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Let’s bring some color to LGBTQ leadership

Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it to [email protected].

Today, across South Florida, passionate organizers will petition elected officials for justice for all, social entrepreneurs will reimagine doing good as good business, and innovative thinkers will tackle complex challenges with exciting solutions.

While queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) are among those who are contributing daily to a new Miami, all too often QTPOC are not in the room where decisions are being made. There is a racial leadership gap.

Failing to address issues of race in the sectors of our economy responsible for improving the quality of life in South Florida for all means we will be ill equipped to achieve sustainable, positive social impact, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

When we add the layer of race to issues of disability, gender identity and expression, class, immigrant status, age or any other identity we may live, it only underscores the need for an inclusive, intersectional approach to leadership development if we are to become a truly resilient community.

I have been shouted down in meetings by leaders for advocating for more black and brown folks in leadership positions. I fell silent for fear of being labeled “the angry black man.”

I have been spit on and called racial slurs in a gay club in South Beach.

I have been patronized with lip service instead of action when asking for more representative programs and effective services for our most vulnerable populations.

It leads to exhaustion and self-doubt. And it’s heartbreaking to see the burnout and reluctance of QTPOC to assume leadership because of it.

In the past year, we have seen large numbers of white people object when communities of color have sought to reclaim our time and focus attention on the issues that impact our lives.

For example, while we celebrate the victory of marriage equality – which was partly about protecting and consolidating wealth for affluent, cis-gendered, white people – we know that it came at a cost of diverting resources from the HIV/AIDS epidemic that still ravages poor communities, rural areas of the South, and inner-cities, which are largely communities of color. The same is true for protests against police brutality, the addition of black and brown stripes to the Pride flag, and unchecked violence against trans women of color.

In my experience, the larger community has been slow to get it. And, that is direct result of leadership that hasn’t valued meaningful inclusion.

But I am inspired to keep occupying leadership spaces when I look into the face of a young black volunteer scared by police presence at a South Florida festival and can be there to talk to him and the officer to reduce his fear.

It’s a good feeling to hear an older, straight, black woman say that she can have a relationship with her younger gay cousin after attending one of our trainings.

Let’s be clear: this problem does not only exist in the LGBTQ community. More inclusive leadership in community engagement benefits the region. South Florida is experiencing tremendous growth and increasingly our neighbors may not look like us, think like us, speak like us, or even love like us. As a result, we must redefine our approach to center intersectional leadership.

A report released earlier this year, find that less than 20 percent of executive directors and CEOs of nonprofits are people of color. And this number has not budged for over a decade.  According to Funders for LGBTQ Issues, grants for queer communities of color decreased in 2015 even though overall giving to LGBTQ issues hit a record high.

There is a human cost to exclusion – 68 percent of LGBTQ homeless youth are POC. The Centers for Disease Control’s projected lifetime HIV diagnosis risk is 1:11 for white men who sleep with men (MSM), 1:4 for Latino MSM and 1:2 for Black MSM. The average life expectancy for trans women of color is 35 years.

This is an uncomfortable conversation. No one wants to be labeled a racist, bigot, or homophobe. Others are tired of being portrayed as victims.

But unless we get comfortable with being uncomfortable, how will we achieve more inclusive communities and more reflective leadership? How will we become a more resilient community without residents, organizations, businesses, and government agencies leveraging all of our talent for solutions?

We often talk about the role of allies in community engagement and I have been supported by some incredible allies, but we also simply need more people who live the problems in leadership positions, too.  I have seen good people say and do nothing.

Earlier this year Daniel Anzueto and I launched Maven Leadership Collective,  a leadership development institute for queer and trans people of color and our allies. This fall, we are taking 10 people on a 14-month journey to learn, play, and share together. Applications are now open and available. The due date is Sept. 13. 

The Cohort is a free program that teaches operational skills, emphasizes self-care, and promotes inclusive networks. Mavens will meet monthly to learn from experts and each other, then create and lead community dialogues, financial literacy workshops, and wellness initiatives, attend an out-of-state conference and create one of their own.

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and a Democratic Presidential candidate  said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

Well, Maven is preparing to bring a whole bunch of folding chairs. Together, we can make a more just, vibrant, and prosperous South Florida. Won’t you join us?