Will We Evolve Too?

Gaining wider acceptance for LGBT rights often means supporting causes that disproportionately affect other minority communities. Can we collectively look beyond issues important to white people?

BY Ari Karpel

October 08 2012 4:00 AM ET

NAACP president Benjamin Jealous at a press conference after the death of Trayvon Martin.

 

Even if many of the wealthy, influential — and, yes, mostly white — gay men and women of Los Angeles from whom Ferrera seeks support are still part of the problem, Ferrera — a gay white man in his 40s — is part of the solution. Increasingly, and perhaps surprisingly, so is corporate America, which is seeing future growth markets in formerly marginalized groups. “They are making huge advances with their diversity programs,” reports Ferrera, who says companies are trying to up their credibility with gay people as well as among various ethnic groups, and they’re doing so through employee initiatives. “The leaders of these employee affinity groups have access to the upper echelons of their corporations.” And the evidence is in the checks: LifeWorks has received $30,000 a year each from Mattel and Toyota; Target is another major donor.

The change Vallerie Wagner sees is achingly slow. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” laments the director of education for AIDS Project Los Angeles, who oversees prevention efforts and is leading the agency’s commitment to establish a sexual health center for African-American and Latino gay men. “We’re not so good at capturing the lessons learned,” she says.

Wagner fears that as a people we end up getting defined by others instead of proactively defining ourselves. “Why can’t we figure out how the Affordable Care Act is important for the LGBT community and educate our community?” she asks, pointing to the need to stake our claim regarding broader political issues that affect us.

But doing that would mean being focused outside of our populace and outside of the goal of winning marriage equality. “If we don’t broaden the scope of what we do, then the opposition has only one area in which to attack us, and we’ll lose every time,” she says, singling out the recent Chick-fil-A uproar after the fast-food purveyor’s president expressed anti-marriage views and was revealed to have supported antigay causes. Wagner sees the level of gay protest on that issue as a distraction from truly important ones, such as health care and education. “There are gays and lesbians who are worried about keeping their kids in schools that are supportive of who they are. There are gay people who are simply worried about having proper health coverage, about having their votes count” — issues that disproportionately plague African-Americans.

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