Racial Equity Online Toolkit from Funders for LGBTQ Issues

November 20, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The new LGBTQ Racial Equity Online Toolkit and Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ overarching campaign really exemplifies that “multi-issue” does not have to mean diluted or fuzzy messages, as is often implied by various “diversity” conversations. But in fact, as shown in these commentaries by PRE Advisory Board members Kalpana Krishnamurthy and Rinku Sen, and other pieces shared at http://www.lgbtracialequity.org, the more intersectional we get, the deeper and more nuanced the analysis must be – and the more accurately and productively reflective of our complex realities it will become.

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Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Race & Gender Justice Programs Director, Western States Center (Portland, OR)

Effective alliances take time

Western States Center has partnered with Basic Rights Oregon to support organizations in Oregon to adopt frameworks for LGBTQ rights and racial justice. RACE and Gender Justice Programs Director Kalpana Krishnamurthy shares how to build relationships across movements for social justice.

Tell me about yourself. How did you become an activist?

The root of my activism comes from my family. My parents emigrated from India in the late 1960s and they were the only folks that came to the U.S. So I was raised seeing the differences in my own life compared to the life of my family in India. A lot of my experience growing up was about giving back in India, learning how and why U.S. policy on agriculture was affecting our family that farmed land in India, and trying to put all the pieces together. My parents were also very clear with my brother and me about giving back; one of my Dad’s favorite sayings was: “When you rise, you take your community with you.”

But I got my start in organizing during the first Iraq war and in response to the Rodney King beating and L.A. riots in the early 1990s. When I went to college at the University of Oregon, I started doing work with environmental groups on campus and eventually drifted over to the campus women’s center, student government and other progressive groups. After graduating, I knew that I wanted to keep organizing, so I found a job working with students and became a full-time organizer.

You currently head the Gender Justice Program and RACE Program at Western States Center, a Portland, Oregon-based organization that strengthens the capacity of progressive movement organizations and leaders in states throughout the West. What role has Western States Center played in the region and nationally?

Prior to our creation, progressive organizations and leaders were often working in isolation from one another, serving particular constituencies or advancing specific issues. Scattered across a broad geographic area, they lacked resources, appropriate training programs, and mechanisms to share intelligence, plan strategies and spread successes. For the past 20-plus years, Western States Center has been connecting Western activists, building a sense of shared values, honing strategies for building power, sharpening political analyses, and forging relationships and alliances with the broader movement for social, economic, racial and environmental justice.

In our RACE program, the Center was one of the key institutions pushing organizations to look at and think about racial justice. In a region of the country that is overwhelmingly white, the Center has long advocated that it’s even more important to look at issues of race and racial equity. For many years we ran a “Dismantling Racism” project to help primarily white organizations understand their role, clarify their strategies and change their institutions to better reflect a commitment to racial justice.

Our “Dismantling Racism” tools are available online and are amongst the most downloaded free tools available for looking at racial justice issues within organizing groups.

Our Gender Justice Program is newer but has made some significant contributions to the region and to work nationally. The Gender Justice Program uses a movement-building approach to strengthen the capacity of organizations dedicated to LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice and family security. We want to support organizations that already work on these issues—but we also want to bring new groups to the table. We have found that the Far Right often uses issues like abortion, LGBTQ equality and other “hot button issues” to divide our communities. From statewide ballot fights to local campaigns, many groups that work for gender justice find themselves on the defensive and isolated from the broader progressive community. Our goal in the Gender Justice program is to support groups on the front lines of these fights and help expand the number of organizations willing to talk about these social issues.

The RACE Program works with communities of color, including immigrants and refugees, and LGBTQ people of color. What are the racial justice issues facing LGBTQ communities of color, including immigrants?

On one level, the issues that affect all communities of color—racial profiling, health disparities, lack of decent immigration laws, inadequate services—also affect queer people of color. But simply expanding the audience to include queer people of color doesn’t actually get to the ways in which queer people of color disproportionately bear the burdens of these problems. When we look at the general lack of services for communities of color, are we also looking at how agencies underserve queer people of color, don’t have culturally competent staff, address homophobia in service providing environments, or receive adequate funding for outreach and service provision for LGBTQ people of color? In this climate of restricted state dollars, the programs that most serve people of color are at risk for being cut—what will this mean for queer people of color in these communities that often bear a greater burden of the problem?

