Michael Crawford

Its Hard Out There For a Gay

Filed By Michael Crawford | December 04, 2007 10:19 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: gay rights, hate crimes against LGBT people, HIV/AIDS, LGBT youth, New Jersey, Newark

If you think that the Gays in the U.S. have it so good, check out this story from the New York Times about the daily battles facing LGBT people living in Newark, NJ:

To live in Newark often means grappling with unrelenting poverty, the anesthetizing lure of drugs, murderous gangs, a lack of decent jobs.

But for gay men, lesbians and transgender people, there are additional obstacles that are seldom acknowledged: gay bashings, H.I.V., open hostility from many religious leaders and sometimes callous treatment by the police.

When venturing outside his Central Ward neighborhood, Tyrone Simpson, 19, stays on main thoroughfares and steers clear of the men in gang colors looking for easy quarry. Dynasty Mitchell, 21, an aspiring poet who works at a supermarket, has learned to blend in by stretching a do-rag over his head and adopting a thuggish gait in public.

“If you’re not prepared to fight, you’re not going to survive in Newark,” said Mr. Simpson, who is unabashedly gay.

Reading this story makes the fights over political purity among our organizations seem like so much silliness. LGBT people living in Newark as well as many parts of the South and Midwest are fighting for the space to even breath as openly gay people while activists are arguing over who can and who cannot wear the "progressive" label.

Its places like this where many of the real battles in the LGBT movement are happening and you have to wonder what the resource rich organizations based in places like D.C, L.A. and NYC will do, if anything, to help.


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You're so right. Thanks for putting a little perspective on this, Michael.

In general, I think you make a solid point, Michael. Of course the fight is everywhere and especially in places like Newark, where LGBT issues are enmeshed with other challenges.

I would add, however, that I don't think it's always for a lack of concern that major LGBT organizations aren't doing more work in these places. Most of the work I know is behind the scenes at this point, really trying to build local/state capacity, which is a smart strategy, in my view, for the longterm health and effectiveness of the movement.

It can also be an issue of funding. As we all know, many of our organizations (save a wealthy few) are perpetually undersourced. And much of the organized LGBT wealth exists in the very communities that have the best policies and the most access to support. Some of these generous folks understand the need to build community power in cities like Newark and in regions like the Heartland. Tim Gill is a good example of one such savvy funder. Others, however, find it hard to justify giving their dollars to organizations that don't "directly" benefit their local communities. It's not a totally unreasonable stance. Shortsighted, in my opinion? Yes!

Anyway, I just wanted to contribute some nuance to the discussion. If anyone disagrees, feel free to tear me apart. It's good to get a little torn every now and again :)

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 4, 2007 12:11 PM

Dustin,

Is it an issue funding or funding priorities? If something is consider a priority by LGBT leaders then they can raise the money necessary to fund effective programs. I acknowledge that LGBT groups are underfunded when compare to anti-gay groups, but those kinds of excuses are always used when the issue is funding programming that benefits working class gays, gay youth and people of color.

If nearly 400 organizations can come together to oppose the passage of ENDA, why can't those nearly organizations come together to do something positive like strengthening the LGBT community in places like Newark?

Again, in general I agree with you, and certainly don't see myself as taking up "the other side" of the issue. But I would push back and say that just because you prioritize a specific kind of funding doesn't mean you get that funding immediately. Over time, with strategy and support, yes you can achieve a funding priority, and I know at least some organizations are beginning to do this and do it better. But fundraising also takes a ton of time, energy and organizational resources. For organizations that are already finding it difficult to meet expected outcomes, it's difficult to justify a shift in priority that may mean losing funding (temporarily) or alientating a donor/donor base.

We should absolutely work to change the way we raise funds so as to better include, represent and work for people who are marginalized from our community's centers of power. Many of us, I would argue, want to do just that. But making good on that promise is not like flipping a switch.

