The Senators, a group of 5 African-American lesbians, encourage others to be involved and informed by being involved and informed themselves
It has been said that the best way to lead is by example.
The Senators seem to have taken that advice to heart.
The Senators is a group of five African-American lesbians who hold at least one event each month designed to provide social — and often educational — opportunities for other lesbians. Organizers said their efforts grew out of their own need to contribute to their community.
"I think it’s a way to give back to the community," says Senator K Spain. "Right now, there’s not a lot of people or organizations that I can see that are out there trying to hold events or informational forums that get the community together for something other than going to the clubs."
Senator Q Ragsdale agreed: "When we first decided to do this, it was because we wanted to provide an alternative to the clubs and to get people to come out and get together for things that are educational and inspiring," she said. "We wanted to offer cultural events, not just parties. We wanted to create a different kind of social environment for lesbians to come to and meet each other.
"We want to inspire women to get involved in something beyond themselves," she said.
Ragsdale, the Senators’ primary spokeswoman, said the group — which also includes Toyia Lewis, Robin Pruitt and D Parker — have known each other for anywhere from three to 10 years. They hold official meetings about once a month to take care of business. But since they are all friends, they get together much more frequently.
"We will all get together just to hang out, but then it will turn into a business meeting. Like, we will get together for dinner and end up talking about what we are working on, or what we’re going to do next," she said. "We have to stop ourselves and remind ourselves that dinner is supposed to be just for fun, not business."
She added, "We really just meet on an as-needed basis. When there is stuff to be done, we get together and do it."
Spain elaborated: "Each person in the group has a different purpose. Q does a lot of media stuff, so she is the one who usually talks to the press. We have another member who is the one who goes into the clubs to meet people and sell tickets to our events. Everybody contributes."
Spain said she and Ragsdale also act as ambassadors from the Senators to other organizations and efforts. The two of them have taken classes at the Resource Center of Dallas. They have helped deliver meals to homeless people, and they are working on getting the Senators involved with a program that delivers clean, fresh water to people in rural areas who would otherwise go without.
Business among the Senators is handled in a very straightforward and practical way: "When you have a group of people, you’ll never get everyone to agree 100 percent all the time. So we compromise. We vote. Majority wins."
Ragsdale added: "We are different people with different personalities. So there are times we do disagree. But the thing I love the most is that we all know the difference between business matters and personal matters. We can disagree without getting mad at each other."
So far, the Senators membership has been limited to its five founders. But Ragsdale said that could change.
"When we started this, we never even thought about memberships, about other people joining," she said. "Now, people have started approaching us about becoming members. It raises a lot of questions: How do we implement memberships? Do we event want to?
"But our events are getting larger and larger, so maybe we need new members. We aren’t sure what will happen."
Spain said she can see the Senators becoming much more than a small group of friends with a passion for being involved in their community.
"I would love to see this group expand to different cities and other states. Maybe there are people out there who want to do something like this, but they are lacking in some areas and don’t really know where to start. I would like for our group to be a model for them to follow," Spain said.
The Senators’ events are open to lesbians of all races, but for now, most of those who participate are African-American. But Spain and Ragsdale both said they would love to be able to bridge the racial divide.
"I don’t think there should be a division, a separation line between the racial groups," Spain said. "I think we are all here for the same purpose. It’s been kind of hard for us to intertwine the two groups [African-Americans and whites]. We’ve tried before, and it really didn’t work out too well. So now we’re trying a different avenue."
Ragsdale said, "We are all African-American, and so are most of the people we know. So most of the people who attend our events are African-American.
"We did make an attempt to make it more diverse, but the white lesbians that have come have seemed uncomfortable. I think people just tend to stay in their own comfort zones, and that goes for both sides," she said.
Ragsdale added that she doesn’t believe the racial separation is necessarily a sign of dislike, distrust or discrimination, but is instead simply a symptom of a lack of familiarity which one another.
"I think both sides just don’t know how to reach out to each other, and I think people on both sides just aren’t motivated to reach out," she said.
"But we do want to reach out. At some point, we all need to reach out and get involved, in non-social things at least."
And, Ragsdale added, the Senators could be the ones to get the ball rolling.
"That’s why I want to see us [the Senators] get involved in a lot of different things. We have made ourselves leaders in the African-American community, and if people in our community see us out there, volunteering at the Resource Center or at the clinic or the food pantry, or doing stuff for the Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal, then I think they will follow.
"We are trying to get more involved and be more visible, and then we can get our following to come along and to be more involved," she continued.
"The thing is, any issue that affects the LGBT community affects all of us. And we all need to work together. I mean, I don’t have the money to be part of the Federal Club yet. But when I do, I want to see a diverse group of people there, working together. That goes for all the organizations," she added.
Ragsdale said she hopes that the Senators’ involvement in the larger LGBT community will open up avenues of communication and cooperation.
"Before we started volunteering at the Resource Center and holding some events there, only a few people [in the African-American lesbian community] even knew it existed. And the people at the Resource Center really didn’t know much about our community either," she said.
"So just by us having events there, that’s a bridge that has been built. That’s what we want to do," Ragsdale said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008