Jerame Davis

People of Color and the LGBT Movement at Creating Change

Filed By Jerame Davis | January 28, 2009 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Creating Change conference, Denver, LGBT activism, people of color, race relations, racism, racism in the LGBT community

Creating Change 2009 is off to a great start. Denver is a fabulous host city, even if it's below freezing and there is snow on the ground, we don't have the 12 inches of snow that's being reported back home in Indianapolis photo.jpg(and I hear the weather will be fabulous later in the week.)

Today at Creating Change is all about race and minority inclusion. There are a number of day-long institutes, each with a different angle on minority issues. The sessions are very well attended with most of them being full or over capacity.

The session I sat in on, "Start with the Fundamentals: Anti-Racism Institute for New Activists," is geared (obviously) toward those new to activism. The information is basic, but it's a good foundation for thinking about inclusion for new activists.

Most of the attendees were engaged and excited. The room wasn't full like some of the other rooms, but there were at least 90-100 people in the room. It has been particularly refreshing to see so much diversity in all of today's workshops.

Some of today's sessions are only for people of color, while others are open to everyone. All are divided between sessions for new activists and session for those with more experience. The idea behind "People-of-Color-Only" sessions is to create a safe space where participants can speak freely and openly of their experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

Capacity has been a key concern with today's sessions. About 250 people pre-registered for one institute or another, but well over 400 people showed up. While being filled over capacity is a good problem to have, I can't imagine the facilitators have an easy job wrangling as many as 150 people together toward a common purpose as they would 75.

Still, I think today is probably one of the most important conversations happening in our movement. Coming from a Midwestern perspective, one of the most common on-going discussions in LGBT organizations has been the inclusion of more people of color. In the age of President Obama, we're being told that we're in a "post-racial" world. One of today's conference attendees called that notion, "bullshit." I agree.

While we may not be post-racial as yet, I think there is more impetus now to move toward better minority relations than ever before. The diversity and spirit in the attendees of these sessions at Creating Change speaks volumes in proving that the LGBT movement is working toward better inclusion. Let's just hope that spirit spills over into other parts of society.

If you're interested in my random thoughts throughout the Creating Change 2009 conference, you can follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook.

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Vince in LA | January 29, 2009 1:34 AM

What exactly defines "people of color"? Is that a euphemism for black people? Or does it include Hispanics or Latinos? Does it include Asians? What "color" are Asians? I'm not trying to be funny - as an Asian-American, I just resent the term "people of color".

Well, it's not my term - it's the one being used in the conference - but yes, it includes people of Asian decent as well as Latinos. There were a number of Asian-Americans at the conference and we interviewed two who were fine with the term. The videos for those interviews should be up sometime tomorrow.

I don't necessarily have a judgement on the term "people of color". It's probably not totally accurate to use that term, but I think it may be the best way to encompass the "non-white" segments of the population.

Jerame - I just wanted to say thanks for your thoughtful response to the question about the meaning of poc. At its most basic poc has always meant not white, at its operational level it often does mean black, while both are problematic, it is the term we have all agreed on and I'm not sure getting bogged down in its disparities helps address the issue of race, racial justice, and racism within the queer community which I am assuming these panels are about.

I'm glad that we are all continuing the discussion(s) on race in the post-prop 8 era b/c regardless of how we identify, we all really need to find common ground to ensure that our rights are equal and honored.

Looks like a fun party. But I'm not sure what activists actually do. In 30 years, I've never heard them mention our community's internal problems: objectification, mindless sexualization, self hatred, and internalized homophobia. Do they organize protests? If so, I thought the last few were strategic errors. Do they help staff our service organizations and aids support groups? If so, good for them. But would someone explain this?

I thought the focus was on training was to achieve every LGBT persons rights. Seems like they are marginalizing white gay men like you and Bil. Didn't they see the inauguration and the cheering crowds of priviledged White and Black people for President Obama ? I voted for a Black President, happy to have a Black Attorney General and other Blacks in the cabinet and adminstration. So far no Out LGBT Blacks being appointed by President Obama. Is this a case of "people of color" diversity training to the wrong crowd ? Think Washington D.C.

