Guest Commentary

Wingspan's new executive director will need to work to make the organization more diverse and welcoming

As Wingspan (the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center) continues its search for a permanent executive director, I wish them Godspeed in both thought and deed. Selecting an ED who is a good fit is not an easy task.

Board members, community members, staff members, volunteers and onlookers all have opinions about what the community center means to them. Even with 1,000 different opinions, there should be some consensus about the overall mission of the agency--and that mission should be the driving force.

After my Tucson arrival in January 2007, my wife and I hit Wingspan on our second day in town. We were searching for something similar to the community we had left behind in Detroit. I know the demographics of Tucson vary greatly from that of Detroit, but as a same-gender-loving, African-American woman, I know that there are more than four African-American lesbians here in Tucson.

My question: What can Wingspan and its executive director do differently to make people feel welcome enough to come through the doors once, twice, three times or even more? We tried; people were friendly enough, but there simply were not enough other faces of color to give us what we were looking for. Certainly, no group that supports African-American lesbians was there, but we did learn that there was a people-of-color group that had been looking for new life. Membership was low--less than three people attending meetings--and that number included men, which is fine, but is not ideal when you're looking for a support group for women of color.

As the search continues, I hope that Wingspan looks at its mission and value statements to try to find out what needs to be done to pull in more persons of color. Coming from a predominantly chocolate city, I find most of Tucson's LGBT agencies and offerings to be very white, and very, very male-run.

Those things that make people come through the doors out of curiosity the first time need be built upon. That means getting to know your demographics and taking the time and energy to increase your demographics where they are lacking. It's not enough to say, "We're here for everyone," yet not have programming, staff or volunteers that reflect everyone in fair numbers. Let's assume that 10 percent of Tucson's LGBT population consists of people of color; it's not unreasonable to see that type of representation at Wingspan events and within her walls.

There are people here in Tucson I observed at last year's Martin Luther King Jr. program at Reid Park who were clearly seeking more. Some of the people I've met--and I talk to lots of people, because that's who I am--are closeted people of color, and others are white. I asked the question: How involved are you with the community here? In response, most people say very little, and some say they don't think that Wingspan is vested in who they are or their needs. I give them a look and ask them how they expect Wingspan to know their needs and concerns if they haven't been voiced. That usually results in a shoulder shrug.

In October 2007, I participated in a menopause focus group. There were only three participants (including myself) and the facilitator. If more than half of the population is comprised of women, and all women will go through menopause at some point, then why weren't more women--lesbian or bi-identified or straight--present?

That's on a small scale. Our youth need mentors; our transsexual population needs opportunities for self-sufficiency. I wonder: What would an executive director in a midsize town that thinks of itself as diverse--but clearly isn't on so many levels--bring to the table to make positive and lasting change?

We'll see what the future holds.

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