and their event programming; I’d discussed future/potential collaborations with their development staff and other organizers; I’d met many of their board members at fundraisers, informal social gatherings, and networking events. Yet, GLAD stayed under my radar.

Here are a few reasons I think they didn’t appeal to me:

  • Nothing about the way GLAD presented themselves — their special events, their press releases, their dry online presence — seemed intended for younger people. The subtext was too heavily focused on a gay movement many of us were still learning about and hadn’t fully plugged into. How could I care about national legal issues when my mental health was in jeopardy from having no sense of social community in my own city?
  • GLAD’s special events were waaay too expensive for recently-out-of-college me, and seemed like they had been planned mainly for an affluent, philanthropic white gay male donor list e.g. they hosted live auctions with items going for thousands of dollars, like long oversea vacations for people with more flexible work schedules (and 9 friends in the same tax bracket)
  • Because of this, even when I could attend via complimentary tickets to QWOC+ Boston, I often felt like one of the youngest attendees. And, needless to say, I was usually one of a handful of people of color in the room
  • Again, the legal, political, lobbying, bill fighting stuff just didn’t resonate with me and the people I knew. I represented a group of young professional people of color and allies, who were still trying to create a multi-identity accepting and inclusive community in Boston. A national white male gay rights movement seemed even further away from my reality back then (just a few years ago), when I was still growing QWOC+ Boston. I didn’t think my support (or lack of it) in any form would have an impact at all on the work that GLAD was doing.

That was me, then. Flash forward four years later, where I’m now a loyal follower of GLAD in part because I’m a little older, financial stable in my career, and more plugged in politically. Since equality for all is extremely important to me — I fight for it daily, in my own way — I want to get involved with organizations like GLAD, and I’m sure others do too! So, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m very encouraged by their recent efforts to appeal to a more diverse group of potential donors.

I’ve made a few observations about the GLAD Winter T-Dance’s event marketing that I’d like to point out:

  • A Tea Dance is a gender-neutral event format — it appeals to both male and female identified attendees, unlike a dragqueen show (gay boys), or wet t-shirt contest (Cali Dykes). Okay, just kidding, but you get the point. That’s a diversity tip we should all store somewhere. Love it.
  • A lower price point (cheaper than a $75 mini-fundraiser faster, but boasts more sentimental ‘value’ than a $10 admission fee to a nightclub) will undoubtedly induce a huge wave of excitement; people love to support causes that are within their financial means (see post on Valentine’s Day). And now, there’ll be no need to remind them to tip the bartenders! Love it.
  • Music, music, music! DJ Mocha spinning “Dance” hits! Yes! Who doesn’t wanna party on a Sunday? You’re even allowed to Suggest Songs for the Playlist via a Facebook Widget. That’s great for the DJ AND the eager dancing crowd that may wanna “shake it up” per the Bay Windows advertisement. What’s more, is that they’re providing a Jazz Lounge for the people who just wanna schmooze (and preferably not over a loudspeaker). Love it!
  • In addition to the big-money raffle prizes, GLAD has (as always) the “Choose Your Own Raffle” section, featuring gifts like Red Sox vs. Yankee tickets, Spa Massages, Dinner and a Movie for Two Packages etc. Over 20 of these, apparently. So I’m delighted that the prizes they choose to highlight on their website could be for anybody. Love it!
  • In addition to using all the popular social media channels (e.g. Facebook and Twitter), GLAD offered an even bigger discount to community member by providing special codes to small groups. I was delighted to receive an email that said I was being offered two complimentary tickets to attend, but that I could also share a discount code with QWOC+ Boston members as well. Social networking, viral marketing, and community engagement all in one?? I LOVE this!

These “special features” may have everything to do with GLAD’s long overdue success with at least exciting a younger, gender-neutral, multicutural crowd about their upcoming winter event, or nothing at all. I’ll know for sure on Sunday. But regardless of what the turnout is like, I am encouraged by their efforts, and am looking forward to having a good time with my friends and fellow POC community organizers on Sunday. I love fresh starts.