Wait. Sessions only for People of Color? How would that sound if only white sessions? President Obama wants inclusiveness in this country. Separateness like this is not cool. On Pamshouseblend, Fritz a white gay man said he was booted off as chairman of an LGBT committee in Monterey California because white lesbians on the board did not want a priviledged white gay man to lead the organization. Behind closed doors is not helpful and divisive.

Actually, there are lots of workshops that are "white-only"- where white activists can learn anti-racism and anti-oppression theory and practice.

As for what activsts do-- are there domestic partnerships in your town, state, or corporation? Thank activists. Are you protected from being fired for being gay? Thank activists. Has someone ever stood up for you when you were being gay-bashed? I would argue that THAT person was/is an activist. Have you ever needed health or human services, gone to an LGBT AA meeting, attended a potluck at a gay/lesbian center, seen a queer piece of theatre? Thank an activist.

Perhaps you don't attend conferences or run in activist circles, but we are working hard to combat the sexism that is rampant in the gay world, give gay men tools to fight their own self-hatred, and work our asses off to create a world where we queers don't have to marginalize and ghetto-ize ourselves and our community.

As for "Fritz"... one post by a stranger on someone else's blog... maybe we're not exactly getting the whole story here.

There is an unsettling obsession in progressive circles to compartmentalize white men--no matter how progressive they are or how hard they work. This may make non-white people feel more empowered, which I guess is the point, but it does not--repeat does NOT--further the progressive cause.

Fighting distrust and discrimination with more distrust and discrimination is a recipe for nothing but more distrust and discrimination. I encourage everyone at Creating Change to fight the urge to marginalize white men. It's a tired and worn-out response to real problems that need real solutions.

steve tabarez | January 29, 2009 11:56 AM

Am glad to see an issue like this being discussed. Beyond the whole sexual fetish thing within our community when it comes to the "flavors" we like, and get into. From what I see, there is much to be done. On many levels, there is much to be done to unsexualize our color, our ethnicities, and yes, even on the issue of classism. In my view, many of us our willing to cross those lines to "sleep" with someone of a different race, or ethnic group, and may even adopt that group as your own "exclusivity" preference. As a latino I find that offensive. I am not a "flavor", or a candy bar at the check out line. More, until we deal with double-edged sword of race, ethnicity, and culture, it will remain difficult to become a cohesive force--i did not say INTEGRATED--and a cohesive force is needed to take on this fight for full CIVIL RIGHTS. Until we realize that bias and discrimination for/against any other group based within our community, especially when coupled with the ugliest form of bias and discrimination--CLASSISM--we will be doomed. The discussion I hope will also serve to delve int thes issues, as well as a way of dialouge of how to best work to get the rights we are entitled to.

I've heard several people of color say something similar around being a "flavor" or not wanting to deal with "xxx-chasers". But I'm curious - how do you define whether someone is "fetishizing" you or if they just find you attractive? Is it something they say?

I mean, if I think you're cute, I really don't care what ethnicity, race, color, creed or whatever you are. I just think you're cute. I certainly see these things as a factor - and there are times that the exotic-ness/differentiation thing is part of that attraction - but I really don't see a problem with an attraction that's based partially on these factors.

I realize I'm white and privileged, but I don't get offended when a person of color thinks I'm attractive - even if they only date "white" guys.

So, I'd like to hear more about this. Where is the line? Are we only supposed to date/have sex/be attracted to those of our race/color/creed/national origin? Or are we supposed to not announce our particular tastes?

It's a fascinating discussion in my opinion.

Fassbinder'sSoul | January 30, 2009 10:39 AM

Hey Davis

First I don't speak for every person of color. Secondly, although I also find discussions on race relations and the gay community fascinating, I also find it overly politically correct and simplistic. Its the dumbing down of the issue to white privledge and Eurocentricism thats deprecating to us all. Is it a major issue? Doubtless. The predominate problem? Maybe yes. Maybe no. I believe every individual has some kind of racial burden, privledge, and obligation. While I appreciate such a conference, I hope the POC meeting was more than just "poor me, its hard being colored in the gay community". I must say that while the rest of this post is going to sound like I believe white privledge is the only racial problem in the gay community, I believe thats far from the truth. And third, I have no intention on critizing whites for their sexual preferences and although I feel for minorities whos racial sexual/relationship preference swing towards whites, I think its very degrading and embarrasing when these individuals complain about the racial S/R of whites.

