By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
In response to heated debates about racism sparked by the Eagle’s booking (and then cancellation) of blackface performer Shirley Q Liquor, Q Center announced a forum to discuss the issues raised by the incident. But the forum scheduled for Feb. 27 — Face-2-Face Community Dialogues: Race, Racism, and the LGBTQ Community — was met with strong criticism shortly after the details were announced, including calls to boycott both the event and Q Center.
Among the primary complaints: that the Q Center and facilitators from Process Sense: Human Development failed to do appropriate outreach to people of color (specifically Black women), that the event’s description minimized the inherent racism of blackface, and that organizers failed to respond directly or appropriately to these and other concerns expressed by both people of color and white allies.
Q Center Board Chair Ryan Wayman says that, in light of the community’s concerns, the Board of Directors decided it would be best to postpone the dialogue.
“We felt that it would be much better for us to have opened the conversation AFTER consulting the proper people,” Wayman says. Specifically, queer people of color, people of color, and Q Center’s partners. “We were too fast to act.”
Below is a statement from Q Center Executive Director Barbara McCullough-Jones:
It is the mission of Q Center to provide a safe space to support and celebrate LGBTQ diversity, visibility and community building. Our vision is a broadened positive perception of LGBTQ people. Every day we at Q Center do our personal and professional best to live up to our mission and vision. They are not just words to us but reflect the passion which drives our work.
Over the past three years Q Center has partnered with Process Sense: Human Development to deliver Face2Face events. Through this community dialogue model we have addressed issues and “isms” important to our LGBTQ experience. – age, teen suicide, faith and religion, gender roles, the intersections of our ever-growing acronym, and twice before, issues of race. Face2Face is a model that has brought about awareness as well as measurable change in the hearts and minds of participants. We are thankful for their facilitators Aleksandr, Miranda and Myriam and a handful of other Face-2-Face facilitators and panelists who make their gifts available so we may all find the path to equality.
We want you to know we hear your diverse choir of voices on what would be our third community dialogue on race. We know there are feelings of joy that a dialogue on race within the LGBTQ community will take place. At the same time we hear voices expressing hurt and angst about the conversation.
We feel deeply the joy and sadness of our community. It is why holding safe space at Q Center is where the totality of life’s experiences can be shared, learned, taught and examined. To do so in a respectful, thoughtful way is at the heart of Q Center.
It is not our intention to cause hurt. Sometimes however the very nature of a subject brings us to unexpected places and invokes feelings long pushed away, or creates an awareness of the harshness that surrounds us daily, or challenges our notions of power and privilege.
We strive to create experiences that are meaningful and long lasting in their positive impact on us as individuals and as a community.
To that end, we have decided to postpone the Face2Face conversation scheduled for February 27th. We will take this opportunity to learn, to listen and to understand how we can effectively engage in meaningful dialogue around important issues like race.
If you would like to join us in a “next steps” conversation please let us know by sending a note with your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. As we have done from the beginning we will continue to reach out to the diversity of our communities as well as organizations who share our interest in creating community welcoming to all.
At the end of the day our work remains focused on the health and wellness of our community. Dialogue is a healthy, albeit sometimes painful experience. We are ready and willing to take the next steps toward a more just and compassionate society and we invite you to take that journey with us.
Hi there Barbara and Ryan,
I wanted to connect with you two. Firstly, I want to appreciate you two for your hard work and holding this heat-it cannot be easy.
I want to especially appreciate you Barbara, thank you for being the connecting link between volunteers and the board.
I am writing you in relation to the statement I see Ryan, you have made with PQ Monthly. I wanted to tell you a little about my work with Q center in general and my work with face2face in particular. I have been a volunteer at Q center since 2009, and have volunteered many hours, my heart and my passion for our community, as well as professional identity and my skills. We have had many heated dialogues and dialogues about dialogues.
I feel it is rather poor leadership and eldership Ryan, when speaking on behalf of the board to blame your volunteers for something that the organization is being attacked for and something that we were doing in response to the community’s need for dialogue at Q center’s request. I feel it is using your rank and your power in a disrespectful way and putting my professional identity at risk-it feels almost slanderous. I feel it is also disrespectful to not have contacted me ahead of time to let me know you were going to do this and to gather information before you made a public statement.
I want to let you know that I have also been contacted by press and intend to speak about my experience around what happened, which I perceive to be pressure from the board for the dialogue to be postponed. As I am no newcomer to nonprofits, boards usually get involved when funding is at steak, which is what Q center is being accused of in the first place-catering to rich white men. This appearance in my view is detrimental to Q center’s reputation and its mission. The event had 145 participants, and deleting all conversation in my mind is not a solution.
I feel it affirms the community perception of Q center being not open to diversity of experience. Furthermore, it stops dialogue. I am currently checking out locations to hold the event. I will continue to reach out to the POC (people of color) community, as we have been doing.
The Facebook event description (no longer online) included the following:
Recently a gay bar in town booked a performance by a drag queen, who performs in black face makeup, for early spring. The community expressed agony, outrage and disdain and accusations of racism hung heavy in the air. The bar cancelled the show and issued public apologies. The community again expressed outrage, this time at the censorship of constitutional freedom of speech, lamenting the loss of the potential and power of art to transform and educate, condemning political correctness.
The event has been cancelled but we are left with agony, questions, feelings, yearnings, dreams, as the conversation continues. Is the performer racist? Is the club racist? Is the Portland Gay community racist? Is the constitutional right for freedom of speech being infringed upon? Who was the constitution written by and for whom? Is our political correctness preventing us from an important opportunity for reflection? What about Art and Drag? Whose LGBTQ community is this? Can the experience of marginality bring us across the divide of race? What do we do with the agony, the history, and the ignorance, the fear, the outrage?
For the first time in United States history, during his second inaugural address, our first black President reached out to the LGBTQ community, acknowledging Stonewall as a turning point in the fight for human rights. Can the LGBTQ community embrace our own diversity?
In an open letter to Portland’s LGBT African-American community and its allies, Cory Murphy-Helmkamp (who works with Pride NW but made clear he was only speaking for himself) wrote before the event was postponed:
For years, I have been involved in efforts in a couple different non-profits to create dialogues around race in the LGBT community with varying degrees of success. Each of those attempts included good faith efforts to actually include people of color in the planning and implementation of dialogues aimed at finding causes and solutions. Without that engagement, it isn’t a true dialogue and won’t result in change.
The upcoming event Face-2-Face Community Dialogues: Race, Racism, and the LGBTQ Community is NOT a good faith effort. The creation of this event, despite good intentions, co-opts legitimate concerns of Portland’s LGBT African-American community and was created WITHOUT the consultation of leaders within our POC communities. Q center chose to CLAIM first and then FIND people to legitimize their event. This type of “organizing” has repeatedly yielded destructive results in race relations in the past and would make this even unwelcoming to black LGBT community members already trying to work through the painful aftermath of dealing with heightened levels of racial tension.
I, personally and in good conscience, cannot and will not participate in this event. I am calling on all LGBT African-Americans and our allies in other POC communities and in the larger LGBTcommunity to boycott this event as well. Over the past week, I have been working with folks within the black gay community to hold an internal dialogue as we begin to approach the larger community about how WE feel on the issue of race/racism.
My hope is that constructive dialogues can begin by bringing folks to the table FROM THE BEGINNING with equal voices and in REAL safe space. I applaud efforts by our allies in the LGBT community who are respectfully finding ways to dialogue about these issues without attempting to talk down or set an agenda for the black LGBT community (deliberately or otherwise) and look forward to participating in a forum in which we can fully participate in the near future.
What’s your take? How can communities best deal with racism?