The Power of LGBTQ Allies

In early March, a package of racist, threatening literature was sent to Rachel Dolezal, the President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP (read more here). The incident brought communities and individuals together for demonstrations and rallies around Spokane. I was proud to see large support from the LGBTQ community at those events; highlighting the important role LGBTQ individuals and organizations can play in advocating for racial justice.

A few shorts weeks later, Pride Foundation sponsored a two-day workshop and train-the-trainer session, entitled Race: The Power of an Illusion. While the date for the training was solidified well in advance of the recent act of hate, it was an important and timely moment to bring people together to talk about why race matters here in Spokane.

The event was coordinated by Greater Spokane Progress and presented by Glenn Harris, President of the Center for Social Inclusion. Five local Pride Foundation grantee organizations received scholarships to attend.

Some of you may be wondering, why send LGBTQ organizations to a racial equity workshop? What does race have to do with LGBTQ issues?

In addition to the fact that many LGBTQ and allied organizations are run by and/or serve people and communities of color, queer people of color often face discrimination and oppression due to both the color of their skin, as well as their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Having served on numerous boards and leadership committees, I am usually shocked and amazed to be the only person of color. Though always happy to represent that aspect of my identity, nobody should ever have to be the only voice for people of color, native, and/or gay communities—let alone a combination of the three.

I know that Spokane is predominantly white, which makes it even more important that people of color and other underrepresented voices have a seat at the table—especially when it involves decisions and conversations that directly impact their lives. It’s important for us to begin acknowledging when we see a lack of diversity in certain spaces that we operate in, and to determine why that is, and what we need to change within our structures so that these communities feel welcome and accepted.

LGBTQ individuals and organizations also have a role to play in ensuring that discrimination and racially charged language doesn’t have a place in our community. As a person of color who is gay, I have personally witnessed racism in the LGBTQ community, which is always very disheartening and hurtful. It is vital that the LGBTQ community understand the complexities and layers of oppression and discrimination that LGBTQ people of color face and learn how to address it—especially when it comes from within our own community.

Kyle Richardson, from Spokane AIDS Network, was one of our grantee partners that attended the workshop.

When asked about his experience around race in the LGBTQ community, he shared, “I have witnessed racism within the LGBTQ community—mostly unconscious racism. Often, the group doesn’t know how to handle it appropriately; somebody either lashing out in anger and accusation, or everybody will just ignore it.”

Many of Pride Foundation’s investments are specifically targeted at supporting queer people of color, and if we don’t understand race or know how to talk about race—which can often leaving people feeling incapacitated or frustrated—how can we support those in our own community and become strong allies to others?

In the words of bob McNeil, a youth and leadership development coach and another participant in the training, “The LGBTQ community in the Spokane and North Idaho region has a lot of growth opportunity in terms of learning how to be more inclusive of and practice inclusiveness with LGBTQ people of color. Attending this workshop could help the white LGBTQ community, so they can start to see how they can become advocates for change and do their part to eradicate racism. I know that many LGBTQ people of color do not feel welcome in LGBTQ spaces because of the lack of visible queer people of color and the lack of white queer allies.”

Race: The Power of an Illusion workshops have been provided in cities across the United States, yet this was the first time it was offered in Spokane. The workshop used the acclaimed 3-part documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion, which questions race as biology by examining contemporary science that challenges our common assumptions about similarities and differences, uncovers the roots of the race concept in North America, and reveals how our social institutions “make” race by disproportionately channeling resources, power, status, and wealth to white people.

By using the film and small group discussions, groups were able develop an understanding of the difference between institutional racism and individual racism, define racial equity, and help participants begin to recognize examples of institutional racism within the Spokane Region. We closed out the weekend by exploring solutions and next steps together.

The two-day workshop was incredibly powerful. Both days provided local LGBTQ and allied organizations with an increased understanding and the language needed to better address race, and recognize the ways that individual and institutional racism affect all of us.

Those attending the day-one workshop included grantee representatives of Spokane AIDS Network and OUTSpokane. Attending the full two days were representatives from Odyssey Youth Center, PFLAG Spokane, and KYRS—Queer Sounds. Other grantee organizations represented, which I was thrilled to see, were Spokane Regional Health District, Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, and the YWCA of Spokane to name a few.

“Oppression of anyone is bad for everyone” – Kyle Richardson

“I think people, and groups of people, with commonalities are drawn to each other,” said Kyle. “This is also true for people with common negative experiences. Non-cisgender and people of color both experience discrimination, in common and uncommon ways. I believe sharing strengths, successes, and strategies for community organizing can further bring the human race together. Overall, I think the conversation becomes more empowering when we view it as ‘oppression of anyone is bad for everyone.’ We each have our own unique experiences, and building upon those empowers us all.”

As follow-up from the weekend, a plan for convening a cohort of trainers is being developed, along with ongoing support. The hope is that those who attended both workshops will be equipped to offer the training one day to their own organization, those they are collaborating with, and to the community at large, with support of other local trainers.

It was an amazing and powerful two days of learning and conversation about how racial inequities have been built into institutions and structures throughout our country, and what we can to do to advance racial equity in our organizations and in our own community.

Said best by bob McNeil, “Without racial equity, LGBTQ equality is really ‘white LGBTQ equality.’ I see racial equity as important as LGBTQ equity work.”

Gunner Scott is Pride Foundation’s Director of Programs. Email Gunner. 

*Individuals in photo, from L to R: Maria Peck, PFLAG Spokane; Kyle Richardson, Spokane AIDS Network; Blaine Stum, Legislative Assistant, Human Rights Commissioner, OutSpokane; Bridget Potter, OutSpokane; bob McNeil, KYRS-Queer Sounds; Farand Gunnels, Pride Foundation; Jude McNeil, Odyssey Youth Center; and Sevan Bussell, Odyssey Youth Center.


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