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Friday, February 18, 2011

LGBTA Community Center in the works by (corporate-Pride wanabe) Togadere Center

The newly created Togadere Center is hoping to create a center that has variously been referred to as an "LGBTA" community center and a "gay-str8" community center. The mission of the group states that they hope to: "provide safe space for all people regardless of age, creed, color, sexual orientation, or gender identity. A space people can come to regardless of where they are in life or where they are going. The idea is that being Together under one roof with a tolerant and open attitude will propagate, lead and create change."

And while the word "tolerance" by itself gets me a little bit irritated right from the get-go (I think by now we should be focusing on social justice strategies in the work we do), I was even more upset when I went to the group's facebook page and found an event posted for this past Monday, February 7th titled "LGBTA Community Center Developement Meeting" that neither I, nor any of my friends, had heard anything about. I pride myself in being well-connected in many trans and bi communities in Minneapolis, and the more I asked the more I found that these communities had heard nothing about this. I looked at the attendees and found unfortunately, what I suspected: a majority of people I read as white, gay men. This was my response on the event page:

I would like to know why, if this group is claiming to develop an **LGBTA** community center, I see a vast majority of white gay-identified men attending? That makes me question who has been included in the initial planning process. Do you have more than a single trans person in your group? How about bi people? And perhaps most importantly, how about people of color?

If you were really trans allies you probably wouldn't say "transgendered". It is actually grammatically incorrect, and none of the trans people I know like it written like that.

You have to have these people involved in the planning from the INITIAL stages, not after things "start rolling," otherwise your "vision" will be very white, middle class, able-bodied, and male from the start. If you do that, certain people may not want to be involved, and then it's not an LGBTA center, it's a: a "gay-str8" center. I think the very fact that you conflate "gay" with "LGBTA" is problematic and shows that you forefront "gay" and think it's an acceptable way to refer to our community. I am not "gay" and neither are many of my friends. I find it offensive when people reduce us to a "gay" community. It's language like that that shows you're not being conscious about being truly inclusive, which means more than just saying you are.

A community center like this is something that I care a lot about... and I want to see one in our community... but I think you need to do outreach and really genuinely connect with other nonprofits in the area if you want to create a truly accessible space. You need to find out what we, as an entire LGBTA community, want and need from our community center, and not just assume you know.

I'm troubled by the fact that I am involved in tons of bi- and trans-related organizations.... none of which seem to have heard anything about this? Why haven't you contacted TYSN (the Trans Youth Support Network) and gotten them involved? How about the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition? They have an informal community space already up and running down on Chicago Ave... so wouldn't it make sense to work with someone who's already doing this work? Co-creating is different than creating something and then inviting people into it... I think our LGBTA community center here in the twin cities NEEDS to be co-created WITH trans folks, WITH people of color, WITH people with disabilities and chronic health issues, people WITH families, WITH homeless youth/people who have been homeless, WITH poor people, etc.

You need to ask the question, "who is this for?" and then make sure you genuinely include all of those people... not just a token trans and/or black person representing "their" whole community. And that means doing more than just "hoping" those people get involved... you need to DO specific outreach and DO work within your own already existing structure (whatever that may be right now... even if it's a small group right now) to make sure these voices are present and are heard.

While I very much appreciate the spirit of this project, I do not think it can be one or a few (white) people's visions. If it is, you WON'T meet the needs of folks who aren't JUST like you. You won't be accessible to people of color, people with diverse abilities, people of color, youth, etc… because you can't speak for those people, and you can't assume their needs/goals/priorities are the same as yours. You also can't assume you know what we/they want in a community center, which is why I recommend a much stronger collaboration plan before you go any further. This concept is really important, and we can’t afford not to start it the right way. If you do not, you will meet resistance from the community.

UPDATE 3/6/11:

Shortly after I posted this critique, Bobby McNamara said to my partner (who is trans), "Could you gather up the transgendered community for a meeting?"

I dunno babe, can you gather up the whole transgendered community? Clearly since you're the only trans person who's expressed interest (albeit only critical) in this project, it's your responsibility (not Bobby's) to reach out to all “transgendered” folks and get them to a tokenizing meeting for him.

Did you even listen to me Bobby?! I told you I don't know ANY trans people who use the word "transgendered" to describe themselves and then you go and ask my partner to go and gather them all up for you? First of all, yes, my partner is trans, but no, that is not their job.

Is anyone else as offended by this as I am?

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