Lack of African-Americans in leadership roles is obvious in many LGBT organizations, but communication can help fill the gaps
On Sept. 9, I celebrated being a Dallas resident for 16 years. The first five years I lived in North Dallas and was active in the cancer community. We all stood arm-in-arm in the battle against the insidious enemy. The warriors were from every walk of life: black, white and every hue in between; race religion, height and body build.
You name it, they were there. Everyone was of one accord, with the synergy of a well-trained army, very clear about the goals. We marched in the rhythm well enough to rival any band, inspired by victory planned and seized.
In the fall of 1995, a good girlfriend of mine a white person, I might add invited me to bring my professional training and talent for organizing to the Dallas-Fort Worth Black Tie Dinner. I thought, “Wow, what a way to start off volunteering in the gay community.” My dad always said, “Don’t start small if you don’t have to.”
While I was a lesbian in a five-year relationship, I had never heard of the Black Tie Dinner before. During those five years with my partner who had been a Dallas resident for 10 years before we got together I had spent most of my personal time with my partner’s friends, who were predominantly African-American. But at my workplace, while the frontline staff were very diverse, the management was mostly very white and very male, usually straight but sometimes openly gay.
Hanging out with the home girls on the weekends and working with whites during the week was my experience.
As I became more involved in other GLBT organizations and began to socialize more and more, I noticed that this meant that I would be socializing with mostly white, affluent or nouveau riche members of the greater GLBT community.
By 1999, I had been named to the board of the DFW Black Tie Dinner after having served as a volunteer for several years. While serving on the committee, I began to meet and to interact with more of the pillars of the Dallas GLBT community and the many trailblazers who paved the way for us neophytes.
I then became acutely aware that I had yet to meet any prominent African-American GLBT leaders in the Dallas community.
It was easy to find and name the political, civil rights and religious leaders, but very few if any African American GLBT leaders could I find.
It was 2000 when my beloved friend, Dennis Coleman, then a national board member of the Human Rights Campaign, asked me to work with him on a Black History Month celebration for HRC.
I was surprised and encouraged to learn that a major GLBT advocacy group recognized the importance of diversity. I knew about the political work, but was unaware of HRC’s imperative to gain the perspective of the GLBT African-American public.
From then on, I was hooked. Soon I was enthusiastic enough to be invited to serve on the DFW Steering Committee that oversees, plans and implements HRC community partnership and fundraising in the greater Dallas community.
Today as I work to bridge the gap between the greater GLBT and non-GLBT community and diverse GLBT communities, I can say that I see pride and prejudice on both sides. Some I understand and some I loathe. It’s human nature.
Based on my own personal cultural heritage as well as my upbringing in the ultra-diverse military community of San Antonio, I have many perspectives on the impact of diversity on how we manifest pride and prejudice.
The one thing that I am sure will bridge the gaps and heal wounds and misunderstanding is communication with welcomed understanding.
Communication is always two-way, and to truly communicate, we should always be open, honest and respectful in our speaking and our listening.
My prayer for this year’s various Pride celebrations is that each of our individual and our collective demonstrations of Pride are celebrated with respectful listening and even more respectful communication.
Felicia Y. Miller is a community activist working with the Human Rights Campaign and the Legacy of Success Foundation. She is also helping organize Dallas’ 2006 black gay Pride celebration, Dallas Southern Pride: Papaparazzi 2006: In Focus, scheduled for Sept. 28-Oct. 1.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.