Monday, January 17, 2011


How Are We Supposed To Have Our Own Civil Rights Movement When Segregation Is Part & Parcel Of The LGBT Experience?

By Derek Washington

It really makes me feel good that so many LGBT organizations seemed to be celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr Federal holiday the way it’s supposed to be done. His speeches and sayings are all over Facebook and Twitter. I’ve received dozens of emails from my nationwide network of LGBT friends and allies extolling King’s virtues. All of this is focusing on what the man stood and died for instead of a new movie opening 3 day weekend or a Macy’s clearance sale.

Makes me proud.

In theory.

I feel that the minute we in the LGBT community understand and embrace our current struggle as the modern civil rights struggle, we will have the nation’s hearts and minds. I think instead of trying to have Melissa Etheridge or the Indigo Girls come up with a new “soul stirring” anthem, we should just go with the tried and true, “We Shall Overcome” by Charles Albert Tindley.

The problem is that so very many LGBT media outlets and organizations may as well have a “Whites Only” sign outside their boardrooms and all of the other places they make the big decisions that affect us all.

Case in point: OUT Magazine puts out a yearly “OUT 100”. It should be called “The Kids Are All White.” With the exception of one or two faces of color, it seems that OUT has a real problem finding folks who are doing anything who aren’t White (male mostly). The few faces of color feel like someone said, “Uh, there’s no Black people (Latinos don’t even register, yet.).” So, someone gets a friend on the phone and voila, a couple of colored faces make the cut.


Here’s a story I tell all the time to illustrate how ridiculous the situation is here in Las Vegas. The following is a verbatim quote from a board member of the organization that puts on our “Pride” festival. “Derek, you’re the only one who is ever talking about diversity. You really need to give it a rest.”


Our own Gay & Lesbian Center has NO people of color on its board whatsoever. When you walk into the Centers lobby all you see are poor and homeless people of color and the Transgender (Trans folk, see: Latinos above.) community. Yet, there’s no one on the board who has ANY idea of what it’s like to be a poor person of color. Needless to say, there’s no real outreach targeted at the African American community. When the subject is brought up the standard answer is, “we can’t find any.”

Have ya looked?

I am proud to be the Chairman of Stonewall Democrats of Southern Nevada. My one legacy that I hope carries on long after I’ve left this Mortal Coil is that upon becoming Chair, we went into our bylaws and found provisions that allowed me to appoint VOTING Outreach Directors to serve the communities that the LGBT leadership in Nevada had ignored for so long. Our board has Black, White, straight, Gay, Transgender (A first around these parts. Shameful.), Latino, young people and senior citizens. We have been so successful in diversifying that Stonewall is now attracting young straight Latino activists who want to be with an organization that doesn’t just talk about diversity.

At Stonewall, we have diversity.

And how did we get that diversity that no one else in town seems to be able to find?

We picked up the phone and called people. If the people we asked to join us didn’t have time, we asked for referrals. We are now the most diverse board of an LGBT organization is the state of Nevada.

It wasn’t that damn hard.

Stop making excuses and pick up the damn phone.

Btw, even though I am a nationally known Black LGBT activist, no LGBT organization here has ever asked me to serve or if I had any referrals.

I’m jes sayin’….

Until such time that we in the LGBT community locally and nationally start picking up the phone more often, we don’t have the right to call our movement the modern civil rights movement. We shant dare sing “We Shall Overcome.” We can’t overcome as long as huge portions of our “community” are routinely shut out of the very organizations that are meant to strive for equality for all of us.

Until no LGBT board dares use the tiresome excuse, “we can’t find any”, we have no right to invoke Martin Luther King in our struggle. Until LGBT media understands that people of color exist outside of stories on MLK Day and HIV stories, we don’t dare compare the LGBT movement to that of those who were beaten in Selma. Until our LGBT activists mention Bayard Rustin every single time they mention Harvey Milk, we can have no expectations of being anything other than a Queer Tower of Babel.

And we know how that ended up.

So my LGBT brothers and sisters in arms, do me a favor. YouTube the videos of the great civil rights marches and notice something. In every shot. In the front row. In every march and demonstration. In all of these events, the FRONT row is a Rainbow.
Let’s take a look at that and promise ourselves to strive for that Rainbow instead of the fictional one we fly now.