Guest Blogger

Shall we dine?

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 08, 2008 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Diego Sanchez, gay marriage, inclusion, intersectionality, latino, LGBT, marriage, movement, Prop. 8, race, transgender

Editors' note: Diego Sanchez is the Director of Public Relations & External Affairs AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. and currently serves on the HRC Business Council.

Sanchez.jpgSometimes fingers are used to point, figuratively and literally. At other times, the palms of both hands touch and fingers point upward, indicating a thoughtful, prayerful or listening moment. Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and ally (LGBTQQIA) communities, white and of-color, have walked into a zone of tremendous opportunity for palm-touching, a time for thought, prayer and listening to each other with care.

A colleague who I value asked, "What can people like me, who are white and gay, do?" There was talk of current frustration about the struggle between involving some communities with sufficient energy while concurrently told that those communities need to be involved without outside intrusion. I'm paraphrasing and hope I'm capturing the sentiment. The question is genuine and courageous, as should be a response.

Many of us have heard or asked similar things in our lives. I'm a naturalized U.S. citizen who is a Latino and mixed race, Georgia- and Panama Canal Zone-raised, professionally globe-traveled transsexual man in Boston for the 18th of my 51 years. This is my personal effort to provide a "polite company" way to name some barriers that I think we can resolve together. My hope is to engage. My response won't do the topic full justice, not because I don't think about this every day. I do. I have to. But I offer something small, respectfully, hoping that it invites others to engage, too.

My origins of pondering this issue spans my life, but my experience of hopeful resolution emerged in Massachusetts. Many of us who are LGBTQQIA in Massachusetts had deep conversations about cross-race, cross-ethnic and cross-cultural engagement as we first seriously planned to secure same-sex marriage 10 or so years ago.

Our frank face-to-face talks built today's community in MA that is truly bonded across cultures, across issues, even across generations, because we each listened to each others' needs and then promised to help each other, sequentially, in time. We built lasting trust by being vulnerable and honest with each other, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart. And then everyone kept their word, honoring the trust.

We've had at least a decade of deep-talking, scary-question-asking here, and it was initially agonizing, risky and fragile-feeling to say some of the truths, but I'm glad we did it. And I hope we across the country can get there together, too, in time, and with due respect, because there is a lot of respect due on all fronts.

Speaking only for myself, when someone else plans to have a big dinner party, and then they decide at some point to invite me to attend, I really like it when I'm asked what I like to eat or if I'm allergic to anything, especially if we're not already intimately familiar.

If I get a nice invitation to that dinner party later, the published invite is just as pretty with or without the preceding conversation, but my personal feeling of being included, not just invited, differs. I ask myself, "Is that a chair over there at the special table, or is it my chair?"

One way for people to know what I prefer to eat is by asking if we can go to dinner before that special dinner party meal. Optimally, I'd like it if the other person asks me to select the dinner locale. That would offer an inclusive invitation, a chance to watch what I choose, maybe ask me about it, maybe even ask to take a taste.

When people are solely interested in having other people accept a pre-set menu, it leaves little room for any real understanding except whether people like or dislike the menu created by one person, asking another to choose from it. In my view, all that's understood is the inferred response, not even the implied one Having both eyes open rather than just one make sit easier to pick up an eating utensil or a drinking glass.

Still speaking only for myself, in community engagement and involvement, I believe that I learn more about other people when I attend their events, ask about their priorities and then ask to build a list of common priorities that we define together. That's how we built our LGBTQQIA community in MA. It's how I try to engage nationally as well.

Usually, because everything is on a speed-dating schedule with a goal to build long-term loving bonds of trust, it feels like this to me: "How can WE get Y'ALL to do what WE need Y'ALL to do?" For me, it doesn't feel inclusive, bears no semblance of understanding, and feels task-driven, not connective. The other way it feels, to me, is: "What can WE say to Y'ALL so that Y'ALL see how Y'ALL benefit from what WE want done?"

I'm not trying to be crass. I am trying to be clear.

For me, common agendas only have weight across cultures when more than one culture's people draw up those agendas. Cross-community building is a process, not a one-time event.

