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Basking in the sunshine of change

Viewpoint

I have been fortunate, actually blessed, in my lifetime to bask in the sunshine of giants – James Boggs, Ruth Ellis, Jim Toy, Eric Alva, Ilana "Invincible" Weaver, Betty Couvetier – just to name a few. Some are living while some watch over and guide me from a higher, better place. They never for a moment allowed me to stand in their shadow. Instead, each in their own wonderful way checked me on my bull sh*t, encouraged my creativity, challenged my thinking, fanned my passions and ultimately guided me towards a path where my own light could shine making a way in the darkness of injustice and inequality for others around me.
Jeff Montgomery has been a beacon of hope and inspiration not just on the LGBT political scene but in my journey in discovering my true self. Whether it was for affordable housing, marriage equality, affirmative action, whatever – when I needed to sort things out I have often asked myself with a smile, "What would Jeff Montgomery do?" I never had to look far for the answer because if he was not on record in the media or right there on the frontline, I knew he was only a phone call away.
Unlike the proverbial "burning bush" Jeff did not always tell me what to do (not that he didn't try from time to time,) instead he more frequently told me "what it was," where he stood then let me come to my own conclusions. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we differed, but I always knew when it came to a fight for equality I was glad he was on our side.
So when he pulled me aside hours before the news broke that he was stepping down as Triangle Foundation's executive director, my first reaction was extreme trepidation. But as he told me of his plans, his hopes and dreams for Triangle and Michigan's LGBT community I knew this was not an ending but the next step. This light was not dimming only shining on even brighter, transforming our community and political landscape, taking us to the next level.
When the rumors began filling my email about non-inclusive ENDA legislation and HRC's position in the debate, my first call was to Donna Rose. Donna Rose is the first and only openly transgender member of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Campaign. We were both co-chairs of HRC's Diversity Committee – Donna on the Board of Directors while I represented the Board of Governors.
When HRC President Joe Solomonese first joined the organization, Donna Rose, her Board of Director co-chair David Wilson (one of the plaintiffs in Massachusetts' landmark gay marriage lawsuit), my Board of Governor co-chair and I had very real and substantive conversations with him not just on HRC's work in diverse communities but diversity within the organization.
These conversations ultimately lead to the development of a Chief Diversity Officer position to address diversity and greater inclusion throughout the organization. Donna's commitment to community and integrity, her amazing leadership and great vision for HRC and its work inspired me and complemented my own beliefs. Donna has not only been a colleague at the Human Rights Campaign but a friend.
"Say it isn't so? HRC is going to fight for TG inclusion in ENDA?'" I asked her. Unfortunately, the ensuing course of events led Donna to make the difficult but very principled decision to resign from the HRC Board of Directors. I attended the October board meeting with a heavy heart, knowing that for Donna and others this would be our last board meeting. I felt a sense of failure and disappointment that all the hard work we had done building awareness and commitment for diversity and full inclusion had been for naught.
There was also a sense of betrayl that HRC was not on the frontline of the fight for gender identity inclusion in ENDA, in effect, leaving my transgender friends and family behind. The transgender community is not just the "T" in LGBT for me. It is part of my community. Neither Donna nor I could imagine looking ourselves in the mirror each morning as a part of an organization that felt empowered to make promises to the LGBT community it seemingly felt free to break for the sake of political expediency.
In saying good-bye Donna moved attendees at the board meeting in a way all the trainings, surveys and focus groups had not. There was a great deal of debate about HRC's ENDA strategy and the responsibility of leadership over political expediency. Many tears were shed, passions reignited and serious reflection on our/HRC's vision for inclusive, total equality came under close scrutiny.
Donna Rose said "Community. Integrity. Leadership. Vision. These are the foundational pillars of equality. These are the values that draw many of us into advocacy roles. Those tenets provide a clear roadmap when things like politics, expediency, agenda and power cloud the picture as they so often do. They pave the way to the moral high-ground, and those who follow them with trust and patience will ultimately find their efforts rewarded."
In 1965 a song written and first recorded in 1963 by R&B singer-songwriter Sam Cooke became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song states that change is inevitable even when "it's been a long/a long time coming," Change is hard. Change is good. And yes "A Change Is Gonna Come."
The cold-blooded evils of bigotry, hatred, discrimination, complacency and occasionally political expediency will continue to fight our efforts, sap our strength even knock us flat on our collective butts. But there will always be a ray of sunshine giving hope for justice, equality and hope for all of us to bask in, get re-energized and continue the fight thanks to those giants in our community who shed the light on the path before us.



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Topics: Opinions
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