Tag Archives: intersectionality

The Importance of LGBTQ Inclusive Education

maraineyBy Maya Berkley, Policy Intern 

Growing up queer and of color, the endlessly vast reach of queerness did not spontaneously occur to me, and it certainly was not taught to me until I reached college and began pursuing a minor in GSFS and actively seeking out classes in my school’s Africana Studies Department. Learning about history in college in a way that intentionally includes historical figures who look and love like me has helped me feel more represented and engaged in my own learning and the history of this country. I know that if I had had access to facts and information about LGBT people throughout elementary, middle and high school, I would have a better educational foundation entering into college, as well as a more pronounced interest in the history I am learning because it represents the diverse, beautiful United States that I am a part of. Though I have taken multiple classes in multiple disciplines in an effort to bridge the gap in my/my college/my country’s cultural and academic understanding of black queerness, I recognize that my understanding of the cultural and historical implications of my identity are limited by the framework within which I was presented my history; my culture.

This summer, however, I have been able to vicariously experience a more LGBT-inclusive primary and secondary education through my work interning with Our Family Coalition (OFC) and working with a history teacher at Berkeley High school. We are developing a curriculum to teach the Harlem Renaissance with a focus on the many black and LGBT identified prominent figures of the era. This will provide California teachers with tools to comply with the FAIR Education Act and most recent revisions to the History Social-Science Framework .This work is not only extremely rewarding for me, as a queer artist of color with an intended minor in GSFS , but it also allows me a totally new perspective on the Harlem Renaissance that California’s students will soon have the privilege of engaging with at a much more pertinent point in their academic careers. This is one example of the many ways that California’s groundbreaking decision to rewrite its History-Social Science curriculum to be more inclusive of LGBT history will positively impact its students for years to come.

An inclusive and diverse History-Social Science education is essentially not only to provide all students with the most accurate and unbiased representation of history possible, but for many students from marginalized communities, it is one of the many first steps in developing a healthy self-concept in a world that would have them do otherwise. I find that I am constantly unlearning myself as a black and queer person living in a society built and shaped for and by white cis-hetero people, when I am in fact a black and queer person living in a society built and shaped by black people, queer people, other people of color, Muslim people, immigrants, those living with disability, as well as white cis-hetero people.

gertrudepridgettFor example, I really enjoying listening to and creating blues-folk music, and for a long time, my image of blues and folk music was white; I thought of Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac; modern blues revivalists like Hozier. This was the framework I was given to understand music within- black people created hip hop, the rest was white. It wasn’t until high school when my musical framework was challenged. I learned that blues music began as black music, was, for a while, the called and responded-to voice of black sorrow and joy, both individual and collective. Still, within this framework, it was the music of straight black masculinity. It wasn’t until this summer, when I began my work on this summer that I came to realize just how many black, queer, femme musicians created blues music, and the many art forms that stemmed from the Harlem Renaissance. Ma Rainey, Gladys Bentley, Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, these are just a few examples of black queer women without whom there would be no blues, and as a result, no jazz, no rock, no hip hop, no American culture as we know it. I am grateful that I have a chance to unlearn a history that either intentionally erased or otherwise failed to include the history of so many marginalized communities, however,  it is not my job.

I should not need two years and counting at a private liberal arts college to understand my place in this nation’s history. Education should not be unlearned, and this is what makes California’s newest revisions to its History Social-Science Framework so important- it empowers students to create positive change by showing them that people like them have always shaped the world that they live in. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, same or many gender-loving, gender non-conforming, gender expansive people that we now peg with the umbrella title of LGBT(Q) have always been, and will always be, a part of every culture, every era, every great movement in the United States. In this world. Whether marginalized or celebrated, tolerated or embraced, we have always been here.

On Queer and Racial Justice: A Walk with Reality

sibuTo live in an environment which criminalizes being queer can be quite a drag.  so one can only imagine my excitement when I got selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders which gave me an opportunity to live in the United States for a total of thirteen weeks. From the media, I could tell that being queer in the US is not the same as being queer in my country. Or so I thought.

