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Is it too late for white-run LGBTI groups to reach out to people of color?

Is it too late for white-run LGBTI groups to reach out to people of color?

Marriage equality campaigners outside US Supreme Court: Was it the right focus for people of color?

With this June’s historic US Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states many white LGBTI organizations nationwide have been questioning what to do next.

Last month the Harvard Alumni Association and the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus picked up the gauntlet to answer that very question, co-sponsoring a conference wittily titled ‘What Should We Do After “I Do”?’

Harvard alumni, students, staff, faculty, and friends came from across the country for a day-long gathering exploring the topic.

The challenge of what to do next among many of the conference attendees appeared daunting – reach out to LGBTI communities of color. And for good reasons.

Any reaching out to communities of color will, undoubtedly, dredge up the history of how this country’s same-sex marriage debate created much consternation and polarization between LGBTI communities of color and white LGBTI communities.

With white LGBTI political and religious organizations now attempting to bridge this historic divide, many communities of color are asking what’s in it for them.

While many LGBTI people of color will embrace the larger LGBTI community’s offers to be inclusive, others feel the white queer community is coming a day late and a dollar short. Is any effort now disingenuous and patronizing?

The feuds between LGBTIs of color and the dominant community about the way the marriage debate was framed and strategies employed have left both sides battle worn.

The trip down that memory lane is a painful one.

With the passing of Proposition 8 and blaming the African American community for its victory at the ballot box, the struggle for marriage quality showed us all that it would be a state-by-state battle, where the demographics of each state indeed came into play.

Some strategists had felt all along that communities of color – both straight and queer – were liabilities. They slowed, if not disrupted, the process, progress and momentum in this nationwide culture war – so the theory went.

These activists openly stated and showed in their community strategies and organizing they didn’t want or need queer communities of color, especially in predominately white states, to win the battle.

Their reason was the following:

They had seen wins in less diverse states, like Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts. These saw these judicial endorsements of same-sex marriages increase public acceptance of LGBTI nuptials and believed they could push the issue more rapidly to the federal level and the Supreme Court.

This could circumvent our internal wars of class, race, and homophobic faith communities entirely.

Sadly, many of our state-by-state battles for marriage equality continued to be framed as an agenda for the elite few, regardless of the size of the state’s LGBTI communities of color.

This strategy was pursued even after the activists were warned about it by people of color.

Some even argued that the only thing holding the larger community back is LGBTI people of color.

Communities of color fought back, stating we cannot be deployed in the marriage equality battle in a used-when-needed basis, like token moments for photo-ops.

In response to the how the marriage debate initially took shape many LGBTI communities of color organizations sprung up to address their needs. They focused on HIV and AIDS ravaging their communities, and on unemployment, gang violence, LGBTI youth homelessness, and homophobic clergy, to name a few.

I have been asked by several white activists and organizations post-marriage equality whether it is now too late trying to reach out to communities of color.

It’s a similar question that was asked of me in 2005 when a board member of a statewide gay organization, who did not want to be identified, wrote to me stating the following:

‘The board is interested in looking at its own white privilege as it seeks to work with the African-American religious community. We have realized that most of our communities of faith are predominantly white communities. This concerns us. We [have] voted to begin a process of understanding white privilege and the ways in which we can seem to be antiracist.’

I cannot speak for all communities of color or even the ones I identify with.

But as one who sits at the intersections of several identities my query to white LGBTI activists and organizations is the following:

Will efforts to reach out to communities of color be matched by the same agency, urgency, time and dollars spent on marriage equality?