Uniting Communities takes hold

Friday, December 17, 2010

by Aimee Santos Lyons, Western States Center

In November, I was excited to be in New York City to train and facilitate a dialogue on Western States Center’s Uniting Communities project. Uniting Communities focuses on proactively bringing together the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community and communities of color because there is a need to work across communities and issues. Together, we can stand stronger.

We brought together 22 organizations based in communities of color and immigrants and refugees communities from across the country. Our goal was to support them to examine LGBTQ equality within their organizations and their work.

Queer people of color have struggled to bring their whole selves to advance racial justice because there has not been much work done in tandem between the LGBTQ community and communities of color. While I am thrilled to be working on this groundbreaking project, I was also anxious about the meeting. Anxious because we are working outside of our geographic scope for the first time. Anxious to talk about LGBTQ equality with mostly straight-identified leaders of color.

To my relief, it quickly became apparent that the participants saw this project as a crucial piece of their work: "It feels like a movement moment," shared Cathi Tactaquin, Executive Director of National Network of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “I can feel a deep shift in the way we are thinking, feeling and talking about LGBTQ equality as an issue that impacts our communities, our members and leaders."

Janvieve Williams, of Atlanta-based Latin American and Caribbean Community Center, described how exceedingly difficult it is for LGBTQ immigrants to seek political asylum in the U.S. Jessica Lee, of Basic Rights Education Fund, shared her own story as a queer youth of color being pushed out of her family, school, and community.

One of the exercises we shared was the “Assessing Our Organizations” tool which helps groups identify areas that they need to work on and areas that they are doing well when it comes to dealing with LGBTQ equality. After learning more about this exercise, Diana Ortiz, of Brooklyn-based Exodus Transitional Community, called her Executive Eirector immediately so that he could include this exercise at their staff meeting just a couple of days away. He agreed on the spot.

I left New York City with a powerful sensation—a sense of solidarity, commitment and momentum that will change the way we fight for justice and equity to build strong communities and strong families.

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