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Building a Bridge Between LGBT Groups and Communities of Color

The Huffington Post reports that at the Father’s Day Stop and Frisk March in New York on Sunday, American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten, made the claim that the march was the first time LGBT groups marched with the Black community for the same cause. There were no quotes around that statement, so I think it’s fair she have a chance to clarify that statement.

But, I’m prone to ranting. It’s an occupational hazard of racial justice activists.  And so I will.

Weingarten’s supposed proclamation, (not to mention the challenges put forward by liberal media pundits who’ve reacted to President Obama’s recent statement on same sex marriage by asking LGBT groups to stand up with African Americans) deserves a response. That response is, get a grip on your history.

In less than 30 seconds of searching the web, I found this story about an LGBT contingent in the Million Man March. That contingent was organized by the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum in 1995. And it wasn’t the first time that LGBT people were a visible presence at civil rights marches.

In 1990, I was an organizer for a group opposing vigilante white supremacist violence. We organized the largest civil rights march in the Pacific Northwest up until that time. LGBT groups like the Lesbian Community Project, the Lesbian Avengers, Queer Nation, and ACT-UP were at our side on that day, as were the Coalition of Black Men, the NAACP, and the Black United Front. Despite bomb threats and police intimidation, LGBT groups and African American groups marched side by side in Portland, Oregon 22 years ago.

As a former organizer of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, I know that some LGBT national groups have been a presence at marches and rallies alongside African American groups for a while now and vice versa. And national LGBT groups are part of the coalition that makes up the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, a group founded by A. Philip Randolph.

The NAACP chapter in North Carolina marched alongside LGBT groups in opposition to Amendment 1, the measure that outlaws same sex marriage. They are among many African American groups that have sided with LGBT rights over the years.

It’s important to know this history because denying it marginalizes the efforts of a committed minority of people of all races in the LGBT community that has been there, fighting on these issues. They are the pioneers of this moment in LGBT history.

LGBT people of color have played critical roles among that human rights minority. We’ve been the ones advocating for LGBT rights in communities of color, and for racial equity in the LGBT community. The bridge that groups crossed Sunday in order to march together was constructed on our backs. I won’t allow statements that step on that legacy to go unchallenged.

But groups like Weingarten’s own union and the mainstream media outlets through which liberal pundits have been putting forth challenges have rarely, if ever, paid attention to LGBT people of color, much less to the multi-issue human rights minority in the LGBT movement. By playing only to power and political expediency, they contribute to the myth that the LGBT community can be summed up in terms of its least controversial and most influential groups. The same groups that tend to marginalize issues of concern to LGBT people of color.

I get that the primarily white LGBT community hasn’t been present enough on racial justice. I became an organizer in the LGBT movement because I wanted to advocate for racial justice in the LGBT community.

I left the national LGBT movement in the late 1990s because I felt that in order to close the gap between people of color and primarily white national LGBT groups, LGBT people of color would have to come to the national movement through broad-based people of color organizations. Power, I realized, only concedes to power.

But flawed as they are, to say that LGBT groups haven’t been present – to claim that the first time LGBT groups marched alongside African Americans on an issue of racial justice was in 2012 – is ridiculous. If she really said it, she needs to take it back. Such statements rewrite history in a way that make us vulnerable to our own prejudices and to the revisionists of the other side.

By Scot Nakagawa

Scot is a community organizer, activist, cultural worker, and political writer. He has spent the last four decades exploring questions of racial injustice and racial formation and effective forms of resistance and strategies for change through community campaigns, cultural organizing, popular education, writing, and direct political advocacy.

Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against vigilante white supremacist groups, white nationalism, Nativism, and authoritarian evangelical political movements. In this work, he has served as a strategist, organizer, and social movement analyst. Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow and the Association of Asian American Studies 2017 Community Leader. He is busy at work on a number of projects, including writing a playbook for anti-fascists, and a primer on race and power. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition; Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence; and Eyes Right!: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash.

5 replies on “Building a Bridge Between LGBT Groups and Communities of Color”

Thanks Scott for a fantastic rant – and a real story of our collective history. Right here: “Such statements rewrite history in a way that make us vulnerable to our own prejudices and to the revisionists of the other side.” You nailed it. Here in Washington State we are in the fight to ensure that the referendum on gay marriage strengthens, not weakens, the bridges between and among the LGBT and people of color communities.

How much effort would it have taken Weingarten to do some basic research about racial justice and the LGBTQ movement? At most a five-minute Google search, perhaps? Archive footage of massive Gay Pride and AIDS justice marches with Black/POC contingents ain’t that hard to find. And I’m sure that more than a few AFT members are veterans of both racial justice and LGBTQ struggles, from the 1970s to now.

There was no excuse for such a stunning display of public ignorance and erasure, especially at a march dedicated to stopping government harassment of men of color (some of whom are gay, bisexual, or trans). Queer folks of color have enough problems without being silenced on a day ostensibly dedicated to their liberation.

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