August 10, 2009

Promoting Diversity Within the LGBT Community

As we discuss diversity within society and advocate for the acceptance of LGBT people, there is a concern that the LGBT community itself, or at least the public face of it, does not accurately represent it's true diversity.

From the HRC's 'Equality Forward series comes an essay written by the organization's Chief Diversity Officer Cuc Vu addressing that issue. Here's an excerpt:

So how do we begin to change the perception, especially among people of color, that “gayness” is “whiteness”? What does this mean for the LGBT movement broadly and what does it mean for LGBT people of color?

The most important thing that the LGBT movement can do is to practice inclusion. Our challenge isn’t diversity; it’s inclusion. Diversity is our reality, but we don’t always recognize it because most of our circles of friends look like us and most of our organizations are staffed by people who also look like us.

Practicing inclusion means that instead of trying to figure out how LGBT people of color “fit” into our LGBT movement and organizations, we have to create a culture that welcomes all people. We not only need to do this with LGBT people of color, but with all people, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender expression or identity, religion, class, and so on. We have to have a passion for growing our movement. We have to do it with intention and with courage because it takes courage to do something and go somewhere unfamiliar. On a day-to-day and individual level, this means stepping out of your comfort zone. For example, how often do you solicit and listen to the opinions of people who are different from you? And when was the last time you went to lunch with someone who isn’t part of your circle of friends? Actions like these create a culture of inclusion and strengthens our movement.

Our diversity is one of our greatest assets and we must showcase it if we want to dispel the perception that gay is white. LGBT people come from every walk of life, but most people wouldn’t know it by what they see and read. The prevailing images of LGBT people are celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, elected officials like Barney Frank, and organizational leaders who are mostly white. All of these individuals are exemplary representatives for our LGBT movement. Taken as a whole, however, you can be sure that the first observation people of color will make is that these leaders are all white. Whether we like it or not, this image of a racially homogenous LGBT leadership feeds the perception among people of color communities that LGBT people are not Black, Latino/a or API. So when we press President Obama to fulfill his promise to deliver Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and hate crimes, for example, we give commentators like LZ Granderson, an African American commentator, fodder to cast us as privileged complainers because he is not seeing or hearing African American lesbians say that they will benefit the most from the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because they are disproportionately affected by the policy. LGBT people of color themselves note in the Equality Forward report that they want to see people who look like them and share their experiences in LGBT media.

Lastly, we have to stand up for more than just LGBT issues. Mandy Carter put it best: Is our cause about “justice” or “just us”? Because race still matters and LGBT people of color experience racism more than discrimination for being LGBT, the LGBT movement must stand up for issues that many LGBTs would consider “race” issues, for example, immigration reform, housing, and poverty. By standing up for the priorities of people of color communities, we are expressing our passion for and commitment to freedom and equality for all. Moreover, we are sending a clear message that discrimination is wrong when it happens to anyone, not just LGBT people.

Click here to read the rest of her essay.

I think Ms. Hu makes a compelling arguement that there needs to be much more attention paid to the representation of diversity at the front of LGBT advocacy efforts, and in our day-to-day lives. What do you think?

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