As always, Valentine’s Day weekend was jam-packed with red and pink themed parties designed to seduce the in-love and broken-hearted — mainly new couples, single hetero-ladies, and guilty spouses — into spending big cash in the name of commercial “Love”. However, at almost every event I attended, Cupid seemed to shoot out of range (or not at all) as far as LGBT people of color were concerned. I keep forgetting that Cupid is an immature, “color-blind” white boy. But even if side-stepping the casualties of V-Day weekend may well be a blessing in disguise, it’s no excuse for mainstream to blatantly ignore people of color and LGBT folk.
I’m sure most of us can recall at least one moment during which we realized that major businesses had already hired Cupid to begin spear-heading their annual “Make Sure Your Valentine’s Day Doesn’t Suck” campaigns, right on cue after New Year’s Eve and just before the first web trailer of this year’s white star-studded Valentine’s Day movie flop (wow). You may have stopped by at CVS to grab a pack of gum only to be obstructed by barely-floating heart-shaped balloons in the tacky-candy aisle; perhaps the increasing amount of sexist blood diamond commercials and romantic getaway packages (complete with mid-winter tanning bed deals) that interrupted your Hulu.com TV show eventually clued you in; or, like me, maybe your weekly (aimless) stroll through the “home design” section of your favorite department store was cut short by a plethora of hideous Valentine’s Day furnishings e.g. red plush pillows going for $45 a pop (e tu, Target?). It wasn’t long before every media channel was red-hued, and the nationwide groans began.
Gratuitous ads, elaborate storefront displays, candy aisles, smartphone Apps, and over-priced restaurant menus seemed to beckon every ditz to “Let Loose”, “Forget about Him” (ha!) , and “Find the Perfect Gift for Her!” even if you were single (or broke). [I give Cupid props. Seriously, you’d think a new religion or non-denominational “Way of Life” would’ve been birthed around this pseudo-holiday by now.]
However, in spite of the on-cue messaging, the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day seemed a little frostier than usual (and I don’t think this was just due to the blizzard-that-never-was). So, no doubt, the recession played a major role in re-loading the average hater’s ammunition; I heard complaints, everywhere. Facebook friends, cabbies, professional networkers, idle storekeepers, even Photographers – aren’t they usually responsible for getting other people to smile? – scrooged away un-originally about the pointlessness of Cupid’s holiday. I heard the played out “Why celebrate love just one day of the year – what happens on the other 364 days?” rhetorical question, blunt variations of “I think it’s over-commercialized and stupid!”, real-talk confessions like “It’s a recession, and I’m broke,” and a new personal favorite, “I have no Valentine so I’ll be avoiding my mom.” Fortunately for Cupid, people hardly ever walk their talk. So despite the buffet of reasons for the V-Day mascot to hand in his bow and arrow, a sudden spike in “positive” status updates right after humpday provided the much-needed momentum to coax almost everyone I knew to leave the “Anti-” campaign and join the “Merry” V-Day party.
The LGBT community in particular was no different — we too boasted a fairly busy social itinerary during Valentine’s Day weekend — but with a slight twist; in Queerville, it almost goes without saying that supporting (or worse, promoting) capitalism will earn you harsh judgment if it’s not done philanthropically i.e. alongside some popular cause. You don’t need to follow the news on TV, print, or twitter to know that Americans are currently group-thinking towards “Saving Haiti” these days, almost on the same scale they usually rally around issues that affect poor and/or starving African children… Oh that’s right, the media’s depiction of the country’s “recent” catastrophe essentially calls for the level of humanitarian response Americans have only ever bestowed unto starving African countries: Infantilize, play Savior, then join a Facebook group like the concerned citizen you are. And I’m not just talking about white people; people of color have been doing this to Africans for years.
Incidentally, and in true queer fashion, there were of course a number of V-day events that promised to donate a significant portion of their proceeds to Haiti relief efforts, homeless shelters, liberal political candidates, and other buzz-worthy causes in return for your generous RSVP. It’s a brilliant strategy really; help queers overcome their guilt or embarrassment about participating in traditionally-hetero V-Day activities even after they’ve been conditioned by the liberal movement to be anti-capitalist… and make some money at it, too. Ah, the complexities of being a rebel. In any case, I was both lucky and unlucky to attend several events like this; lucky because, well, queer options are better than no options, and unlucky because queer options usually means I end up being used as brown garnish in a white beantown crowd.