You asked
" do you define whether someone is "fetishizing" you or if they just find you attractive? Is it something they say?"

Its usually something they say, but that is more of a "tip of the iceberg" or "cherry on the top of the cake" kind of thing. There isn't anything wrong with finding someone of another race attractive, unfortunately institutional racism that benefits whites does complicate things. The institutional racism being major LGBTQ media entities mostly choosing to cover "white subjects", both topics and people, and when choosing POC as subjects its usually something negative, since I'm black, I'll use the Down Low and homophobic preachers and rappers for examples. Or an "adult" example, minorities in porn usually pidgeonholed into stereotypical roles and have categories all to themselves as if they were aliens, apart from "real" humans. Then the overwhelming sexual/relationship preference towards whites or anyone who looks and lives Eurocentric-Americana turns a complication into a full-on mess. For me, when a white person does find me attractive, they'll usually explain why they find me attractive. The explaination usually reveals they're expecting some sort of racial stereotype that even goes beyond the physical and into the cultural and behavior.

You asked
"Where is the line? Are we only supposed to date/have sex/be attracted to those of our race/color/creed/national origin? Or are we supposed to not announce our particular tastes?"

There isn't any line except the one everyone draws for themselves and the one they think ought be drawn for others I guess. I don't believe anyone has said you should only date in your own circle. I've heard many people (mostly white gay men) say its only natural for that to happen. Thats one opinion. As for announcing tastes, I think its fine but I think my last paragraph already touched on that. Its the complications that ends up making it a big deal unfortunately.

steve tabarez | January 29, 2009 5:59 PM

Y not being ale to reply in detail all of Jerame's questions, here as they are complex, I can say reading the comments so far, there is much work to be done in this area. I can also say that since our minority status is not based on gender, race, ethnicity, or religion, but on sexuality, it is that much harder for us to be unified because we are not homogenous. We have less in common because of our differences. What binds us is our sexual orientation to same sex relationships. In that regard we come with the same baggage, and biases, and cultural differences of society at large. And it is a problem un our community.

Sorry gang, meant to post this here:
I am entirely in favor of racial and economic justice work, being a working class racial minority myself. But really, why is an LGBT rights organization having as the primary national conference focus racial and economic justice? This is what has been wrong with the Task Force for so many years, and why it has marginalized itself into oblivion. Yes, I agree that racial and economic justice are very important values. And I understand that oppressions are connected. But do you see the NAACP or La Raza National Conferences devoting their first day to LGBT equality? Uh, no. Why? BECAUSE THAT'S THE TASK FORCE'S JOB. It's called division of labor. I love the Task Force, but come on. Get real.

But really, why is an LGBT rights organization having as the primary national conference focus racial and economic justice?

Because if you haven't noticed Terry, not all LGBT people are white. There are Latino/a LGBT people, Black GLBT people, Native GLBT people, Asian GLBT people....

The failure of this LGBT movement to recognize that is one reason why it hasn't been effective in getting more POC involved in pushing for various issues.

Instead of castigating them for it, I praise the Task Force for even trying to tackle the subject. It's far more than the 'illusion of inclusion' HRC is pimping.

Hi Monica, yeah actually, I do know that not all LGBT people are white. I am one of those non-white LGBT people. But I do not expect one of my national LGBT organizations to devote much of their national conference every year (I've been to 3 Creating Changes) to racial and economic equality. Do you see the NAACP devoting so much of its national conference to LGBT equality? No. And there is nothing wrong with that. They're not a gay civil rights group. It's important for them to be supporters of gay equality, but to the extent of devoting entire days of a national conference to it? Absolutely not. This is the same Task Force that involved itself in nuclear disarmament years ago, and peace in Bosnia, and everything under the sun EXCEPT the hard, targetted work needed towards LGBT civil rights.

steve tabarez | January 30, 2009 1:09 PM

Comments here show me y a conference on these issues is needed. Read my earlier comment as to why.

You could also say the same about LULAC, and other minority specific orgs as well.

And to be honest, the NAACP does need to devote some time to those issues because, hello, there are Black people who are GLBT. The issues that ail Black America are also prevalent in our little subset of it.

But whose fault is it if we GLBT African-Americans don't join the NAACP and demand our place at the table instead of bitch and complain about it on the comment thread of a GLBT blog?