Looking at the issues only through this lens can also miss a significant barrier for LGBTQ communities of color in our region, which is the isolation and lack of infrastructure that organizations and networks face. Time and time again, queer folks of color in our region talk about the difficulty of being out in rural areas or small towns, the lack of networks or organizations led by and for queer people of color, and the difficulty in maintaining visibility for queer communities of color within the mainstream LGBTQ movement. These issues are also critical racial justice issues—the visibility, sustainability and leadership of queer people of color and their organizations/networks can determine whether the issues and concerns of queer people of color are placed on the table in broader conversations about the LGBTQ movement.

You also head the Gender Justice Program at Western States Center and previously served as director of the Third Wave Foundation, a feminist, activist foundation that works nationally to support young women and transgender youth ages 15 to 30. What are some of the ways in which you’ve seen women and transgender people of color deal with injustice and improve their lives?

I’ve always thought that young women and trans folks of color were doing some of the most innovative and inspiring work to address the issues in their lives. At Third Wave we would get amazing grant applications from young women of color or trans people of color who were organizing for change in their communities, creating art and culture, and talking about issues that deeply affected their peers and community. What’s exciting to me is the way that young women and trans people of color are coming up with solutions—it’s new and fresh organizing, finding new solutions to old problems, and building new leaders in the work.

You recently partnered with Basic Rights Oregon, a statewide LGBTQ organization, to strengthen the ability of LGBTQ organizations and racial justice organizations to serve as movement allies for one another. How did this project begin?

Oregon has a long history of anti-gay ballot measures. Through five statewide and more than 25 local anti-LGBT ballot measures, the Far Right has long used Oregon to assess public resonance with anti-equality policies, test messages and build infrastructure and power. From the first ballot initiative in 1988, anti-gay forces have consistently used race to divide the electorate and give moderate white voters an excuse for their discrimination. From framing LGBTQ rights with the same “special rights” language they used to attack affirmative action to having people of color act as spokespeople—the Far Right all too often succeeded in dividing communities.

Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) is the primary advocacy, education and political organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the state. In 2004, after voters approved a statewide ballot initiative banning same sex marriage, BRO had an honest internal conversation about how the campaign had played out, and what it might need to do in order to build deeper and longer term relationships with communities of color and queer communities of color. In some ways, it was Oregon’s Prop 8 moment—a chance to pause, reflect and decide to take a different direction in the work.

Based on this internal commitment to addressing racial justice, in 2005, the Center and BRO began a multi-year partnership to proactively address racial justice and LGBTQ equality in Oregon. This coordinated program has aimed to transform the culture, leadership and mission of BRO, while strengthening the ability of allied people of color organizations to play a leadership role in LGBTQ equality and gender justice work.

What are some early lessons from this initiative?

First, I don’t think we can stress enough just how important peer-to-peer relationship building is in this process. People have to know and trust each other in order to move this work forward successfully, so creating the spaces where organizers can develop their relationships with one another is critical.

Second, people need practical tools to work on those aspects of their decision making, organizational culture, etc. that stand in the way of becoming effective allies. Providing those tools, as well as the technical assistance and financial support to implement necessary changes, are also vital components for success.

Lastly, analysis and training are only a lead-up to the action steps that organizations finally take. Organizations committed to racial justice or to being allies to the struggle for immigrant rights need to put their organizational resources on the line—through donating staff time, helping to fundraise, and mobilizing their own base in support of racial justice, immigrant rights or LGBTQ equality.

The questions that this project is addressing—how racial justice groups implement an LGBTQ lens and how LGBTQ issues integrate a racial justice framework, as a way of making our movements stronger—has become a key concern for many activists and funders nationwide. In fact, we’re seeing its missed potential in lost policy battles all over the country. What would you share about this project that would help move this conversation among grantmakers?

In all of our work around racial justice, we have learned a really key (and quite simple) lesson: there has to an organizational commitment to transformation and buy-in from the leadership.

For some groups, the phase of building internal buy-in for using a racial justice lens in the organization takes years of internal conversation, education and persistence by staff or leaders. If racial justice or LGBTQ equality get seen as “add-ons” to the organization, than they are frequently the first thing to get cut when budgets get tight, staff turn over, or major political battles confront our organizations.

This work also takes time. It can’t work if you suddenly realize in the middle of a campaign that you’ve got a problem, and try to “fix” it overnight. These are deep issues that need to be addressed outside of the pressure-cooker climate of campaigns, and on their own terms.

Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who’s interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?

I know for many funders one answer is to increase funding to groups by and for people of color, built on the idea that if we can strengthen these groups they can play a more significant role in guiding and leading conversations the movement should be having.

I would ask funders to have sensible and realistic expectations for ‘scaling up’ queer people of color organizations. Groups by and for LGBTQ people of color have existed for many years in our region, but have only recently gotten significant or steady funding—and there’s a process for scaling up organizations that takes time.

Groups of color that have been meeting for years as social support spaces play a critical role, and these communities will need time to ramp up, decide if they want to be in the more political movement conversations, and if there’s leadership and broad-based interest in moving in those directions.

After years of chronic underfunding, it’s not fair or healthy to assume that every people of color organization of network is going to decide to work on marriage, ballot measures, or policy change in the next one to two grant cycles. I would advise patience to funders, to think of their investments in queer people of color groups and networks as ones that can pay off in the short term but will bear their greatest fruit in the five to 10-year timeframe.

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Rinku Sen, Executive Director, Applied Research Center (New York, NY)

Focusing on solutions

To reduce racial inequities, homophobia and transphobia, social change leaders must move beyond forming tactical alliances to building authentic relationships—and we must pose solutions with emotional arguments. Applied Research Center Executive Director Rinku Sen tells us why and how.

Tell me about yourself. How did you become an activist and a writer?

In college I became radicalized and discovered organizing. I participated in organizing efforts to oppose racial violence and then around sexual violence. I knew that I wanted to continue this work when I left college. For the next 15 years I was an organizer and eventually the co-director, with Francis Calpotura, of the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) in Oakland, California. By the end of my time at CTWO, I decided that I wanted to be more involved in thinking and moving new ideas into society, so I decided to get my masters in Journalism.

You currently serve as the executive director of the Applied Research Center (ARC), a national organization that investigates the hidden racial consequences of public policy initiatives and develops new frameworks to resolve racially charged debates. What role has ARC played nationally?

ARC gets tools out into the community by publishing work that generates solutions to racial inequity and helps to frame the political and cultural discourse on race. ARC focuses both on racial issues that are lived (cultural) and legislated (political)—and understands that both are crucial to making long-lasting sustainable change.

What are some of the Applied Research Center’s current projects?

We are currently very excited about three projects that ARC is producing.

Our green equity tool kit—which we are producing with Green For All—will provide a set of race and gender equity criteria that can be used to assess and improve new green jobs programs and proposals to give poor people access. These tools can be used by communities, public officials, administrators, reporters and university research institutes.

We are also currently spending much of our time expanding our media reach and developing new products; these include lots of original reporting. Our next big story takes a transnational look at families that have been separated by criminal deportations.

We take a narrative approach to racial issues—that is, we lead with stories, not data. In the past we have written about many issues that affect people of color, including a cover story on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy featuring soldier Dan Choi, a West Point graduate who came out publicly on Rachel Maddow’s show.

Finally, we are undertaking a national study of the racial justice movement to understand how sexual liberation is positioned within racial justice. We will be interviewing dozens of racial justice leaders, and reviewing the political positions of prominent local and national racial justice organizations, to identify the potential capacity of the movement to move sexual liberation, including orientation, preference and gender issues.

This toolkit is exploring how funders can better promote racial equity in this country among LGBTQ communities. Through your work over the years, how have you seen racial, economic and gender inequities affect LGBTQ people of color?

LGBT people of color are subject to the same patterns of racism as other people of color, including lower income, less access to high quality education and vulnerability to police and community violence, which is either ignored, legitimized or sanctioned.

While this is all true, it is surprising to see how often stories about queers are written in a non-racial way. In fact, when we read about transgender violence or gender violence, we often have to dig for information about the race of the victim. People of color organizations are the best at identifying and naming race when there are cases of harassment; but their information often doesn’t make it into the mainstream press. In this way, you don’t get a sense of race being a large part of queer movement issues.

You recently co-authored a book, The Accidental American, which provides a critique of U.S. immigration policy and offers arguments for a more humane immigration and global labor system. Is there a specific lesson that you think can be shared about immigration policy and how it has been racialized?

The immigration debates have been framed by racism-producing linguistic and visual codes. That is, when a visual of a brown-skinned person always accompanies the word “illegal,” people begin to make an association and attach themselves to a political position. The Right Wing is very good at forcing this issue—by insisting that journalists use this particular word or they won’t grant interviews. The pairing of criminality and brown skinned people has been a campaign of the Right for at least a decade. This paradigm, of course, also applies to queer people of color immigrants.

