Discomfort Is Part of the Work

Aug 8, 2016

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Two years ago this week, Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, a city where less than two years before, we worked with the Ferguson City Council to pass the first inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in North County.

As an LGBT-focused organization, we look at every issue through an LGBT lens. With so much work to do, we are careful to stay focused on issues that are vital to LGBT equality in Missouri. We are purposeful in our priorities. To us, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is an LGBT issue.

The LGBTQ community is an incredibly diverse community, with intersections of innumerable identities, including race. LGBT people of color are an integral part of our community. In fact, much of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is led by Black Queer and Trans youth. But the reason the movement is an LGBT issue is so much more than that.

Both the Civil Rights movement and the LGBT movement are rooted in ending oppression. Both movements are based around systems and societies telling us what to do with our bodies and our lives and whether or not we are valuable. We have long expected the Civil Rights movement to stand up for and alongside the movement for LGBT equality. It is long overdue for the LGBT movement to do the same in return in a larger way than we ever have before. At PROMO, we see it as our responsibility and an opportunity to support #BlackLivesMatter in the fight to end oppression in Missouri and across the country.

In fact, the recently released official platform of the Movement for Black Lives includes a brief about the need for inclusive nondiscrimination protections, the end to transgender exclusions in healthcare, and other initiatives for transgender and gender nonconforming people.

We have heard concerns and discomfort from a few of you about whether or not supporting #BlackLivesMatter aligns with the PROMO mission. We hear your concerns. And we see and hear the arguments about language inside and outside of our communitiesBut discomfort is part of the point. Social change is hard, no matter what the issue. The LGBT movement is no stranger to protests, sit-ins, marchesescalating tactics, or even riots. And when people are dying, shouldn’t we all be embracing any discomfort to stop it? And shouldn’t we all be angry?

Let us be clear on one point. We can condemn and mourn the killings of people by police while still supporting police officers. We can still condemn and mourn the killings of police officers while still supporting the Movement for Black Lives. We can still call out violence, oppression, and racism by the police system and individual officers and still want to work with police officers to create a safe environment for all of us.

The LGBT movement as a whole has historically done a poor job of lifting up LGBT leaders of color, even though their roles in our movement have been vital in getting us all where we are today. As a white led organization, it is our responsibility to be critical of how we as an organization in the LGBT movement are complicit in this oppression and how we contribute, however unintentionally, to racism.

In the last year in particular, we have been more intentional about finding ways to partner with and support anti-racism organizations and initiatives. We’ve looked internally at our own work as well. PROMO believes that it’s not about adding an extra “cause” to our mission. Instead, it is about ensuring that intersectionality is woven into every piece of our work. In our office, we regularly ask questions like:

  • How do our legislative priorities affect LGBT people of color?

  • Do our job descriptions for staff create barriers of entry for applicants of color, older adults, or applicants who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming?

  • Who is at the table when planning events and making legislative and strategic priorities?

  • What is our role in these different anti-racism initiatives? How can we leverage our relationships and presence in the Capitol to be a partner in this work?

  • Are we showing up in a helpful way?

Like everything we do, we look at these shifts as long-term and ongoing. We look for opportunities to know better and to do better.

We hope you will continue to partner with us in this shared commitment to full equality and ending oppression in Missouri. As we are regularly reminded in equality work, even when we disagree in some areas, we can still learn from each other and push each other to be better. If you have any questions about individual actions we are a part of or would like to talk more about our commitment to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, you can contact me directly at Steph@PROMOonline.org or 314-862-4900.


In solidarity,

Steph Perkins
Executive Director, PROMO