Are we each other’s brother’s keeper?
With this June’s historic Supreme Court ruling, Obergefell v. Hodge, that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, many white LGBTQ organizations nationwide have been questioning what to do next.
Last month the Harvard Alumni Association and the Harvard Gender & Sexuality Caucus picked up the gauntlet to answer that very question, co-sponsoring a conference titled “What Should We Do After ‘I Do’?: Conversations on the Challenges That Remain for the LGBTQ Community." Harvard alumni, students, staff, faculty, and friends came from across the country for a day-long gathering exploring the topic, with hopes of perhaps charting a future course in the unfinished struggle for LGBTQ rights and equality.
The challenge of what to do next among many of the conference attendees appeared daunting—reach out to LGBTQ communities of color.
And for good reasons.
Any reaching out to communities of color will, undoubtedly, dredge up the history of how this country’s same-sex marriage debate created much consternation and polarization between LGBTQ communities of color and white LGBTQ communities. With white LGBTQ political and religious organizations now attempting to bridge this historic divide, many communities of color are asking what’s in it for them.
While many LGBTQ communities of color will embrace the larger LGBTQ community’s offers to be inclusive, others feel that the white queer community, in 2015, is coming a day late and a dollar short. And any effort now is seen as disingenuous if not patronizing.
Bitter internecine feuds among LGBTQ communities of color and the dominate community—concerning how to frame the marriage debate and the strategies employed in the process—have left both sides battle worn.
And needless to say, the trip down memory lane is a painful one.
With the passing of Proposition 8 and blaming the African American community for its victory at the ballot box, the struggle for marriage equality showed us all that it would be a state-by-state battle, where the demographics of each state indeed came into play.
Some strategists felt all along that communities of color—both straight and queer—were liabilities, slowing, if not disrupting, the process, progress and momentum in this nationwide culture war.
These activists openly stated and showed in their community strategies and organizing that they didn’t want or need queer communities of color, especially in predominately white states, to win the battle.
And their reason was the following: With enough successive wins from less heterogeneous LGBTQ and straight communities, like Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, and, yes, even my state of Massachusetts, these judicial endorsements of same-sex marriages not only increase public acceptance of LGBTQ nuptials, but these endorsements could conceivably push more quickly the issue of marriage equality to the federal level for LGBTQ Americans all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, circumventing our internal wars of class, race, and homophobic faith communities entirely.
Sadly, many of our state-by-state battles for marriage equality continued to be framed as a single-issue agenda, even after being advised otherwise.
These battles addressed the concerns and values of an elite few, regardless of the size of its LGBTQ communities of color.
And, with the LGBTQ community being the fastest disenfranchised group to touch the fringes of America’s mainstream since the Stonewall Riots in 1969, some contested the only thing holding the larger community back is LGBTQ communities of color.
Communities of color fought back stating we cannot be deployed in the marriage equality battle in a used-when-needed basis, like token moments for photo-ops.
In response to the how the marriage debate initially took shape, many LGBTQ communities of color organizations sprung up to address their needs—focusing not only on HIV/AIDs ravaging their communities, but, also on unemployment, gang violence, LGBTQ youth homelessness, and homophobic clergy, to name a few.
I have been asked by several white activists and organizations post-marriage equality: "Is it now too late trying to reach out to communities of color?"
It’s a similar questions that was asked of me in 2005 when a board member of a statewide gay organization, who did not want to be identified, wrote to me stating the following:
The board is interested in looking at its own white privilege as it seeks to work with the African-American religious community. We have realized that most of our communities of faith are predominantly white communities. This concerns us...We [have] voted to begin a process of understanding white privilege and the ways in which we can seem to be antiracist.
I cannot speak for all communities of color let alone the ones I identify with. However, as one who sits at the intersections of several identities my query to white LGBTQ activists and organizations is the following:
Will efforts to reach out to communities of color be matched by the same agency, urgency, time and dollars spent on marriage equality?
If not, my question—are we each other’s brother’s keeper—is answered.
Photo by Flickr user Jason