Small Minority Orgs. Have a Big Impact on the LGBT Community
As thousands crowded San Vicente, Calif., and Santa Monica, Calif., on June 25, a spokesperson from the American Foundation for Equal Rights invited leaders from three minority groups up onstage during the Proposition 8 Victory Celebration to acknowledge the groups’ contributions to marriage equality. The organizations’ efforts were a reminder that community work is a tapestry of colorful strips, woven together to form one beautiful whole. In Los Angeles small minority nonprofits are making a significant impact on the LGBT community at large.
"Organizations that represent LGBT people of color are important to the LGBT movement," said Cuc Vu, chief diversity officer for the Human Rights Campaign. "Because they provide a space for people of color to lead and to focus on issues important to them. Historically, LGBT people of color have had to self-organize and create their own organizations because many majority-white LGBT organizations did not do a good job of including people of color."
Vu went on to say that factors that make a small organization successful include, "a compelling mission, staff [or members] accountable to the organization’s mission and goals, and sound management of resources and programs."
Payasos LA, In The Meantime, and Asian and Pacific Islander Equality-LA are three organizations that understand those principles of success.
Jockstraps, red clown noses, and beards are the standard uniform for members of Payasos LA. Payaso, a Spanish word, translates as clown, where the group takes its namesake.
The group was founded in 2010 and contains 27 gay Latino men, 21 payasos, 3 mimes and 3 padrinos, who are committed to supporting and enhancing the quality of life of children. Recently they were honored by the city of West Hollywood and received the Christopher Street West Berman/Schaffer Service Award and served as Marshalls in the L.A. Pride Parade.
"We are clowns for adult entertainment that want to support youth by donating money to their cause," said Leonardo Iriarte, founder of Payasos LA. "There are opinions from some segments of the Latino community that disagrees on our looks, thinking that we misrepresent Latinos, but we are not trying to represent the Latino community. We are here to create a positive impact, to work and to inspire."
Organizations that Payasos LA have generously supported include: Children’s International, Operation Smile, Autism Speaks, AIDS Walk, AIDS Life Cycle, Tom of Finland Foundation, One Institute, Hope House, Life Group LA, Gummy Bears LA, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Junior Blind of America to name a few.
"I don’t have the exact number right now, but we have contributed over $50,000 to different organizations," said Iriarte.
Their most recent fundraiser, a car wash, held at the Eagle, a leather bar in the Silverlake area, featured group members and a gang of volunteers, on hairy display, in a colorful assortment of underwear and leather harshness. From the crowd enthusiasm and money donated, it isn’t difficult to understand why they have been completely embraced in less than three years of being in existence.
"The jockstrap is kind of a symbolism of sexual freedom and self-expression," said Iriarte. "One of the main goals of the group is to help members to be confident with their sexual identity and create self-esteem without any kind of guilt."
Their state of dress, or undress, could be seen as an entryway into creating greater dialogue surrounding social progress, because whatever they are doing is working.
"Within the Latino community there are more guys getting involved with different social groups, and some of them have started new groups," said Iriarte. "We have proved that no matter your citizenship status or your looks, whatever your preferences or beliefs are, you can be part of something big and you can make a difference. We [minorities] have power."
In The Meantime
Travelers who have flown in or out of L.A. International Airport during the past year may have seen In The Meantime’s work: A prominently placed black billboard with the word "Homophobia" in white letters, and crossed out in red.
The campaign, which is supported by the AIDS Health Foundation, aims to raise awareness of stigmas associated with black gay men within the black and heterosexual communities. Six different billboards that are part of the campaign have been featured in Inglewood, Baldwin Hills, and on Crenshaw Boulevard.
"The first billboard featured two black men embracing each other six years ago," said Jeffrey King, the founder of In The Meantime. "The idea behind that was to make a strong statement saying we are here and we love each other. The statement was love; it wasn’t about sex. And it exists within your community for two men or two women to love each other. We got a huge response from South Los Angeles, our target area. Another sign was put over West Angeles Church of God in Christ that said, ’The lives of black gay men matter to God.’
"We got calls primarily from women in the community," King continued. "I personally spoke with over fifty callers, and they really wanted to understand. We ended with them making a request of me and me making a request of them. The other response was from black gay men and gay men. People have cried. People have embraced the staff. People have sent emails to staff and celebrated. People have shown up, who haven’t normally participated. They appreciated having that presence and representation in the community."
The billboard allowed parents to have conversations with their teenagers about the gay individuals in their community. Most of the women who called King weren’t prepared to have those conversations and were more comfortable with silence. At the bottom of the billboard there was a website address where community members who wanted more resources could visit.
In The Meantime, with about 60 core workers, was founded in 1999 as a response to a lack of social consciousness movement from the larger LGBT community as well as a lack of activities, outside of the club scene, for men to gather and organize. King’s idea started out as a small circle of friends and supporters then dramatically transformed into a highly structured nonprofit that now offers multiple support groups, forums, art showcases, and HIV prevention programming.
HIV prevention and awareness is a key objective of the organization. Their risk reduction strategies include a mobile testing unit, storefront testing, condom distribution at nightclubs, and a walking HIV tour of Long Beach, Compton, Watts, Inglewood, and South Los Angeles, in which volunteers share HIV/AIDS information that highlights its impact on African Americans in Los Angeles County. But In The Meantime cannot be labeled as a Black gay men-only organization; In The Meantime works with all communities.
"We’ve had a major impact on the national LGBT community," said King. "I know with our planning bodies and advocacy we’ve had an impact. There was an amendment to L.A. County’s Prevention Plan as a result of our advocacy work with developing the African American Task Force."
King continued and said, "There has been an increase in funding for HIV services. There are more African American gay men working in agencies in the county and around the country who work in advocacy. Certain agencies felt that they didn’t need to hire black gay men to do work for black gay men. Every agency in L.A., including Latino agencies, has a number of Black gay men working in its agency. That is a result of our work."
API Equality-LA could be defined as the Asian and Pacific Islander version of In The Meantime. Local activists created the volunteer-run organization in 2005 as a response to hate and homophobia emanating from ultra-conservative Christian churches within the API community, and to create an organized representative body to be the voice for the API LGBT community in L.A. In 8 years, API Equality-LA has blossomed into a strong grassroots organization with a broad and active base.
"We have over 250 donors and members, said Eileen Ma, Executive Director of API Equality-LA. "Plus a list of several thousand to whom we reach out for our many campaign actions and activities and are one of the most well-established API LGBT organizations in the country."
One of API’s primary goals, when it was first founded, was to advocate for marriage equality. The organization created a strategic plan of attack to pound the pavement in order to counterattack hate-speech on same sex marriage, which had inundated their community.
"We share in the achievement of marriage equality here in California," said Ma. "While it was the Supreme Court that ultimately ended Prop 8, we are proud to have played a role in a gradual shifting of public opinion toward support for LGBT equality.
"We did outreach in many different ways to raise awareness and to encourage public support for the LGBT community. Our outreach included talking at various [non-gay] API cultural and community festivals, phone-banking, reaching out to media outlets, and public education events. In combination with the work of so many organizations and individual organizers, change has come, and we helped by reaching out to thousands over the years to build support."
In collaboration with their allies, the organization has the capacity to mobilize hundreds of API LGBT activists to inform the community of any social justice issue. With same-sex marriage now legal in California, API Equality-LA thinks that LGBT community should mobilize around immigration reform.
The organization, which is headquartered on Wilshire, is able to operate through the support of donations and the work of active members. In return they offer Activism 101 training, in-language educational materials, community meetings, leadership and youth development, an archive of API LGBT marriage stories, and educational workshops on such issues as the transgendered experience and how to come out.
Even though these three organizations help different communities, they are connected by the wisdom of knowing that educating people outside of the LGBT community can help change the most determined mind. That process starts through communication, and they are communication gurus.
The LGBT movement has an essential role in the broader social justice movement, which is concerned with trying to achieve fairness for everyone, whether it is racial, economic and/or gender based. Communities of color are confronted by many of these challenges directly and should actively take part in these organized efforts to make change.
Often, the LGBT movement is perceived as a whites-only movement. This perception is changing, as more people realize that the LGBT movement is diverse and that people’s experiences are informed by their race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sex. Acknowledging these differences can be an important part of achieving social justice.