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Affirmations and the powerless African-American GLBTQ community

By |2018-01-16T08:01:38-05:00October 12th, 2006|Opinions|

Is Affirmations racist? Some of you are mad about the recent firing of our African-American sister from Affirmations. Particularly, since she was attempting to educate Affirmations on diversity. The other African-American sister who works at Affirmation, in protest of what happened to her colleague, also quit. Something smells bad.
In the past, Affirmations has been accused of treating African-Americans who use the community center with much disrespect. From my first-hand experience with Affirmations, it responded with a flat-out “no” when asked for non-monetary support of a fledgling local African-American GLBTQ organization by not allowing the use of its facility for meetings. It also prohibited distribution of the organization’s flyers by throwing them in the trash, claiming only Affirmations organizations could be posted. However, flyers and literature from several non-Affirmation organizations (ex. Metro Times, Real Detroit, POS, classified ads, restaurant menus, etc.) are always available in the community resource room and postings on the door. Why were the rules apparently changed for an African-American GLBTQ organization?
Practical and serious attempts have been made to educate Affirmations, including discussions with Affirmation’s leadership to address problems and shortcomings; and staff diversity training. Yet, it consistently fails to serve the African-American community; and we continue to experience treatment that feels exclusionary and discriminatory. Given that the stated goal of Affirmations is to fight for the marginalized and disenfranchised, it is sad that a marginalized and disenfranchised segment of the community is made to feel this way.
I feel bad that my sister was terminated. But let me tell you something. At-will employment law is alive and well in Michigan, especially for GLBTQ folks. Anybody in the state of Michigan can get fired in the next second for anything without any prior warnings! The only protections you have against at-will employment are: a union membership, an employment agreement (with for cause protection) or discrimination protection (race, sex, religion, disability, etc). Being GLBTQ is not a protected class. I had to educate one of the candidates for Detroit’s last mayoral race of this fact, because he did not know it (and he did not win). If our concerns are going to be addressed, we must speak up and educate the powers that be of our concerns.
The only municipalities in Michigan that protect GLBTQ people from job discrimination are Grand Rapids, Grand Ledge, Saginaw, Flint, Birmingham, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Detroit, the Village of Douglas, Kalamazoo (in city employment only). So if you don’t work in one of these areas, you too can get fired! What are you going to do about it?
Affirmations clearly has the ear of the governor. Why? Because it has a power base, people who vote. We need that same governor to listen to us also. We need to organize and build our power base, our voting block. If we had a working powerbase, organizations like Affirmations would hesitate to trample over us because it would be held accountable. Rest assured, Affirmations has its own agenda and is working hard toward that agenda. Who is working on your agenda? If you are African-American, it appears that it may not be Affirmations.
We are at the peak of election season and who speaks on the agenda of the African American GLBTQ community? I don’t hear anyone, do you? No? That makes us powerless. How are your issues being heard? Who is talking about your rights? How many of you are out fighting that racist Proposition 2 anti-Affirmative Action measure? Let that pass and see how many more people get fired. Get some power. Get politically active.
I want us to take some action and I want us to have some power. I want us to do something that will be long lasting. Go before the board of Affirmations and any other organization that excludes us and start reporting on their exclusionary actions. Protest those actions by writing letters to those people who can help us make change. Then support those organizations that support us. Skip one night out and send that money to an organization that supports you. Karibou House is still active; give them a call and put your money and support behind her for a GLBT community center IN Detroit. I am partial to all of these but what I really want us to do is GET SOME POWER.
We need to come together and start working toward our common goals. We need to support each other and ourselves. Stop waiting for the other organizations to do it for us. We could merge our efforts and our organizations and grow as a unified TEAM. Get active. Register to vote. Support a candidate. Support your community. Make your voice known. The struggle is not over; and we have not overcome.
Alicia J. Skillman

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.