CommunityPam's House Blend

A national conversation about the intersection of race, sexuality and gender is on deck

This piece, with new and reworked related posts, ran in Salon. –Pam

At the Intersection: Race, Sexuality, and Gender,” a  comprehensive report released this week by the The Human Rights Campaign  Foundation, is an excellent look at some the third rails of cultural discussion  that usually results in most conversations falling into silence for fear of  conflict, offending someone, or having to realize one's own biases in front of  others.'

One cannot develop cultural competency if the conversation is encouraged, but  not taken in by those who need to listen and absorb the information to break  down barriers. We saw the schism in the last election.

The November 2008 passage of Proposition 8 in California clearly showed what  could happen when a group listens solely so it can repress others. Research has  revealed that organizing efforts by religious and conservative forces were  extensive, proactive and heavily funded. Such an observation is important  because it also reveals that progressive – or in this case, LGBT-specific –  organizing efforts were less effective at listening, canvassing, targeting and  activating Californians in the same ways that conservative forces were. This  ineffectiveness was a result of many significant forces, some of which included  lack of access to populations historically left out of debates, basic  information about these populations, and the resources – including cultural  competency needed – to effectively reach the targeted  populations.

The key findings of the report:

* Nearly all LGBT people of color say protections from violence and workplace  discrimination are important; issues strong majorities of all Americans support  in opinion polls. Violence and discrimination are also the most salient issues  that connect three critical groups — non-LGBT people, communities of color and  white LGBT communities. * Religious attitudes are a major source of sexual  prejudice. For LGBT people of color, many of whom are regular churchgoers, the  conflict is acute. More than half of LGBT people of color interviewed feel  treated like sinners by their ethnic and racial communities, and faith  communities are among the places LGBT people of color feel least accepted;

* LGBT people of color view the world first from the point of view of race  and gender. Most feel there is as much racism and sexism among LGBT people as  there is among non-LGBT people, and racially motivated violence and  discrimination are more prevalent than violence or prejudice based on sexual  orientation;

* LGBT people of color are serious media consumers, but they do not find  enough information or see accurate media representations of themselves;

“This report is a catalyst for the continuing conversations we all know are  necessary to turn the reality of our diversity into inclusion of every member of  the LGBT community,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “There  are no simple ‘answers’ to the challenge of inclusion but creating a space where  diverse voices can be a part of a dialogue presents opportunities for us to grow  as a movement.”

The findings are no surprise to me and are not probably a surprise to others,  but where there is little agreement is the matter of who is responsible for  effecting change (does this fall solely on the shoulders of out LGBTs of color,  something tossed out there quite frequently when I raise the issue) and what are  the methods of bridge building that need to be implemented. Take the quandry of  the conservative black church, for instance.

Already fearful of losing connections, friendship and emotional shelter  provided by their faith community if they come out, black gays and lesbians in  the church now know that the homophobes in the pews and choirs, along with the  bigoted pastors spewing hate from the pulpit, feel empowered to destroy those  ties because of their own fear and ignorance. It makes you want to weep.

One of Washington's largest black Baptist churches was upended several months  ago by a female member of its choir who e-mailed messages to anti-gay Bishop  Alfred Owens Jr. of the DC-based Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church outing more than 100 church members as gay, mostly male choir  members, saying "I will be leaving the choir at the top of the year because  80 percent of the tenors are homosexuals and act more like a female in choir  rehearsal than I do." That's so raw that you don't even know where to begin.

Also, the fact that religious opposition to civil marriage equality is  irrelevant seems to escape some in the religious communities of color,  even when they hold public office. I experienced this alternate  reality first-hand when I participated in an Equality NC Day of Action at my  state legislature and spoke with members of the Black Legislative Caucus about  LGBT equality issues. One was a supporter of a state marriage amendment to ban  gays and lesbians from marrying (and ban civil unions as well as domestic  partnerships). I was with a small group of black LGBTs that came up to this  legislator and asked her why she could promote institutionalized discrimination.  Her reasons?

1) Because it's a "personal issue" for her. Her constituent  pointed out that she is in the office because the voters in her district sent  her to the General Assembly to represent them, not her personal feelings about  legislation. That led the lawmaker to move on to the next reason…

2) "I'm a minister." She made it clear that she didn't want  to have to disclose this bit of business, but since #1 didn't work out very  well, this was the next hurdle to put up. The constituent, to her credit,  challenged her on the issue of church-state separation, but the elected official  wouldn't budge. Trying to have a reality-based conversation with someone who  feels so strongly that there is no line between the two is like hitting a  wall.

One of the black LGBTs with the group, in order to try to connect by  humanizing the issue, told the story of friends of hers, a lesbian couple  raising a child. One of the mothers is dying of a chronic illness, and in North  Carolina there's nothing to legally protect them as a unit — any will drawn up  can be challenged by a homophobic family member, custody could be in jeopardy,  and obviously there are myriad issues that are in play because of the lack of  any kind of legal recognition.

The legislator was visibly moved by this story, but you could tell it left  her in a quandry. That led to explanation #3.

3) "I'm not against anyone, one to one". She said this  several times, as if to suggest that she's only protecting marriage by favoring  the amendment, but is sympathetic to the concerns raised by the story of the  lesbian couple. It's the classic "I'm really not a bigot" defense. No one wants &n
bsp;to have that label placed upon them. Unfortunately that led Rep. Parmon to  ramble into territory that was perilously close to civil unions without saying  those words specifically. The problem, even if she only supports some limited  legal recognition, is that the marriage amendment she supports says:

Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that  shall be valid or recognized in this state.

