Guest Commentary

For organizations like Wingspan to succeed, people need to speak up, show up and stand up

I want to thank Imani Williams for her guest commentary ("Wingspan's New Executive Director Will Need to Work to Make the Organization More Diverse and Welcoming," Feb. 7, 2008), and the Tucson Weekly for this opportunity to continue the community dialogue. I could defend Wingspan with statistics about the diversity within our walls--41 percent of our staff are people of color, as are 20 percent of our board and 20 percent of our volunteers, and a range of gender identities is represented in each group--but numerical representation is not the issue. I could write about the social-justice work Wingspan has always done, building alliances and standing in solidarity with other social-justice organizations; I could cover the work we are doing to strategically and constructively dismantle racism, sexism, ageism and heterosexism. Yet, that would not address the key issues, which are, "What does Wingspan have/do for me as a person of color?" and, "Is Wingspan a place where I can feel a sense of belonging?"

There is much work for Wingspan to do in making all LGBT people and allies feel at home. However, that work is not just the job of the next executive director, nor the board and staff; it is work for us all. So, I'd like to pick up a thread from Ms. Williams' commentary and speak to my brothers and sisters of color, and to our white allies: For Wingspan to be the multicultural community center we want it to be, we all need to speak up, show up and stand up.

We all need to speak up, to tell our stories, to talk about what matters to us, and to share what we can do to make a difference. We all need to show up, that is, to participate, in a variety of ways. We can participate by knowing about events and passing that information on to others who would be interested. LGBT groups rely on "each one reach one"--so forward that e-mail about an event, group or happening, and bring a friend when you attend.

We can participate by starting something new. Wingspan often serves as a catalyst for and partner to new groups. Oasis, a newly formed group, is an example: Someone approached us with a suggestion that Wingspan start a discussion group. Staff suggested that he could do so, and provided the support and the resources to make it happen. With his patience and persistence, the group has grown--and together, we have created something that meets community needs.

We can participate by volunteering. Volunteers are at the core of everything that Wingspan does. In fact, all of our programs and services began--and are continued--through the work of volunteers. That has been true for the past 20 years, and if we are to remain a community center, it will continue to be true. Wingspan was started 20 years ago by a group of volunteers who wanted to support gay and lesbian youth in our community. Wingspan's Anti-Violence Project was started by a lesbian woman who could not find support services after she was battered by her female partner. The Southern Arizona Gender Alliance was created by transgender people seeking support and community connections. Senior Pride and Rainbow Families--same thing.

Finally, we need to stand up. Not everyone in the community can be out of the closet. For those of us who can be, we must do so with courage and dignity, and we must work to create a community where each of us can live our lives openly and without fear, so that everyone can speak up and show up when and where they choose.

What Wingspan--or any LGBT organization--has for any of us is in part determined by whether we speak up, show up and stand up. I wonder: What will each of us bring to the table to make positive and lasting change?

Now more than ever, the LGBT community needs to be in touch, engaged and involved. We cannot wait until a new executive director is in place; the time is now. We cannot wait for a single leader; we must all be leaders in ways great and small. If we do that, then when we look back at Wingspan's 40th anniversary, we will have achieved many great things; we will have co-created the diverse organization we desire; and we will be closer to achieving the mission of promoting freedom, safety, equality and well-being for all LGBT people.

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