One of the lessons I have learned is that we cannot let the Right frame this without a fight back. And the fight back has to be emotionally engaging. We need to re-humanize people who are immigrants, regardless of status. As a progressive movement we often think that we can compensate an emotional and psychological attack with rationality, and facts and figures. We can’t. I think that the queer movements around racial equity also need to take heed.

Another lesson is that we cannot generate urgency and action if we are too focused on the problem and not on the solution. Endless suffering is not news and doesn’t create a sense of urgency. And even if it can fix an immediate problem, it is not a sustainable approach to solving social problems.

And how do LGBTQ issues intersect with immigration?

First, through issues of family reunification. However, often immigration policy does not recognize non-traditional families, such as queer families. It also presupposes that queer immigrants have good relationships with families who would be willing to sponsor them. It doesn’t address the racial and homophobic dynamics at play in queer immigrants’ lives.

Second, the HIV ban [which bars many HIV-positive foreign nationals and travelers from entering the U.S. on a short-term visa or for applying for permanent residence].

Third, the asylum path to immigration. Often the definitions of “danger” don’t include gender violence. Until recently, gender violence was seen as a “social issue” and other forms of torture and violence were seen as political violence that justified providing asylum.

I think that the queer movement should be strong players not only in these areas, but in all aspects of immigration struggles. There is a need for authentic relationships, not just tactical alliances.

What role should racial justice organizations play in supporting LGBTQ communities of color?

Racial justice organizations should play an active role in building people of color activity in the sexual liberation movement. We should facilitate challenges to homo and trans phobia in our communities of color by taking on campaigns, facilitating discussions, developing materials and tools and by building relationships. Further, it is on us, the racial justice organizations, to include LGBTQ people and issues in the larger racial justice agenda to a higher degree.

Finally, it is important for racial justice organizations to articulate an expansive and modernized definition of “civil rights,” one that respectfully embraces the legacy of blacks in the U.S. and the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s—and that articulates an extension of the frame that can apply to LGBTQ folks, immigrants etc, without using language indicating that Black Civil Rights have been achieved and is only important historically.

If the LGBT movement (or anyone, including women, immigrants, etc) is going to use civil rights frames, it has to do so thoughtfully and in a nuanced way.

It is important that one does not conflate all civil rights issues and movements as being the same—they are not. Rather, all issues of inequity live on a continuum and need to be addressed as such.

A few years ago, ARC studied how much the philanthropic sector provided communities of color and, most recently, worked with the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity to develop and apply a racial justice grantmaking assessment to two foundations. What is the relationship between American philanthropy and communities of color?

When we began looking at U.S. foundations, we found that most, even those who have spent lots of time and energy on race, still use a diversity—rather than an equity—lens in their grantmaking. We have developed tools and materials to help funders move from a diversity frame to one that reflects a commitment to racial equity. That can only happen after they’ve actually developed that commitment internally, of course.

We also found that many foundations often think that they are being clear about their commitment to racial justice when in fact they are often vague and inconsistent in their use of language. Many use issue proxies (i.e. poverty) or demographic proxies (specific neighborhoods, the south side etc.,) in their grant guidelines and are not explicit about racial justice outcomes.

When foundations are not clear, they get weak proposals and they end up with a weak funding portfolio with unclear racial outcomes, i.e. no actual reduction of racial disparities in health, income, education and so on.

What are some successes—in our society, in our political movements, in the media—that you’d like to see in your lifetime?

I don’t often think about questions like this, but if I were to answer honestly, I would hope to see racial impact become a standard part of all policy making. I would also like to see a reduction of homophobia in the communities to which I am closest. I look forward to finding unexpected allies in communities of color for support and action on queer issues.

Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who’s interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?

Based on my work with foundations, I would offer the following advice:

Develop clear definitions to guide your work

Make sure that everyone in the foundation understands and uses this language consistently.

Talk through the elements of your grantmaking with people in the field. That is, talk to current and potential grantees, folks who are studying race, community leaders, etc. to understand the field better and for guidance in developing grantmaking guidelines.

Develop evaluation guidelines, again with people in the field, to measure your racial equity impact. The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity is currently designing, with the help of racial justice movement folks, tools that will help foundations to assess their racial equity impacts.

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