Editors' note: Diego Sanchez is the Director of Public Relations & External Affairs AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. and currently serves on the HRC Business Council.
Sometimes fingers are used to point, figuratively and literally. At other times, the palms of both hands touch and fingers point upward, indicating a thoughtful, prayerful or listening moment. Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and ally (LGBTQQIA) communities, white and of-color, have walked into a zone of tremendous opportunity for palm-touching, a time for thought, prayer and listening to each other with care.
A colleague who I value asked, "What can people like me, who are white and gay, do?" There was talk of current frustration about the struggle between involving some communities with sufficient energy while concurrently told that those communities need to be involved without outside intrusion. I'm paraphrasing and hope I'm capturing the sentiment. The question is genuine and courageous, as should be a response.
Many of us have heard or asked similar things in our lives. I'm a naturalized U.S. citizen who is a Latino and mixed race, Georgia- and Panama Canal Zone-raised, professionally globe-traveled transsexual man in Boston for the 18th of my 51 years. This is my personal effort to provide a "polite company" way to name some barriers that I think we can resolve together. My hope is to engage. My response won't do the topic full justice, not because I don't think about this every day. I do. I have to. But I offer something small, respectfully, hoping that it invites others to engage, too.
My origins of pondering this issue spans my life, but my experience of hopeful resolution emerged in Massachusetts. Many of us who are LGBTQQIA in Massachusetts had deep conversations about cross-race, cross-ethnic and cross-cultural engagement as we first seriously planned to secure same-sex marriage 10 or so years ago.
Our frank face-to-face talks built today's community in MA that is truly bonded across cultures, across issues, even across generations, because we each listened to each others' needs and then promised to help each other, sequentially, in time. We built lasting trust by being vulnerable and honest with each other, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart. And then everyone kept their word, honoring the trust.
We've had at least a decade of deep-talking, scary-question-asking here, and it was initially agonizing, risky and fragile-feeling to say some of the truths, but I'm glad we did it. And I hope we across the country can get there together, too, in time, and with due respect, because there is a lot of respect due on all fronts.
Speaking only for myself, when someone else plans to have a big dinner party, and then they decide at some point to invite me to attend, I really like it when I'm asked what I like to eat or if I'm allergic to anything, especially if we're not already intimately familiar.
If I get a nice invitation to that dinner party later, the published invite is just as pretty with or without the preceding conversation, but my personal feeling of being included, not just invited, differs. I ask myself, "Is that a chair over there at the special table, or is it my chair?"
One way for people to know what I prefer to eat is by asking if we can go to dinner before that special dinner party meal. Optimally, I'd like it if the other person asks me to select the dinner locale. That would offer an inclusive invitation, a chance to watch what I choose, maybe ask me about it, maybe even ask to take a taste.
When people are solely interested in having other people accept a pre-set menu, it leaves little room for any real understanding except whether people like or dislike the menu created by one person, asking another to choose from it. In my view, all that's understood is the inferred response, not even the implied one Having both eyes open rather than just one make sit easier to pick up an eating utensil or a drinking glass.
Still speaking only for myself, in community engagement and involvement, I believe that I learn more about other people when I attend their events, ask about their priorities and then ask to build a list of common priorities that we define together. That's how we built our LGBTQQIA community in MA. It's how I try to engage nationally as well.
Usually, because everything is on a speed-dating schedule with a goal to build long-term loving bonds of trust, it feels like this to me: "How can WE get Y'ALL to do what WE need Y'ALL to do?" For me, it doesn't feel inclusive, bears no semblance of understanding, and feels task-driven, not connective. The other way it feels, to me, is: "What can WE say to Y'ALL so that Y'ALL see how Y'ALL benefit from what WE want done?"
I'm not trying to be crass. I am trying to be clear.
For me, common agendas only have weight across cultures when more than one culture's people draw up those agendas. Cross-community building is a process, not a one-time event.
My front-line priorities might seem silly, tiny or insignificant to people who don't have common barriers as I experience. I feel goofy when I have to remember my personal priority checklist: not getting murdered, being able to work without harassment, not suffering from housing discrimination, being treated almost fairly in law enforcement situations (e.g. walking on some street to the library without being bothered or shopping in a store without being followed, perhaps). They're not lofty. But they're mine, and for me, they're real. To me, they matter a lot.
I love seeing powerful passion and energy on multiple-issue agendas, and sometimes I get what I love. So, while many of us who are of color who are also LGBTQQIA worked hard on Prop 8, on this Presidential and lots of Congressional candidates' elections and on other Prop positions in different states, many others did not. The same must be true for non-of-color folks, too, I imagine.
I hope the marriage equality issue gets resolved favorably our way in CA and everywhere. I enjoy reading people's strategies on how this might be done.
In the interim, as we move forward, perhaps a few of us can share a meal soon, figuratively or literally, and engage more deeply before it's time for the next dinner party. I believe it will make more necessary people feel included when they are invited, and the whole effort can be more effortless, I believe. I'm willing to walk on eggshells because all of my communities matter to me.
So shall we dine?