Go GLAD! :)

Harvard LGBT Students of Color and Allies Talk Race and Queerness, Gender Takes a Back Seat

Harvard's Team logo

Last night, I had the pleasure of facilitating a student discussion about the experience of being an LGBT person of color and/or ally on the Harvard campus. I was invited to speak about my work as the QWOC+ Boston founding organizer, and about the complexities of having multiple identities as a queer person of color. Read the article in the Crimson (Harvard’s student newspaper).

The event was hosted by the staff and interns of the Harvard Women’s Center, [correction: including Queer Students and Allies, and BlackOut. I originally thought there were no queer or of color student groups listed as co-sponsors or organizers of this discussion — a common tactic to draw out queer or questioning of color youth ].  A good number of students of color and allies showed up — this speaks to the power of collaboration and partnership-building as a method of creating diversity — and even if some of them were on what I heard referenced as “Harvard Time”, the event commenced promptly at 7:30PM and didn’t end till around 9:15PM, when we were all still chirping away about what we could do as individuals to improve the (social) support systems available across college campuses.

Facilitating discussions like these is never easy; for one, it takes a while for students (or anyone really) to warm up to the occasion, but then on top of that, with sensitive topics like race, culture, sexuality, and gender, you’re also asking that near complete strangers open up to sharing some very personal experiences — and strong opinions. Needless to say, it can get racey really quickly. So as the facilitator, I made sure to set some ground rules (e.g. no talking over each other, use the “I” form when sharing an opinion so as not to universalize it for everyone else etc.), and smile BIG as often as possible, to keep the atmosphere light, warm, and open. [Side Note: This picture caught me during an off, intensely cerebral moment!]

I must say that the 15-20 or so Harvard students that attended the event were so respectful of each other that I didn’t really need to enforce any rules. They were also really insightful students. Once or twice, I forgot that I was the facilitator — with the role of guiding the conversation and keeping it going — and would get lost in a student’s well-articulated description of their discontentment with the LGBTQ social landscape. I’d be nodding my head vigorously, then be jolted back into action by my sudden awareness of the  eager, questioning eyes that bore into my befuddled expression, expecting some kind of “answer”… from me. But the truth is, as many of us disillusioned adults know, there is no answer to the problem of diversity. No ‘one’ answer, at least. So that was my message: Diversity is constant, and shape-shifting, but more importantly, it is a collective of perspectives, which we much strive to hear as often as possible.

Take for instance, the great turnout of LGBT students of color and allies at the discussion last night. There were so many different cultural/identity groups represented in the room that it would be easy for the organizers (and facilitators) to boast success in achieving diversity as far as the turnout and quality of conversation. However, as someone who’s been self-trained to notice missing voices, I noted that most of the conversation was driven by the male-identified attendees, which, quite frankly, came as no real surprise; QWOC+ Boston exists as a space primarily for women-identified queer people of color in part because of the sexism and male privilege that women experience within the larger gay community.

As much as queer people of color can discuss feeling “left out” by a predominantly white, male driven gay rights movement, the same can be said of gay men of color leading a male-driven multicultural-within-LGBTQ sub-movement, and it was quite interesting to see this already budding at the collegiate level. To think that we were in the Women’s Center, yet a large number of women sat through the majority of the conversation without uttering but a few words. To be fair, there were a few white allies in the room (predominantly women-identified), who did disclose that they felt more comfortable listening than talking, but even their silence is food for thought.

I dream of a world in which white allies engage in conversation with people of color — not just with other white allies. (Another day, another post.) Moreover, I dream of a world in which queer people of color don’t simply acknowledge that race isn’t the only attribute by which people can be (and are) marginalized, but proactively incorporate this awareness into their LGBTQ organizing efforts. Forming new coalitions around race, compartmentalized, cannot be the answer to marginalization; the perspectives of women, trans and gender non-conforming must be integrated into any action plan if we are all to move towards unity and raise our voices, together.

Many, many thanks to the organizing interns — special thanks to Eva Rosenberg for her fierce, down-to-earth allyness — and the supportive staff of the Harvard’s Women’s Center for creating such an important space for their students (and providing the most delicious fruit dip! Finally, a very humble Thank You to the students for opening up to me and letting me be a part of their conversation. Much love to you all, see you on twitter! :)

[MIT Rules! ;)]

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Plugin from the creators ofBrindes Personalizados :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins