When Soul Essence, the organization that hosted Black GLBT Pride in Minnesota for five years, ceased operation in October, the response in GLBT communities of color was swift. Within two weeks, organizers posted notice of a meeting on the future of Black Pride in the state.
“People were insistent,” according to organizer Kim Coleman, CEO of Employment Ventures, a local GLBT-friendly employment agency. “We didn’t want the theory to die that there was a safe space for GLBT people of color.”
With support from PFund, a GLBT community foundation, and Brother Circle, a gay men’s group for men of color hosted by Pillsbury House, organizers began meeting regularly.
Organizer Antonio Cardona, Programs Director at the Rainbow Health Initiative, recalls that the conversation soon grew to include Black Pride, as well as to consider the future of the many GLBT communities of color in Minnesota.
“What we realized is that GLBT communities of color in Minnesota are really small when you break them up,” Cardona says. “We thought we would probably have a stronger possibility of longevity if we have some sort of collective effort.”
As is so often true in organizing, the people gathered around the table were hardly unfamiliar to each other. Last year, many of the same organizers had collaborated with PFund and the African American AIDS Task Force to put on Color CoordiNation, a three-day conference on movement in GLBT communities of color in Minnesota.
The group decided to build on that momentum, and Color CoordiNation emerged as an organizational home for community connection, safe space, leadership development, advocacy, and community health and wellness in GLBT communities of color.
The language of “people of color,” Cardona notes, creates organizational space for African American, Arab/Middle Eastern, Asian Pacific American, Latina/Latino, Native American, and biracial and multiracial GLBT and queer-identified people.
“The reason that we decided to stay with ‘people of color’ is that a key element to this really is leadership development,” Cardona relates. “On our steering committee, we want to make sure we have as many opportunities for GLBT people of color to participate. White folks have a lot of opportunity in the world as it exists.”
Leadership opportunities include serving on the finance, steering, and marketing/outreach committees.
Gilbert Achay, a Color CoordiNation Steering Committee member, and a Health Educator with Pillsbury United Communities, observes that broad-based mobilization by GLBT people of color engages a broader set of concerns than communities-of-color or mainstream GLBT organizing,
“I think we as GLBT people of color are in a really interesting place where we’re trying to navigate through different systems,” Achay explains. “We’re working with the mainstream GLBT movement to be more receptive to communities-of-color issues, and working with communities of color that need to learn more about what GLBT people are going through and what our needs are.”
Cardona points out that the group will seek to address community health in GLBT communities of color on their own terms.
“For so long, health and wellness in GLBT communities and GLBT communities of color have been focused on HIV/AIDS work,” Cardona recounts. “We want to start pulling out of that paradigm that HIV/AIDS is the only issue facing GLBT communities of color. In addition, we want to examine diabetes, mental health, and more. We want to look at the whole person.”
Visibility—as people of color engaging predominantly white GLBT projects, and as GLBT people within communities of color—is also central to such work at the intersection of identities.
“For instance, May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month,” Achay states. “One of the things I try to do is be out as an Asian and a Pacific Islander who is also GLBT. I think a lot of people in Asian and Pacific Islander communities are not very comfortable with GLBT issues.”
Achay cites groups like Shade of Yellow, an organization for and by GLBT-identified Hmong people living in Minnesota, for work that is both visible, and culturally and organizationally productive.
Simultaneously, and parallel to these projects, Color CoordiNation will create organizational space for white GLBT people who are seeking to be antiracist allies to GLBT communities of color.
In the words of Kelly Lewis, a community organizer for OutFront Minnesota, and a Color CoordiNation Steering Committee member, “The white allies process is one which seeks to undo racism within white GLBT communities. Color CoordiNation needs several different parts, many of which will focus on self-empowerment of GLBT people of color. This is an important parallel process.”
Such a process of white-on-white antiracist conversation also has a home in the organization: “White allies need safe space, too,” Cardona comments. “If you’re dealing with serious issues of injustice and white privilege, you might be afraid to make mistakes. You need a place where you can share openly.”
Importantly, the ally process will be oriented toward linked, mutual transformation.
Lewis shares, “At some point, the groups forming Color CoordiNation will converge in dialog, and ask each other: ‘How can we help you? How can you help us?’”
Color CoordiNation’s agenda for the next few months includes a full slate of programming during Pride weekend. On June 27, it will partner with Pi Bar & Restaurant on one of the establishment’s Soul Friday events. On June 28-29, it will partner with PFund and RARE Productions, which supports queer artists of color, on the Power to the People Twin Cities Pride Festival tent—which includes community space for numerous organizations, as well as information on community engagement and voter registration
In August, organizers again will hold a Black GLBT Pride celebration.
Organizers are enthusiastic about the future of such a broad-based effort in GLBT communities of color.
“I definitely feel like we’re in the beginning of something great,” Achay remarks. “I think it’s very interesting work, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Plans for a Web site and finalization of nonprofit 501(c)3 status also are in the works. In the meantime, the group has an active mailing list, open to anyone by contacting [email protected]