Since queer Boston frequently subjects me to (seemingly inviting) all-white spaces, I’ve gotten into the habit of checking the “pulse” of every event’s promotional communications before donating my RSVP. V-Day weekend was no different, particularly because I had an out-of-town guest and ladyfriend with no patience for diversity fails. So I began my assessment as follows:
Lesbian Nightlife’s V-Day Celebration at Pearl (Friday Night): Cupid didn’t even bother to take aim in this instance. The night’s main feature (and performance) was by “popular” lesbian singer, Lori Michaels. I had no idea who this woman was, but apparently she routinely calls herself a “diva.” I took one look at her MySpace page and new that this would not be the event to party at with my posse of brown and mixed-orientation friends. It would be too white, too loud, and too lesbian. No diversity fail, just a “Next” with no bad feelings. What you see is what you get with LNL, and that’s okay. We would save our energy for Saturday and Sunday.
DykeNight’s Second Saturdays at Machine: This V-Day extravaganza hosted by long-time nightlife philanthropist, Kristen Porter, was also generously running as a fundraiser for the DykeMarch. Based on my past experiences with DykeNight events (the name says it all), I was pretty sure that this party would draw a large crowd of white lezzies that would wanna celebrate V-Day, sweatbox style; the club would be sardine-packed and the DJ would play mainly white pop music, with the occasional “salsa” song (i.e. Elvis Crespo’s “Sauvemente”… yeah). Based on this, could I overlook the lack of cultural diversity? Suuuure, though it’s not like I ever had a choice – I live in faux-progressive Boston. I’ll cut DykeNight some slack for their age diversity, but Cupid may be losing sight of what’s important by focusing mainly on this older crowd; he routinely misses the mark when it comes to showing Asians, Blacks, or Latinos any love.
Cupid Coming Out party at the W: The thing about being a community connector and professional token is that you have to socially netWORK before you make it to the fun party of your evening. So before me and my brown V-Day posse could settle for vanilla-fun at Machine’s Second Saturdays, we had to drop by a fundraiser that I’d been invited to. In the spirit of holiday philanthropy, Spirit Magazine had generously donated promotional power and the “Featured Singles” (which included yours truly) from their February issue to Community Servings’ singles auction to feed the homeless. QWOC+ Boston had partnered with Community Servings on our “Community Organizing Fair with Mayor Denise Simmons” during QWOC Week 2009, so I went, in part, to return the favor, and also because I was curious to see if the turnout would be different from what I expected. It wasn’t. And though I hate to do this to Community Servings, the event was such an epic fail as far as diversity is concerned that I’d be remiss not to spell it out.
- Diversity Fail #1: The tickets were $35 during a recession. Better than GLAD or Fenway with their $100x dollar tickets, but there goes your younger crowd. I doubt that there was anyone under 30 in the room. Maybe they didn’t want any youngins, but youth are the future. FAIL
- Diversity Fail #2: There was no music playing. I mean, NONE. Where was DJ Mocha (the featured DJ)? I thought this was supposed to be a paaaartaaaaay! Were there audio issues? The only sound I heard was of the chitter-chatter of white gay men holding stiff martinis. FAIL.
- Diversity Fail #3: There was no real food. And just in case you missed the lesson from the first fail, I’ll get straight to the point; non-white cultures essentially revolve around good food (not celery, carrots, and bread buns — think rice, spice, and MEAT!) and upbeat music (not “easy listening” or “lullaby” music, we need something we can sway to and put us at ease about being surrounded by so many white people). If you’re going to pass on one, you BETTER come correct with the other, or you’ll lose people — it’s that simple. Please turn the music back up, I’m not interested in what you have to say until we break bread or break dance… (haha, I couldn’t resist that one). FAIL!