My front-line priorities might seem silly, tiny or insignificant to people who don't have common barriers as I experience. I feel goofy when I have to remember my personal priority checklist: not getting murdered, being able to work without harassment, not suffering from housing discrimination, being treated almost fairly in law enforcement situations (e.g. walking on some street to the library without being bothered or shopping in a store without being followed, perhaps). They're not lofty. But they're mine, and for me, they're real. To me, they matter a lot.

I love seeing powerful passion and energy on multiple-issue agendas, and sometimes I get what I love. So, while many of us who are of color who are also LGBTQQIA worked hard on Prop 8, on this Presidential and lots of Congressional candidates' elections and on other Prop positions in different states, many others did not. The same must be true for non-of-color folks, too, I imagine.

I hope the marriage equality issue gets resolved favorably our way in CA and everywhere. I enjoy reading people's strategies on how this might be done.

In the interim, as we move forward, perhaps a few of us can share a meal soon, figuratively or literally, and engage more deeply before it's time for the next dinner party. I believe it will make more necessary people feel included when they are invited, and the whole effort can be more effortless, I believe. I'm willing to walk on eggshells because all of my communities matter to me.

So shall we dine?


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William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | November 8, 2008 12:28 PM

Diego, thank you for a statement that stretches us to think about the task ahead.

I'm especially struck by your observation, "For me, common agendas only have weight across cultures when more than one culture's people draw up those agendas. Cross-community building is a process, not a one-time event."

To me, that sounds absolutely correct.

And it raises the question: where do we go in our culture to find places where there are tables set for the kind of dialogue that produces those common agendas, where everyone has a voice and helps create the agenda together?

I've tried hard to find them, and have to admit, I haven't been very successful. One of my big hopes for the new administration is that it will help those of us working to create such spaces to build them, with tables set for everyone.

Thanks for asking. Exactly: each of the comments posted before my response to yours is on target. Reaching across cultures, across races, ethnicities, economic access and age disallows us a simple 'check in' to know that bases are covered. That's my point, as others who said theirs did so more eloquently.

This moment in our history will show that some stand out to be heard, others offer rear-view mirror assessment and some will just watch for a window to enter the discussion.

My post was to lay a platform for others to enter without having to KNOW how to double-Dutch, without feeling misjudged or undervalued, It was an offer to engage on even footing.

My comment is about other people feeling they should claim our priorities (without ill intent).

It's intended equally for those in our community who are urged to approach 'our people' and for those who are approached. My post is bilateral, so to speak.

For immediate framing, you can read the very rich NO on Prop 8 exchange on Bilerico. My post intends, successfully or not, to raise the conversation to where it can reside: The big discussion is about EQUALITY for all and the way to understand all is ot reach, serve and engage all.

Have we reached the time when people really want (and understand that they need) meaningful understanding of each other. If so,m then here are some thoughts to consider as we enter that zone, if we have. That's what my post is about. Culturally appropriate to my Latino heritage and comfort, it's about sharing a meal.

I do love what others have positioned as their understanding and interpretation, and i support each statement. Sara, we can talk offline, girl. We haven't reached the point of me writing a 'grocery list.' The only way to survive this together is to form a common one, not for me to write one. If my post was as Germanic as half of me is, it wouldn't serve our community at all to open a conversation. The post is my Chicano half. Diego

William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | November 9, 2008 8:34 AM

Diego, thanks! I appreciate your response very much.

I'm struck especially by this statement: "Have we reached the time when people really want (and understand that they need) meaningful understanding of each other?"

I'd like to hope that we have. And the success of the mandate for change in the new administration really does depend on our hunger (to carry on the meal metaphor) for meaningful understanding.

But if the "we" in your question refers to the LGBT community, then I think the fallout over how to parse the proposition 8 vote illustrates how very far we have to go before we really hunger for meaningful conversation.

Don't get me wrong: we needed to parse, to vent, to fight. But all too quickly, the parsing, venting, and fighting turned into bashing each other, over the most inconsequential divisions we could think up: where you live, what you look like, what shade of progressivism you exhibit, what A list your name appears on, etc.