One thing I keep saying is that the media representation of the US is really not quite what is on the ground. Back home, I have to deal with the consequences of being queer. In Zambia, I live a pretty interesting life depending on the particular space I find myself in. I must mention that I participate in the queer movement, feminist movement and these feed into the general human rights movement. What I find particularly interesting about the spaces I find myself in are the layers of different kinds of ‘treatment’ I receive. Within the queer community, I am considered a leader so there is an interesting way that I am treated. It is with respect and my opinion matters there. When I get into the feminist space, well, I get in that space as queer and that sort of drops the respect and the weight my opinion carries because I am queer. In the general human rights space, I go in as queer, young and female. In a male dominated space with the older generation taking the lead, you can only imagine the value my opinion gets.

In the U.S on the other hand, my existence comes with an extra layer, my race. You see, my race is not really a problem when I am in my country, where the population is predominantly black. I have only had very few instances where I directly encountered a situation, which highlighted white privilege.

I arrived in the US four days after the Charleston church shooting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. The media covered the story widely. I do, remember the framing of the crimes that have seen black young men being killed and I realized that there was a certain way the media was framing the shooter at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was not that he was racist or that he was a criminal. Rather, I was struck at the almost ‘victim’ representation he was getting. People talked about him being a troubled child and how that led to him shooting 9 people and he received more than decent treatment from the cops.

A few weeks later, the story about a black woman, Sandra Bland hit the media. She was arrested for a wrong signal on a highway in Texas. I saw the arrest video and it was completely horrifying. One would think that she was being arrested for shooting 9 people and not a traffic offence. Sadly, the lady was found dead in her police cell and the police said she ‘hanged herself’ which did not make sense to me but that is a blog for another day. Anyway, these two stories to me symbolised one thing if not more, that racial injustice was alive and kicking in the US.

I realised that not only was I in danger because of my sexual orientation, my race was also a point of discrimination during my entire stay. It gets worse when one is a low-income earner.

One of the programs during the Fellowship was being attached to an organization for professional development experience and I am so lucky to be working at Our Family Coalition. One conversation which has come up is the queer movement and the involvement when it comes to racial justice. I feel that the intersectionality between race and sexual orientation and/or gender identity is something that cannot be ignored as these are two of the most fundamental strands to one’s identity. They contribute hugely to one’s sum of parts and how they are positioned in the various systems in the US society.

To discuss gender identity and leave out race especially in the US reminds me of the time when the women’s movement discussed middle class, white women’s issues and made women look so homogeneous when that is not the case in reality. This meant that others felt left out in this struggle and the struggle did not address their needs. The result of this was a fragmentation of the women’s movement. Same principle applies to the queer movement as queer people are not positioned in a homogenous way. People need to realize the privilege they come with in different queer spaces and to make a conscious effort to include issues that affect other queer people, race and ethnic background being paramount.

I get that marriage equality was a huge step for the movement. But on close inspection, I wonder who it really is serving. In as much as marriage is a declaration of love, it also expresses issues like economic security and stability. With the number of homeless and unemployed queer people, I am not sure how this would benefit them. I am left thinking of the homeless, queer youth of color, low income earners and the Trans community and how this law benefits their different struggles and the question I find myself asking is who defined this agenda?

For a while, I actually thought the people that have families in areas like San Francisco are white gay men as they are the ones who are frequently profiled. I was amazed to see so many different family formations (with white families being dominant still) at a campout which was recently organised by Our Family Coalition. I wondered why POC queer parents were not profiled more in the media and I realised it’s the race issue. To pretend that in the queer movement, race is not an issue would only mean ‘othering’ issues that are fundamental to people’s existence.

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Since coming to the US, one thing is clear. I am scared not only because of my sexual orientation but my race too. I do understand that there are more progressive laws as compared to the country I come from but my fear is not that of the law but the law enforcers themselves and how the media profiles people like me, a black, queer woman. Never the less, I plan on enjoying my stay in San Francisco and learning as much as I can.

Biography: Sibusiso Malunga has over 5 years experience in human rights work with a specific focus on LGBTQ rights as well as women and girls rights. She has experience in HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives as well as economic empowerment for women in rural areas. Sibusiso is also largely involved in regional feminist organizing and she is active in the young African feminist movement. She is a co-founder of an LGBTQ organization called The Lotus identity based in Zambia, which works on advocacy, capacity building, and research and documentation. She was selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a Young African Leaders Initiative by president Barrack Obama which brings 500 young leaders from across Africa to some top universities in the US for six weeks intensive training in leadership skills. 100 of the fellows remain in the US for the professional development experience and Sibusiso is currently a fellow at Our Family Coalition in the policy department.

A Celebratory Bookmark

by MJ Morrissey, Our Family Coalition Education Intern

Atfap-valentinesbookmark-2015-1  Our Family Coalition, we understand that our families are not simply members of the LGBTQIA+ community; they are members of the black community, the latin@ community, and many other communities. That while our focus is to provide resources and support to queer headed households, we cannot fulfill that promise or meet that expectation unless we are able and willing to address the needs of these other communities as well, and the ways in which those identities coincide and intersect with being LGBTQIA+.

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We always have and always will bring an intersectional framework to our actions. We do this because we cannot advocate for only one part of our identity/identities. Social justice work requires us to be aware of our differences and identities, know when and where they intersect, and acknowledge that they are inextricable from each other. To advocate for equality means that when we advocate for one identity that we must not forget the others. For more on intersectionality and its necessity to the work of social justice, we lift up the words of Audre Lorde:

fap-valentinesbookmark-2015-2It is in this light that we are proud to present our most recent creation: a bookmark that celebrates Valentine’s day, Black History Month, LGBTQ history, and promotes inclusion in schools. This bookmark, which draws its design from the kente cloth of South Ghana, also features the the LGBTQIA+ rainbow colors and a quote from June Jordan, highlighting just one of the many ways in which the identities of queer and black can intersect.

The original idea behind this came from one of our own family liaison members, Meghan Lewis, who was seeking to highlight and bring to light the specific intersection of queerness and blackness as we headed into Black History Month. Our Education and Communication teams, which were behind the intersectional idea from the start, helped bring the design to life and are proud to announce that 8 different schools in the East Bay will be receiving and distributing these bookmarks to their students as Black History Month draws to a close and Women’s History month begins.

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As always, we want to empower each of our families and remind them that Our Family Coalition is always open and looking for great ideas to help represent and lift up the diverse range of families we support. Our Family Coalition was started by families coming together to discuss how we can create more welcoming and inclusive school environments. We began from the spirit of families advocating for families and maintain that vision and goal as we grow. We are always working to do what we feel and know is best, but also acknowledge that if we are to truly stand and say we know what our families need, we also rely on all of you to tell us what you need and/or provide us feedback at any and every juncture. If you have any suggestions or specific ideas you would like to see brought to reality, we are always here. It’s why we’re here. Contact us at info@ourfamily.org!

Standing together for change; lessons from Ferguson

policy-angerisalegitimateresponse

michaelbrownDear families and friends,

We are angry. As an organization committed to “equity for all families and children,” we cannot sit on the sidelines while our Black youth continue to face violence from those empowered to uphold the law, generation after generation.

We are hurt. Let us hold, for a moment, how it must feel to lose a child to violence; hold, if you can, how Michael Brown’s family feels at this very moment. Let what you feel strengthen the compassion that binds all of us together, parent to child and parent to parent.

We are saddened. The wounds inflicted in communities of color in our country are deep and old. In an effort to divert attention from the injustice served, the media coverage  – of predominately peaceful, youth-led protests against institutionalized racism – has sensationalized the response of our communities and powerful organizing work done by so many in the hundred days since Michael Brown’s murder.

As a social justice organization, we stand for the protection of all children. We stand with the victims’ families. And we call for action and justice.

Let us continue talking to all of our children about racism, how we can fight it, and how being an ally is a powerful tool for peace. At the same time, we:

  1. Commit to connecting with and listening to families everywhere who are being marginalized and whose voices are still not being heard.
  2. Ask our policy makers and government officials to change these archaic and oppressive systems; they must not shrink from action during these troubled times.
  3. Encourage you to continue the dialog on how LGBTQ communities can best stand in solidarity with racial justice movements.

Our hearts go out to Michael’s family and the greater community as we mourn, seek justice, and work together for change.

In solidarity,

Our Family Coalition’s Team

PS: Do you have innovative ideas that can help Our Family Coalition expand this often challenging, yet transformative, intersectional work? Talk to us! Email recommendations, along with your name and contact information, to policy@ourfamily.org. Thanks!