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Mandy Carter makes a multi-task visit to the Motor City

By |2018-01-15T16:36:43-05:00October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|

DETROIT – It started with a simple invitation. Mandy Carter was invited to come to Detroit and speak at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church on the possibilities of a military draft and the role of conscientious objection. But then the word got around that Carter, the soft-spoken and powerfully prolific organizer and activist, was coming to town and something happened.
“It snowballed,” she said. “One event turned into six.”
The Triangle Foundation, on whose advisory board she had served for the past eight years, wanted to host a reception in her honor. The Ruth Ellis Center asked her to pass by for a site visit. The Gay-Straight Alliance at the University of Detroit-Mercy requested she stop by and give a speech. And so on and so on.
And so it should be. The founder of the North Carolina-based Southerners on New Ground, Carter has three decades of activism under her belt. She is a sought-after speaker, a founding member of the National Black Justice Coalition and a winner of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s prestigious Stonewall Award.
“Mandy is one of the most thought-provoking voices and deepest thinkers in our movement,” said Jeff Montgomery, Triangle’s executive director. “She is a very significant mind that we have among us.”
Thought provoking, indeed; her Monday night talk was on the intersection of race and sexual orientation.
“One of the most frequent comments we get is, ‘Don’t you dare compare our civil rights movement to that gay movement,'” said Carter, 57. “That, to me, is the essence of the gender and sexuality question. When you get that, the assumption is that the only people who are gay are white, and that during the civil rights struggle there were never any black gay people, which is wrong.”
Carter says the comment must be addressed carefully.
“Unless you address it and talk about it in a very positive way you just kind of ending up segregating our whole movement,” she said. “And as someone who’s a lesbian, someone’s who black, I want to bring all of me to my work and I don’t want to compartmentalize.”
Nor should she have to, as Carter is quick to point out, using the example of Bayard Rustin.
“We wouldn’t have had a civil rights movement without Bayard Rustin, a black gay man, and the architect of the 1963 march on Washington,” said Carter. “We should never underestimate the role that man played. There wouldn’t have been a civil rights movement, because he brought the concept of nonviolence. If you think about the civil rights movement what you think of is the sit-ins, the boycotts, jail no bail, and he was the one who introduced that to King. Yet he could not be who he was in the movement and I think we’re paying the price for it now because if you ask the average black person ‘Are you part of the gay right’s movement?’ ‘Oh no, doesn’t look like me. That’s a white movement.’ So how do we find a way to make sure that we realize that race and gender – in terms of equality, in terms of being integrated – is something we need to work on and should not be ashamed about and not walk away from?”
Carter suggests that by insuring that our movement is an integrated one, the LGBT community will be better positioning themselves to win the acceptance and support of the country’s African-American community.
“I think one of the best ways is to model black gay people,” she said. “I think part of it is just myth or this notion that black people are not gay. And if you don’t have any role models to show to be black, to be gay, to be out – I mean, who better to be sort of like the epitome of those two things together?”
Carter also cautions LGBT activists and organizers against “compartmentalizing,” a popular catchword with her. Bridge building and bringing on board allies is what it’s all about, she said, and it also happens to be the mission of SONG.
“The whole point of it is to build progressive movement across the South, the gay movement and again the connecting of race, class, culture, gender and trying to find out whether there’s a way for this movement to take itself a bit more seriously,” she said.
“We’re trying to be more about justice and not ‘just us’ as a gay movement, and I hope our movement really breaks up and gets a bit adult about that.”
Montgomery agreed.
“She shares the philosophy of Triangle as far as multi-issue organizing goes, which was actually reflected in the reception because we had people who were not LGBT people there. We had people there from the peace and justice community, environmental issues. It was a wonderful event. She’s just such an important person in helping this country move progressively forward in a way that really thinks about and cares about the basic dignity of everyone.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.