Center Stage
Collaboration: Part of Our DNA, Part of Our Challenge
Published Thursday, 24-Jun-2010 in issue 1174
One of the defining characteristics of San Diego as a community is the degree to which groups in our area seek out collaborative opportunities to get things done. This type of work has been noticed by people throughout the state. In fact, just a few years ago at an “Envision San Diego” event, the state librarian described collaboration as “part of the DNA” of San Diego. LGBT San Diego is no different. Long before “collaboration” was the buzz word it has become today, San Diego LGBT organizations understood the importance of finding ways to work together, despite varying missions and strategies. Most date the “founding” or establishment of a significant LGBT San Diego community to 40 years ago with the beginnings of approximately five organizations, each connected to the other through their respective work towards greater inclusion, empowerment and social justice. That’s collaboration within the community, and although there is always room for improvement, it has been, and remains, vitally important to our success. But there’s a different order of collaboration that is equally important and in some ways, much more difficult: collaboration with organizations outside the LGBT community. Every year for the last five years, The San Diego LGBT Community Center has asked community members and stakeholders about the “most strategic and important work” The Center can be doing. One of the resounding answers has always been “more collaboration building.” This year was no different. More than 70% of respondents to this question prioritized building relationships and collaborations with: 1) non-LGBT, socially responsible organizations interested in social justice; 2) organizations among communities of color whose work involves increasing social justice; and 3) faith organizations who are committed to inclusion and social justice. Further, community members had in mind particular kinds of collaborations, e.g., collaborations with those organizations and representatives where our relationships are not yet as deep and strong as they can be. In other words, building collaborations with those who already agree with us 100% is not the strategic collaboration and relationship-building work our stakeholders meant when they responded. They meant the much more difficult work of building or strengthening new relationships. Standing alone, the LGBT community does not have the numbers required to move the mountains of public opinion that we need to move. While our community is full of brave, committed and dedicated freedom fighters, we need even more. We need willing partners, and we need even more of those partners than we have today. Collaboration building work is not for the faint-hearted. It is long-term, time-intensive and person-to-person work. It requires a willingness to focus on immediate points of unity (rather than disunity), while working toward an ultimate goal of even greater mutual understanding and unity. It requires optimism, realism and enormous amounts of patience and perseverance. Anyone really engaged in collaborative work knows very well the slow pace and frustrations that often accompany such efforts. But the community reminds us that just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying. This type of work cannot be the work of only a few or any single LGBT organization; it has to be the work of many in the community. Some are already engaged in this work, but the efforts of many more will be required if we are to be successful. Collaboration building requires that LGBT and allied community members who belong to a variety of organizations work consistently to build bridges. That means community members who work with or support organizations like the Environmental Health Coalition, the League of Women Voters, the local NAACP, and so many others, can help by ensuring that the organizational staff members and leadership of those organizations are introduced to and meet with local LGBT organizational leadership and members. It means looking for opportunities to work together on something of mutual interest or concern. It also means that LGBT community members can help by taking the time to join and support a variety of non-LGBT organizations like the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties; Planned Parenthood of San Diego & Riverside Counties and a multitude of other organizations. We need justice partners and we can all help to identify them in order to work toward a more successful future, and a more welcoming community for all those who will follow us.
Dr. Delores A. Jacobs is the chief executive officer of The San Diego LGBT Community Center. Facebook: Support The San Diego LGBT Community Center

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