We all too quickly do that old circular firing squad thing, when we have real enemies who ought to engage our attention--like the LDS church (as an institution), the Catholic church, the political apathy of liberals who see gay rights as a fringe cause separable from civil rights in general, and so on.

Maybe many of us aren't hungry for substantive change, or for real interchange with each other that goes beyond sniping and putting some members of our community beyond our ideological lines.

Meanwhile, I appreciate how you are developing the idea of spaces where we can sit and talk (and eat) together, to discover that, beyond all the distinctions, we're merely and gloriously human together. If that sounds like liberal idealism, then maybe we need to revive that kind of idealism for a change in our society. And link it back to our foundational ideals with their really radical call to build structures that facilitate everyone's participation in democracy.

What's this post about, exactly?

No, Yasmin's right, it isn't that obvious if someone hasn't been following the entire conversation. It's answering the question "What can people like me, who are white and gay, do?" with regards to homophobia in communities of color, specifically in California after the passage of Prop 8.

I actually think it's less about what white gay people can do about "homophobia in communities of color" and more about how white gay people (and the organizations that they dominate) can build meaningful coalitions with other groups of folks. It's about working together to set the agenda, strategy, and tactics, not setting the agenda all on one's lonesome and then wondering why other people aren't terribly excited by the agenda or persuaded by the tactics.

William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | November 8, 2008 1:11 PM

Yasmin, I am assuming your question is to Diego.

But if it's to me, I didn't want to ignore the question.

It's about building bridges gracefully, Yasmin, rather than shouting in each others faces.

(ahem)

maybe you should read it again.

William,

Thanks for the query - and pardon any confusion there. It was, in fact, addressed to Diego.

Alex clears up my point considerably and I'd add: I don't, frankly, find these vague and general points particularly useful while we figure out our political agendas. I don't think that the post actually answers the question that Alex usefully locates for us. It eschews specifics for metaphors. And it reads like a strategically vague call to action that does a lot to calm waters but makes no clear -- and potentially controversial -- points.

William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | November 8, 2008 4:23 PM

Yasmin, thanks for your reply, and no need to apologize for confusion. I was pretty sure you were asking your question of Diego.

But in the off chance you were addressing me, I wanted you to know I wasn't ignoring you.

For me, LauraG's reply sums up both what I heard Diego saying, as well as the concerns I myself bring to the discussion: how (and where) do we build those "meaningful coalitions" where no one person, group, or ideology sets the agenda for everyone.

In my view, the safe spaces for discussion of such meaningful coalitions are few and far between, especially when the challenge is to bring people of color and the LGBT community together for discussion and coalition-building.

That's where I'd like to see the move from theory to praxis. I do think that Diego's statement offers a powerful envisioning of the theoretical aspect, though, and one that may help people who haven't yet gotten the hesitancy of some minority communities to engage in coalition building understand why that hesitancy is there.

It's not very specific but it's a start. I think that it is very controversial to ask white gay and lesbian people to suppress their need to define for other queer people their priorities for them.

The question arose in out off an earlier conversation about those infamous polling numbers that showed that around 70% of African Americans voted for that measure. A white gay man in that conversation, at least partly aware of his position of privilege in the queer community, asked what a gay white man can do that would address homophobia in communities of color but that wouldn't be condescending or coming solely from a position of white privilege.

This post begins to look for a way to do that.

The way I read this post is as follows: A GLBT movement that only has the support of the elites can not ultimately be successful. Elite White GLBT activist cliques only talk to each other, and when they are called on this, they say with outrage "but we sent out an invitation - why didn't you show up?" Having ignored the rest of the world, they should not be surprised that the democratic vote goes against them.

This old model of elite gay activism has had limited effectiveness on a certain level of money and power. And yet, having ignored the majority of people, who are not elites, how successful can they claim to be?

We should go back to the older model of gay activism for our new queer movement - models like that of the Gay Activist Alliance and other broadbased mass movements that sought to include everybody. The money and power that elite gay activists have used to court the highest echelons of straight money and power should be reallocated to courting and partnering with a much broader base of people in this country. A GLBT movement that only has the support of the elites can not ultimately be successful. That is the lesson of this election cycle.