That means no civil unions, no domestic partnerships, nada. It's written so  broadly that even private company benefits offered to "same-sex spousal  equivalents" could be jeopardized. If she supports some kind of way for that  lesbian couple to protect their family unit if one passes away, she's  negating any possible solution by supporting the amendment.

Afterwards we all commented how hurtful it was to be rendered "less-than" to  our faces by this respected lawmaker, who, if she stepped into a time machine  that took her only a few generations back in time, couldn't marry a person of  the same race, let alone someone of another race — and the bible was used to  justify that. She looked at the people in her office in the eye and said that  she "respects you as a person", but would, without any guilt, vote to ensure you  aren't equal in the eyes of the law. It was painful, just painful.

So we, as LGBTs of color, have a long way to go to if we're to build those  internal bridges. But on the other side of the fence, the sense I gather from  the reticence to date of the white LGBT community to do outreach in this arena  seems to revolve around a couple of things based on the discussions on my  blog:

* An surface assumption that all minorities or all POC LGBTs are somehow a  cultural monolith any more than the white LGBT community is — as in all are  churched or all poor or working class, for instance and we're responsible for  "fixing" the problem because they "can't". And the "can't" stems from…

* A reluctance to immerse themselves in outreach that challenges their own  inherent biases and cultural ignorance of various communities of color for fear  of rejection or embarrassment. It's an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position to  be placed on the defensive, wary and feeling outnumbered — something people of  color have to deal with as a reality all the time. But minorities don't have the  luxury of deciding whether we need to be competent regarding the dominant  culture.

And the thing is, my blackness clearly doesn't provide any cover when  addressing homophobia either. Just witness the scathing, sad, and quite frankly,  ignorant comments in a piece I cross posted at HuffPost. Here's one of my favorites:

The States should & can handle social issues and are doing so  what's the problem! Some people can just not be happy anymore without  confrontation to to sad. I do not believe in gay marriage and do not hate anyone  nor do I fear anything— I Let Go and Let God have the Judgment day not my  problem or am I in control of who loves who!.

My response:

You can't be serious with that statement. If we left matters of  civil rights to the states, Jim Crow would still be in effect, Obama's parents  would not have been able to marry, and poll taxes would still exist. How soon we  forget.

That's the level of ignorance I'm talking about; others made the quite  accurate point that the LGBT community rarely gets behind social justice issues  of concern to minorities. Honestly, this card can be played legitimately –  because it's true.

I mean how elementary is it that if you want support from a  community that you actually have to communicate with them to get your  point across and win hearts and minds over. And that was one of the failures of  Prop 8. And people have admitted as much, as efforts to get  it overturned begin to gain support for another ballot initiative.

Organizers hope to reach Latinos, faith communities and African  Americans, constituencies into which they previously failed to make in-roads.  Their approach aims to blend slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk's  put-a-human-face-on-the-issue activism with Barack Obama's neighbor-to-neighbor  organizing.

What a lack of cross-community dialogue means for out minority LGBTs is that  one has to be willing to put yourself out there to be attacked, over and over  for addressing homophobia in communities of color knowing that few, if any,  non-POC LGBTs are going to come forward to have your back. I see it time and  again, with the excuses ranging from "I'll be called a racist" or "it doesn't  feel safe to do this" or "it isn't my place to do it." And many of these excuses  are from people who have the anonymity of the Internet to protect them.  Now that's bad.

Well, it doesn't feel great to have your "black card" revoked any more than  it feels to be called racist — and I don't have the cover of anonymity. Of  course that's my choice, but the work is so important; I hate to see the rancor  and misunderstandings go on and on with the parties talking past one  another.

The sad thing is that so few black LGBTs are willing to live out, be out and  challenge misguided assumptions that it makes it doubly difficult for those of  color who do want to challenge the homophobia.

The thing is that are plenty of allies and leaders from the black community  who do support full civil rights for LGBTs who can be cited when dealing with  this issue – John Lewis, Julian Bond, Leonard Pitts, Al Sharpton, Gov. Deval  Patrick, Gov. David Paterson, to name a few. Members of black community who  consistently oppose LGBT rights conveniently choose to ignore these leaders —  they have to be called out on it.

And that's why “At the Intersection: Race, Sexuality, and Gender,” is  a must read.

Eric C. Peterson, Manager of Diversity & Inclusion at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has an essay up as part of HRC’s Equality Forward Series.

Wearing “gay” as an identity was an enormous shock to my system.  I had never really thought of it before, but until that moment, I had lived on the comfortable side of the privilege divide my entire life.  I am male.  I am white.  I came from a comfortably middle-class background (and as an officer’s child, was extremely well-off in comparison to most of my friends).  I was raised in a Christian household.  Other than a pair of orthopedic shoes I wore as a very young child, I had no disabilities that required accommodation.  I had privilege coming out of my ears.

And, of course, the biggest privilege that comes with privilege is the ability to remain clueless about one’s own privilege.  Prior to coming out, I lived in a fantasy world wherein oppression and discrimination were remnants of the bad old days, before everyone learned to get along.  And not only was I raised to believe that racism, sexism, classism, etc. no longer existed in society; I was raised to believe that these “isms” did not exist within myself.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding