A groundbreaking report on the link between racial-justice groups and LGBT communities was spotlighted at the Applied Research Center's "Facing Race 2010" conference at the McCormick Hyatt that took place Sept. 23-25.
"Facing Race"the largest multiracial gathering of leaders, educators, journalists and other professors promoting racial justicewas a focal point for those who wanted to discuss strategies and successful models for changing some policies and advance racial justice.
It was in the workshop "Better Together: Collaborations between Racial Justice and LGBT groups" that the report was discussed. The "Better Together" study was motivated by three facets of the national political landscape: Racial-justice groups and LGBT individuals would seem to have a natural bond; despite these links, the bonding is not widely occurring or known; and, LGBT people of color are hurt by the perceived split between communities of color and the LGBT demographic.
According to one of the speakers, Applied Research Center President/Executive Director Rinku Sen, the report surveyed 81 organizations ( 41 racial-justice groups and 40 LGBT organizations of color ) . Interviews with 32 LGBT activists followed "for a deeper perspective," she added.
The goal of the project was to answer four questions:
How do racial justice groups currently engage LGBT constituencies and equity issues?
What are the barriers to strong engagement of racial justice groups in LGBT issues?
Where are the opportunities for greater engagement?
What changes can funders and people working in the fields of racial justice and LGBT rights pursue?
Sen said that there were four elements of success: an intersectional analysis and approach equaled strategic impetus; LGBT people of color need to be in the mix ( "Some see 'LGBT' as not including people of color," Sen noted ) ; a formal sharing of power and resources is necessary; and long-term community-education programs are a must.
The survey also identified various barriers, such as lack of strategic clarity, inadequate funding and fear of dividing the community. Of the last, Sen noted, "We discovered that the more multi-issue an organization is, the less likely it was to engage in LGBT work. This may be due to the pressure to hold an organization together," and she cited immigrant groups as an example.
As for recommendations, they include ( not surprisingly ) increasing support for groups of color, investing in tools to achieve strategic clarity, building the media/communications infrastructure and lifting up LGBT leaders of color.
The "Better Together" report is available at http://www.arc.org/content/view/2169/201.
Projects and reflections
Aimee Santos-Lyonsa trainer and field organizer at Western States Center in Portland, Ore.spoke about the "Uniting Communities" project, which focuses on bringing the LGBTQ community and communities of color together to address racial justice and LGBTQ equality.
Santos-Lyons talked about what was already known ( real strength in numbers, the LGBT community being underserved and the opposition running wedge campaigns ) as well as the goals of the project ( supporting organizations; strengthening internal capacity to address homophobia and transphobia; and space for peer-to-peer relationships ) .
Approaches to achieve said goals included working with predominantly white LGBT organizations and building critical space.
Regarding focus areas of assessment and work ( what Santos-Lyons called "four Ps and the C" ) , she cited policies, program, people, power and culture. Of the five, she said that power was "the most challenging" because the central issue there involves who makes the decisions. Among the lessons learned were that direct connections are needed and that there needs to be a focus on youth because of their role as intermediaries. Now, the aims are strong ally action with white LGBT groups, the construction of peer networks and organizational shifts
For more information, see http://www.westernstatescenter.org/our-work/uniting_communities.
The last speaker was Coya White Hat-Artichoker, a Sicangu Lakota who is working to bring together LGBT people through her organization, Sacred Circle ( www.sacred-circle.com ) , which seeks to end violence against Native American women.
White Hat-Artichoker, who has worked with groups such as the Audre Lorde Project on multi-issue campaigns, made a comment that garnered an audible response from the packed room: "I haven't [ experienced ] a lot of pushback about being queer but [ there has been ] pushback regarding racism in the LGBT community."
She talked about dealing with intersectionality, the theory that different forms of discrimination combine to foster an atmosphere of oppression and inequality. The goal, she said, was "trying to create movements that allow us to be our whole selves," and she stressed the need to be allies: "I'm not a big fan of leaving people behind." She concluded by mentioning how "queer people of color are among the more progressive thinkers" and that organizing together is crucial for progress.
Among the other highlights of the conference were a keynote luncheon featuring Melissa Harris Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University, and a trunk show, "The Unspoken Truth About Color: A Dialogue in Art Quilts About Racism."