Divisiveness in queer spaces undermines work of change-makers on front lines

Activists representing Philly Black Lives Matter, the Black and Brown Workers Collective, and the Coaliton for REAL Justice made statements on the alleged racism in Philadelphia's Gayborhood. (Brad Larrison for NewsWorks)

Activists representing Philly Black Lives Matter, the Black and Brown Workers Collective, and the Coaliton for REAL Justice made statements on the alleged racism in Philadelphia's Gayborhood. (Brad Larrison for NewsWorks)

Recently, I was honored to receive the Charlene J. Arcila Lifetime Achievement Award from GALAEI, a queer Latinx advocacy organization, for my 30 years of service to the LGBT community in Philadelphia.

After 30 years, I have seen great change — some of which has been positive and beneficial to all. Unfortunately, a lot of that which needed to be changed then, still needs to be changed now. What has angered me more than the obvious racism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, ageism, and ableism which still permeates every facet of all our lives, is that there are among us people who would be divisive in our spaces, and who seek to undermine those of us and our allies who stand on the front lines continually trying to make change happen.

Some of these people have praised my efforts and those of warriors who have gone before, such as Gloria Casarez and Kiyoshi Kuromiya, while they do these destructive and disruptive things, which violate and dishonor everything for which we have worked and fought.

The few hands that do the work of securing housing, providing legal assistance, aiding in securing education, working with people in recovery, helping those who have less than nothing to regain their sense of dignity and pride, have worked together on issues great and small in our community. There are people like Aamina Morrison and Ariana Sanchez at TransHealth Information Project; Deja Alvarez and Sakina Dean at the LGBTQ Home for Hope; the Morris Home; Lisa Pozzi, Yoshiaki Yamasaki, and others at the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium; Dawn Munro at PFLAG and the LGBT Elder Initiative; Carrie Jacobs at the Attic Youth Center; and Val Sowell and Allie at Philadelphia FIGHT. Others, such as Revs. Haskins and Jordan, Chris Paige, and others in the faith communities have also contributed much to our efforts for justice and equality for everyone. I have seen this and more.

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What I haven’t seen is any of their critics appear at any function where work needed to be done. What I haven’t seen is these people and their so-called efforts on our behalf at any function or event to do anything in preparation, provide input and/or solutions to any of our issues they claim to care so much about, other than disruption.

I have heard the calls of these people who claim to speak for us, who claim to speak for me, call for the resignation of Nellie Fitzpatrick from the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs because of “her inability to deal with issues of intersectionality.”

So, let’s talk about the fruits that she has made to blossom.

I have witnessed the presence and work of Nellie Fitzpatrick at a number of events that support the diversity of our LGBT community. We have seen for the first time in the city’s history the raising of a Transgender Pride Flag and a Mayoral Proclamation of Transgender Visibility and Bisexual Visibilities Days.

While she has been an LGBT advocate with Center City Crime Victim Services, she has directly sat in court with and intervened on the behalf of people in the correctional system, including those who don’t live in Center City and those who are not white.

Even before the position she holds had been made permanent, under her tenure and insistence, her presence and voice were with us in the construction of the state Fairness Act here in the city and equally instrumental in securing the travel ban for city employees on official business in North Carolina and Mississippi. Even though it is not a specified aspect of her job, she has been actively involved in direct advocacy for the Home for Hope.

While her job description has been one in an advisory capacity, she has taken direct action. Why is this? It’s because she knows that she has a stake in our community. It’s because she knows that policy isn’t enough. She is out there getting hands dirty on our behalf, and I am proud to call her a friend and fight beside her.

Look — is there discrimination in service organizations that are supposed to work for and with us? Yes. Is there discrimination in places of business in our neighborhood? Yes.

The fight for justice and equality, even life, is not a spectator sport. Are the victories we have worth celebrating? Yes, but that doesn’t mean the work is done and the fight is over!

I keep hearing, “Shut it down,” and “These people don’t listen to me or my people.” Have you of your own volition gone to talk to these people? Or write a letter or email a senator of representative, state or federal, or a councilperson about what you see or what you want done? Have you even attempted to find out who these people are?

If you see something that needs to be done, talk to each other and to the people who can help provide solutions to these problems. Some of them, it may surprise you to know, want things to change as much as you do. If you don’t have a solution or a remedy to an issue, if you haven’t called organizations and people out about what’s wrong without an alternative to put in its place, let those of us who are on the frontlines do the job.

To be clear, this opinion is not directed towards one particular organization or individual. It’s a reminder that change starts with all of us.

Dionne Stallworth is a long-time activist in Philadelphia’s LGBT community. She is one of the founding members of GenderPAC and one of the original seven founders of the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference.

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