I think we need smart people to really grapple with this problem, to make it a priority and recognize its complexities. Finger pointing gets us somewhere, but in this instance I don't think it's where we really want to go.

Actually, Michael, if you look at the list of the organizations making up UnitedENDA, you'll see that the majority of them are local action groups, very committed to exactly these issues in the areas they serve.

A few of them may even be in Newark.

And the organizing that created UnitedENDA was largely a question of coordinated information exchange... a far cry from the mass funding that you call for, which really can only be accomplished by a very few national groups.

It's not just that organizations may be underfunded, but rather the reality that our community is very stingy in terms of donations. I guess spending on the latest fashion and engaging in meaningless PRIDE parades takes priority over trying to build an effective and consolidated economic force out of our political movement. When the average donation by LGBTs is

less than 34 dollars in contrast to the many dollars spent on the latest fashion, "entertainment" news, cocktail parties, and a one-sided devotion to the benefit of straight women, we have to ask ourselves if the community is indeed a "community" set for a common goal.

EDIT: For some reason, my post was cut incomplete, my apologies.

A big part of the problem here in New Jersey is that LGBT people and community orgs in general aren't very out and open. We tend to stick to our own tight little circles and rarely intermingle.

Even when there's a good reason, like the murder of Sakia Gunn, there's very little community activism around it. I and other members of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey and the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition joined area African-American LGBT leaders in a protest march through Newark streets soon after the murder, but we were all but alone. Just about the only white faces in our tiny band of marchers (perhaps 30 people total) were transfolks like myself who had come to show solidarity with the Newark LGBT community, but even the vast majority of that community chose not to participate.

While we have some excellent state political advocacy groups, most of what you see here in terms of community organizing at the local level are gender-exclusive social gatherings and little else. In order to really experience any sort of real LGBT diversity in this area, one has to go to NYC or Philly.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 4, 2007 3:26 PM

@ Dustin, we should definitely be asking the question as to why would shifting a bit of time and energy towards some if the most vulnerable in our community would cause a a temporary loss in funding or alienate the fundraising base.

I understand how difficult it can be to raise money and focus a spotlight on issues important to working class gays, gays of color and gay youth. It wasn't easy for HRC to raise the money for its outreach program to students at historically Black colleges, but they did. This is not the first time that issues like this have been brought to and it won't be the last time.

@ Val, there are nearly 400 groups as part of the UnitedENDA coalition including virtually every major national organization. Do you really believe that all of those groups could not raise at least some funds to focus on communities like that in Newark? If not, why not?

@ Lucrece, the community is quite stingy when it comes to contributing to organizations that can strengthen the community. That is extremely sad and very frustrating. There is also a great need for our groups to become better at raising money.

One of the most disconcerting parts of the entire article for me was that Newark is 10 miles from Greenwich Village. The disconnect between two areas that close is shocking. Hell, that's driving from my house to the west side of Indianapolis. Wow.

As for funding - we are one of the most selfish communities around. If it's not focused on marriage or HIV/AIDS, we just don't seem to care. Once we made those two priorities, we were able to find funding. I agree with Michael that it's, in a large part, our priorities.

Michael, many of those 400 are state and local organizations that are doing exactly what you ask... for their own states and towns. You seem to be holding up Newark as a singular example which should require the attention and resources of all of those organizations *right now*, instead of raising money, raising awareness, and pursuing civic and legislative goals in places which have *exactly the same needs*, and which happen to be where these organizations are founded.

Some of them are not so localized. Some of them are not so politicized. Perhaps some of those could put some effort toward where you suggest. But you are being oddly specific in your suggestion of "these people aren't doing enough."

The fact is that most people involved in this stuff are doing everything they can, just about everywhere... and in many (most?) cases, gays, lesbians and transpeople are working together on issues which affect them all. Which is why certain actions suggesting that, in certain political circumstances, division is a strategic good, are taken with such shock by some people.

You may have a legitimate argument regarding divisiveness and political purity, but this entry does not make it.