Activists of color announce call to action at conference
Hundreds turn out for the event
Published Thursday, 13-May-2010 in issue 1168
Community activists announced a call to action for GLBT people of color to stand up, speak out and take a more active role in the GLBT civil rights movement at the Queer People of Color Conference last Friday and Saturday.
“We need to come together as a community and need to start using our voice. We need to get pissed off. We need to start standing up and push our way in. We need to stop letting others speak for us,” said the San Diego LGBT Center’s Latino Services Coordinator Carolina Ramos. “It’s time, my people. It’s time.”
Many echoed that message throughout the two-day conference held at The Center and San Diego State University.
“How will queer people of color be front and center in the movement for LGBT equality,” asked City Commissioner Stampp Corbin. “That’s what you should be talking about. That’s what you should be conspiring with one another to figure out, to ensure that we are not forgotten in the movement.”
Speakers and workshop facilitators brought up a variety of subject matter and issues impacting or related to GLBT queer people of color such as, the experience of being both a person of color and GLBT, representations of LBT people of color in pornography, drag expression, gay Latino literature, identity politics and racism.
“There is a lot of racism in the LGBT community, lots. That shocks a lot of people because we don’t believe that this exists among people who are already discriminated against,” Ramos said. “But let me tell you something: it happens. We are not treated equal.”
In the workshop, “Becoming Effective White Allies in Multicultural Coalitions: Workshop on White Privilege”, SDSU Professor Anne Donadey suggested that racism both in the GLBT community and in greater society results from white privilege, the idea that racism gives white people advantages that are denied to people of color. One example of white privilege is the fact that there are only four men of color in the 100-member US Senate or that the heads of most fortune 500 companies are white men, Donadey said.
At The Center, Ramos pointed out how the organization’s Wall of Honor, a memorial display that pays tribute to local GLBT individuals and allies, is mostly white. Of the wall’s 43 honorees, only eight are people of color.
“Is there a problem with this? Why are their so little people that look like us on that wall? Ramos asked, starting a series of rhetorical questions she proposed to the audience.
“Is it because people of color don’t do anything?” Ramos asked.
“No,” said one person in the audience, who ignited more of the audience to respond to Ramos as she continued proposing questions.
“Is it because we don’t participate in the movement?” Ramos asked.
“No,” said a few more audience members.
“Is it just because we don’t care?” Ramos asked.
“No,” said now more than a quarter of the audience.
“Are the stereotypes true? Are we lazy?” she asked.
“No,” yelled half the audience.
“Hell no!” Ramos said.
Speakers at the two-day conference also discussed the participation of GLBT people of color in greater GLBT history.
“People think that the  march on Washington was the Martin Luther King march. But the reality was that the organizer Bayard Rustin was an openly gay black man,” Corbin said. “I know that without Bayard Rustin, there would be no civil rights march on Washington.”
“I am an openly gay African American man and without Rustin, I wouldn’t be able to be myself and be who I am today,” Corbin added.
“We have so many people of color,” Ramos said. “We have Audre Lorde. We have James Baldwin. We have queer activist Vitit Muntabhorn. We have Wanda Alston. We have African American singer Bessie Smith. A lot of people didn’t know she was bisexual. We have Giti Thadani. She is an Indian lesbian. We have our very own Cherrie Moraga, who was here a couple of months ago,” Ramos said.
“Have you ever heard of these people,” asked Ramos. “Very little, and it’s because we are not visible.”
Hundreds of mostly young GLBT people of color attended the conference.
Conference attendee, 20-year-old SDSU student and Barrio Logan resident Stephany Ramirez said the event helped her learn more about the local GLBT community.
“Being able to attend the workshops and listen to what the speakers said was a great way to expose myself to the community,” she said.
Another conference attendee, 19-year-old and Barrio Logan resident Juan Garcia, said the conference made him think about ideas he never considered before.
“It was new to hear other people’s different opinions about gay terminology and gay life, the lack of acceptance of GLBT people in communities of color and how color plays into the misrepresentation of GLBT people of color,” Garcia said. “It was also great to hear how we can make our selves more visible in a positive light instead of just following the stereotypes that are put into place for us.”
Ricardo Santana, a 21-year-old San Marcos resident and student at Cal-State San Marcos, who also attended the conference and whose name we changed because he is still in the closet, said that one workshop in particular, “Challenging Stigmas and Stereotypes: Coming Out and Creating Effective Change,” spoke to his experience as a person who is slowly coming out of the closet.
“The workshop provided ways to communicate with my immediate family when I do decide to come out to them,” Santana said. “I also networked with a lot of students from other schools.”
Next year’s Queer People of Color Conference will take place at the University of California, Riverside.