When I read last week’s editorial, “Sharing Our Experience”, and then began to see the reactions to it from people whom I also know and respect, I knew that as a community we were entering into a discussion that has been needed for a long time and is also a difficult conversation for many people to have and especially in this particular format.
I read and re-read the piece, and context is the word that I kept coming back to. I had written in a brief post earlier the day that I read the editorial, that perhaps had the opening paragraph included phrases such as “people should know, or people should be encouraged to empathize with” “or develop empathy for” it might have offered a bit more of a context. Also of concern to me was the opening paragraph that began with epithets. Without proper preparation and understanding of the author’s intent, these words can be very traumatic and could easily “trigger’ or re-traumatize people who have had those words used against them as an act of violence.
The larger question that I came away with is can any of us ever really speak for others? Are we better off telling our own stories from the vantage point of our own lived experience and sharing the lessons which we ourselves have learned, knowing that even that “truth’ changes over the course of time or with more information and even more experience? How many times have you heard or said:” if I knew then what I know now things would have been different; or I would have made different choices and /or decisions?”
In reading the editorial I wondered how the author, Bay Windows co-publisher Sue O’Connell, had prepared for writing the piece. It might have been helpful for her to have had conversations with people in the broader community, and especially LGBTQ communities of color so she could share her thoughts and receive some clear feedback and hear their viewpoints. It also might have been helpful to also have someone within the communities she wanted to reach, to read the piece before it went to press; that may well have occurred but there was no way of knowing that.
As to the part of the editorial which referenced image, or what I will refer to here as the “optics”…that which people see and make suppositions about, such as clothing, etc., is where I had the most discomfort and disagreement. I am old enough to recall the civil rights protestor of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s who walked, marched, and protested across this country. These individuals were dressed as if they were going to church, the men in suits, ties and hats; the women in dresses, with hats on their coiffed heads, and purses on their arms. One need only look at photos of the late Bayard Rustin during that period, or during the 1963 March on Washington, SNCC’s John Lewis, or Freeman Hrabowski who was a leader in the Montgomery Children’s Crusade and note how they were dressed, white shirts, ties etc. to see an example of what I refer to. Yet despite all of their “appropriate attire”, these individuals, women, men and children were spat upon, met by police with vicious dogs, water hoses were fired upon them and police used batons to smash their heads.
The ubiquitous “hoodie”, which emerged as a focal point after the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent trial, is not viewed as a problem on everyone, anymore than a suit and tie makes a person of color above suspicion in certain situations and environments; many Black or Brown LGBTQ persons know personally for example the challenges of trying to get a cab and how that is experienced differently by their White LGBT-Q counterparts. I would posit that it is not really about the clothes that one wears, but rather who is wearing what, that so often is the issue
While the article does reference racism in the LGBTQ community and the need to address it; it did not take into account that many of us exist in the intersection of competing “isms” and it did not deal with the systemic racism of America and the glaring contradiction that African Americans and other persons of color continue to linger behind the progress made by the larger LGBTQ community in so many areas.
There is no question that the struggle for civil and human rights continues in earnest. Just look at laws such as “Stand Your Ground”, or “Stop and Frisk”. These laws are gaining in popularity and momentum around the country, and have been proven to disproportionately impact Black and Brown people, especially young men, straight and LGBT Q.
There were a number of issues woven into the article and the way in which certain topics were presented caused them to come across in a way that I don’t think the author intended. Sue O’Connell’s editorial definitely started a much-needed conversation. The ultimate challenge will be where do we go from here in dealing with issues or topics of this nature, to try to keep the lines of communication open so people are willing to listen, even if they don’t agree. That’s really the only way we all can learn and open our minds and thoughts. In the end, I think that’s what the author was trying to do. A wise man once said that the denial of justice for anyone is a threat to justice for us all. The journey to equal justice continues…. So I would encourage us to get in where you fit in, there is work for us all to do!