- Diversity Fail #4: So Spirit Magazine, a white-gay-man-run LGBT magazine, donates “Boston’s Best Catches for Valentine’s Day” to a live singles auction for your cause; there are a total of TWO people of color in the single lineup (me and a handsome South Asian guy in a pink shirt), and just TWO vaginas (again, me and a silver-haired lezzie with her dog), but you didn’t think to, say, reach “out” to a number of other people of color, or even other women in the community so that it didn’t create weird feelings about modern day slave trade if someone like me wanted to help out and volunteer? No one would want to be the only person of color on stage, and so it’s your job to do better outreach. FAIL
- Diveristy Fail #5: The MC was a VERY glamorous dragqueen (go her!) that wasn’t funny to me or my friends cause she routinely made gay pop culture (?) and political jokes that went over our heads. When is the LGBT community going to understand that if you feature a Drag Queen without a Drag King (or Female Pole Dancers…) you’re sending a message that says you’re mainly concerned about pleasing your gay male audience. It was bad enough that there was just ONE woman on stage, but you had to get a drag queen to make sure the few women in the room would stay spectators and not participants in the auction. Oy. FAIL FAIL FAIL!
Needless to say, we didn’t last long at this event – not with my menacing frohawk and brown leather jacket against a backdrop of gray suits and aggressive networkers. I still need to write up my thoughts about the blatantly racist treatment that Men of Color Creating Change experienced at the Stork Club on Sunday [that deserves a separate poste], but all in all, besides the good company I was lucky to have, Valentine’s Day weekend was a huge slap in the face from mainstream queerville.
As I mentioned, I had a friend visiting this past weekend, so it was no easy feat to drag him from diversity-fail event to diversity-fail event, particularly when it was clear that even though the LGBT community could make everyone feel good about spending money by themizing their events with social justice causes, people of color would still have a hard time being seen and, thus, shown any real love, by Cupid.
Good thing we love ourselves.
I was recently invited to a house party style networking event hosted by Fenway’s Development staff. For those of you who don’t know, I’m the founding director of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a not-for-profit social networking organization for LGBT women (including trans-people) of color, so I’m used to receiving many invitations like this; sometimes, as often as three or four times a week.
The majority of the emails begin in the same way:
“Hi, I’m the new [insert position here] at [name of organization] and I’d really like for us to get together in person or chat over the phone about how we can work collaboratively this year to make our programs and services more inclusive of [insert PC descriptors here e.g. “people of color” “women” or “members of the LGBT community”].
Early on in my organizing efforts, I’d get excited about receiving similar communications – what an honor it was to be called upon to provide support and direction on various outreach initiatives of some major non-profits! I strongly believed – and still do – that engaging in these consultative conversations would ensure that QWOC+ Boston’s successful approach to creating and sustaining diversity via community partnerships would be proliferated in the larger queer community and that ultimately, we would all win.
So, I’d happily field questions about what they could do to improve their outreach efforts, connect them to local groups that they could partner with to strengthen their POC or women’s network, suggest modifications to their event programming to create stronger resonance with their multicultural/gay/women’s contingent(s) etc., all to no avail. They would take notes, make a few e-connections, and even send follow-up “Thank You!” emails to me, but they would only ever carry out short-term fixes (such as posting more ‘diverse’ photos on their website, or modifying an event title to include more kinds of people). A few months later, I’d receive a new email from the same organization, but from a new hire or individual professing their desire to “continue the work” or “do better”, and the cycle would continue… I used to be such a sucker.
I’ve since then earned the reputation of being extremely hard to get a hold of and have become methodically selective of which emails I respond to; I’ve only gone on a handful of diversity dates within the past two months and they were each arranged via referrals or personal connections. In the case of Fenway, even though I did not know the sender directly or indirectly, I decided to make an exception. I wasn’t about to get all excited about the initiative they took to reach out to young leaders in their network – myself included, or the extensive list of VIP that was strategically appended to the invite – I’d seen this all before, but I felt like I at least owed it to my community to attend the event. After all, Fenway had been steadfast supporters of QWOC+ Boston for the past several years.
So, accompanied by a fellow POC community organizeer, off I went to yet another event, where I knew I’d most likely be one of two (but hopefully at least three) people of color in the room, hoping to change the world with my charm, energy, and great ideas.
To be continued…