I’m just back from Creating Change hosted in Denver by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. It was my first time there, and Tracy gave me the lowdown before I left: “It’s basically the largest queer white activist gathering in the country. You’ll have fun!” And I definitely did, almost as much fun as I had at ARC’s own Facing Race 2008. Turns out it was very large—2,200 registered!—and thank goodness, actually very diverse. But I came back to Oakland with a lot on my mind. I’ve been thinking about the ways that we’re very good at denouncing racism, but still not that comfortable talking about race, and racial injustice. We’ve all adopted the right language—we learned at least that much at the anti-oppression trainings—but we’re still unwilling, or don’t know how, to engage the topic of race in our conversations and movements. I went to the obligatory Prop 8 debrief, hoping for something good, but it felt too much like every post-Prop 8 debrief I’ve been to since November, and indeed, felt representative of the No on Prop 8 campaign’s pitfalls. That is, there was a lot of dissing of the messaging generated by high-powered consultants and PR agencies who weren’t in the room, and not a lot of talk about race. The conversation itself, which was led by four white folks (including Geoff Kors and Kate Kendall) and two people of color (Ron Buckmire and Tawal Panyacosit) was unevenly dominated by the white side of the table, and focused on race-silent discussions of money, polling data, strategy, TV commercials and PR agencies. It wasn’t until Glenn Magpantay from Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York pointedly asked the panel to address outreach efforts to foreign-born grandparents and the immigrant community in general that the topic of race came up. The Task Force’s new Executive Director, Rea Carey, admirably discussed in her “State of the Movement” speech the blaming of Blacks in the immediate post-Prop 8 anguish, calling the scapegoating “wrong, despicable and inexcusable.” You can catch Carey’s full remarks here. But the you shoulda been there moment came Saturday afternoon. Kenyon Farrow, who’s a Policy Institute Fellow for the Task Force, addressed the crowd in an HIV/AIDS plenary, beginning his remarks with a recollection of the tv programs (Eyes on the Prize, Tongues Untied) his awesome mother had him watch as a teenager. He spoke about visibility, movement, HIV/AIDS, race. But his talk, available in full here, was also a courageous smack in the face to a movement whose dominant history, and contemporary reality, includes the exclusion of people of color, and silence about race. An excerpt:
First and foremost, the time where we can pretend that there is no viable, credible or visible Black (or other POC) queer leadership is over. As long as the White-led mainstream LGBT movement is invested in seeing itself as the only credible leadership or it’s organizations the only ones doing “the real work” or having “real impact” we will continue to invisibilize the work that Black and other POC organizations are doing on the ground, in spite of real material obstacles. So every time the gay news media and organizations promote ideas of the gay community vs. the Black community, Black queers will continue to remain invisible, and assumes that Black queer people are not engaging in a battle against homophobia and transphobia in the Black community. I would hope, that after the decades of efforts to make visible the work that Black LGBTQ people are engaged in directly or indirectly related to HIV/AIDS, not another person has to stand here, decades from now, having to justify or make visible that work, ever again. We are beyond the point of benign ignorance. The bodies in this room, and the graveyards many of us are carrying on our backs, tell a different story. And so now, should we.
Jaws were on the floor. And then the crowd rose to its feet, in resounding, unified applause.