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Marriage Equality Round 2: A call for inclusivity
A public statement from Affinity Community Services
2013-06-07

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Friday's non-vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, otherwise known as the marriage equality bill for those in the LGBTQI community and our allies, left many disappointed and angry. There are people who have dedicated many years of their lives and significant portions of their time during the last several months to bring recognition and a path to economic stability to the many same-sex couples in Illinois.

Affinity thanks all who were involved up until the very last dissatisfying minute.

While the fight for marriage equality is not Affinity's top priority, we recognize the ability to marry the person you love as a civil right and broader society's most resilient vehicle for promoting the economic sustainability of families. In fact, a significant proportion of our constituency, Black lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and queer youth, are among the most vulnerable under the LGBTQI rainbow.

Yet, for many in the general population, and within our own LGBTQI communities, marriage equality is seen as a "white gay man's issue." Nothing could be further from the truth and now that we have this window of opportunity to provide a more accurate picture of the diversity in our community, we MUST take it. We must also recognize that space was not made for the many organizations and individuals that could have made a difference in this fight.

A recent Williams Institute study found that, as in the general population, the LGBTQI population is increasingly of color, female, and poor. According to the study, just under 4% of the US population identifies as LGBT. A Gallup Poll last year corroborated the Williams Institute findings and, after polling over 120,000 people, found that African Americans are more likely to identify as LGBT than whites (4.4% vs. 3.2%). Furthermore women were slightly more likely to identify as LGBT than men and over 40% of African American women who identified as LGBT were raising children under 18 years of age, compared to 28% of white LGBT women, 14% of African American LGBT men, and 10% of white LGBT men.

Additionally, more than one in three people who identify as LGBT had incomes of less than $24,000 while one in four people in the general US population had incomes at this level. These differences in income point to the impacts of structural racism, gender- and gender identity-bias, transphobia, and the many other "isms" that contribute to the marginalization of individuals and whole communities.

Our mainstream LGBT and other progressive organizations need to catch up with this reality and incorporate it into their public policy and advocacy priorities in a more intentional manner. But it is not just about our constituents and members. Spaces must also be made for the many small organizations, groups, activists, experts, and others who are a part of and work in queer and transgender communities of color, in ways that recognize their gifts and their challenges. That means changing how policy and advocacy work has typically been done in Chicago's LGBT community.

There are over 1.6 million nonprofits registered with the Internal Revenue Service. Three in four of these nonprofits have budgets under $500,000. Almost half of nonprofits have budgets under $100,000. A 2008 study of organizations that focus on queer and transgender people of color (QTPOC) showed these organizations to be woefully under capacity. At that time 50% of the 84 organizations interviewed were not registered nonprofits and the average budget was under $80,000 (2008 dollars). According to the "Daring to Lead" study on nonprofit leadership, while most non-profits are most often run by women, 98% of the multi-million dollar organizations are run by men.

Additionally, 82% of nonprofits, large and small, are run by whites, with African Americans, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans making up 3-5% each. Windy City Times' study from a few years ago on nonprofits in Chicago that serve LGBTQI people and people with HIV/AIDS bears out some of these capacity and leadership realities as well.

Unfortunately there is nothing new about the mismatch between the leadership of nonprofits and the populations being served, but it is always important to be reminded that the mismatch exists. It is particularly important to talk about this in the context of what is perceived to be the "gay agenda" and how issues are often so narrowly defined. We are all complex beings with identities that intersect many communities and are impacted by numerous social policies and the implementation of those policies. This intersectional approach to social justice and public policy is the norm for QTPOC organizations and groups and is a very effective tool for coalition building.

There is amazing work being done by small nonprofits and groups in Chicago and other places in very challenging circumstances. Tapping into the expertise and resources of queer and transgender people of color organizations and individuals in ways that are not exploitative is critical to the passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act and the many other pieces of legislation and policies that impact the full identities of LGBT people - pension reform, Medicaid expansion, and school closings to name a few. It is also critical that elected officials show real leadership by understanding when to choose inclusivity over expediency.

There is plenty of blame to go around for last Friday's outcome in Springfield and it is important to examine what happened, who to hold accountable, and collectively determine how we move forward. One thing is for sure. The leadership of mainstream LGBTQI organizations must step out of their comfort zones to share space and resources and build relationships with other organizations, leaders, and causes before a crisis. That is not to absolve others for their part in this. But, just as we look outside of our community to find fault, we must also look within.

We are a community full of resilient individuals and institutions that have had to figure out how to survive and thrive over and over again. As Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better." We are better than those among the opposition to who seek to divide and conquer to advance a narrow agenda. Let's do it right this time, guys.

Affinity Community Services is a social justice organization that works with and on behalf of Black LGBTQ communities, queer youth, and allies to identify emergent needs, create safe spaces, develop leaders, and bridge communities through collective analysis and action for social justice, freedom, and human rights. See affinity95.org .


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