I trust that you were not offended by my recent comments about the lack of diversity, specifically people of color, at our gathering. As someone who often finds myself in such positions, I believe that I have a responsibility to not only point out the obvious, but to ensure that others understand why it is problematic. I do hope that I challenged each and every organization in the room to act upon this inequality in any and every way they can. The onus is upon YOU to address the race problem within the LGBT leadership community because YOU occupy the positions of power and from those positions can change the status quo.
I write to you because of a conversation I had with a young man at the end of our gathering. He shared with me what he experienced throughout they day. It saddened me. But it also made me realize that the conversation about race must be broadened to include socioeconomic class. And that, in doing so, we may address some of the barriers to more diverse participation and leadership in the LGBT community.
The young man of color shared with me that he represented LGBT persons of low socio-economic class. At the end of the day, when the discussion turned to money, he began to feel incredibly uncomfortable. In his words, he felt [this] small because he had no means, no house, to offer. He lamented that he had no idea what he was doing there, felt completely in over his head, and likely would not engage in future conversations such as that one.
Allow me to pause here and note that I now work for a small non-profit and that I do not in any way criticize you for asking for support from the community. It’s essential to the survival of your organization and has to be done. I believe that the overall approach was tasteful and lacked undue pressure.
That being said, I believe that your request for support, as well as the request for support of almost every organization that has ever made such a request, is too focused upon those who can give or get. In the past, this may have made particularly good sense for the LGBT community. Those who were out and in positions of engagement and leadership were often well to do and self-sufficient because being out required as much. That is no longer the case. The efforts of those brave persons has created a world where people are coming out with and without means. You can no longer walk into a room of LGBT prominence and assume that there is money flowing out of everyone’s pockets. And that is a wonderful thing.
But is also a thing that requires us to rethink how we ask members of our community to engage with us. We need to cultivate and value the doers. For many of us, particularly young people and people of color, time and energy are all we have. And we would give these things hand over fist IF we were asked. We would give these things IF we were made to feel as valued as those who took out a checkbook or hosted a party in their palatial home.
As we talk about an equal housing and employment act and bullying and marriage, the people who would benefit most are the people who have so little to begin with. How much more important is it to a low-income person without a degree to not be fired from his or her job because they don’t have savings to buffer the blow or skills to acquire a new one? Who can less afford to be denied a lease than the renter with few options and even fewer safe ones?
I understand that it is much easier to deposit a check than it is to develop a to-do list for a volunteer. But we must begin the process of engagement with people of color and people of low means NOW no matter what it takes. How disappointing that a young man of color would leave our gathering discouraged and feeling bad about himself. That’s not full equality.
Employers of low-skilled workers. Communities of faith of color. Rural communities of color. These and others are the next frontier of hearts and minds that we must reach. But we cannot do so by using white, urban, upper-middle-class strategies. The members of these communities must be given a seat at the table. Their input must be valued. They must be made to feel valued.
Yes, I said given. When is the last time you invited yourself to a meeting or to dinner?
Leaders, I sincerely hope that you have received this letter in the spirit in which it was intended. I am merely one voice. But as someone who has been given a seat at the table, I cannot and must not be silent when so many others cannot and have not be heard. I welcome a continuing dialogue on these issues and look forward to having the opportunity to work with you as we build an equal Ohio for everyone.