On Monday, 11 May 2015, I will represent ACPA at a meeting with Steve Berry, Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons for the State Department. This conversation about human rights for all people takes place on the International Day Against Transphobia, Homophobia and Biphobia and is hosted by the United Nations Foundation.
Our invitation arises out of my service on the Working Group to Advise the Secretary of State on Religion and Foreign Policy and its sub-committee on Social Justice. I held this volunteer position before I came to ACPA and was grateful to come to an organization that would not only allow me to continue my volunteer endeavor but would also choose to be deliberate and passionate about social justice education, advocacy and activism.
Since March 1, 2014, I have been fortunate to observe and participate in the many different ways that the community members of ACPA choose to effect justice seeking. Some fit with what I have learned as a practitioner of non-violent resistance and an international activist. Some less so. I am still learning the fine lines between education and advocacy and activism. I am still more "at home" with activism. And, as an activist, I am attuned to the reality that the oppressed can become the oppressors when activism devolves into disruption without an intentional strategy to bring leaders to a neutral space for dialogue.
Sometimes we are guilty of this disruption without seeking a solution.
How can we challenge ourselves to be justice seekers while opening our hearts and minds to all who are not yet ready, perhaps lacking basic information and awareness and, hardest of all, in disagreement with us? The first tenet of non-violent resistance is the capacity to create the space in which everyone can gather so the possibility for dialogue begins. Sometimes this is catalyzed by "direct action" and sometimes by much more subtle means. The challenge is to never refuse the opportunity for the conversation. At our Convention in Tampa, we intentionally planted seeds for conversation about four frequently avoided topics in higher education: undocumented residents in our campus communities, navigating religious differences and "all comers", accessibility for every student and trans* inclusion.
This month we are focused on assessment and mental health awareness. How can we use what we know from empirical research to change campus climate for the better for our colleagues who represent these four identities? Now, how can we effect change for the individual who represents all of these and more?
It is mind bending to contemplate the hundreds of barriers an individual who identifies as trans*, Muslim, undocumented and wheelchair assisted could face on our campuses. Where is the "non-Christian" space for prayer?
Last week, on Facebook, I shared some of my heightened awareness of physical barriers in environments designed to be barrier free for wheelchairs. I am in one for a while due to ankle surgery. I've discovered that the majority of places I need to access in my new home community (circa 1734) are barrier rich.
This experience is a metaphor for me of what life may sometimes be like as a trans* identified, undocumented, religious non-majority, wheelchair supported person of color, person of size, social security age-eligible...(fill in your possibility).
On this International Day Against Transphobia, Homophobia and Biphobia, consider the space where you are working and the head space you are making for the lives of our colleagues who need us to "get it" at a level that gets us to take action.
Then take a moment to consider the exponential challenges of those who live outside the United States where it is illegal to identify as LGBT and to choose to be "out" can result in imprisonment or death and does.
I dedicate this space to my colleague David Kato Kisule (c. 1964 – 26 January 2011. David was a Ugandan teacher and LGBT rights activist, considered the founder of Uganda's gay rights movement and described as "Uganda's first openly gay man". He served as advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). Kato was murdered in 2011, shortly after winning a lawsuit against a magazine which had published his name and photograph identifying him as gay and calling for him to be executed.
In the United States, I am grateful for the increased positive media focus on the lives of trans* identified persons. Sixty years of research on the impact of media tells us that more coverage increases awareness and, ultimately, empathy.
We are an imperfect Union and have far to go and I am grateful that we are a nation which many LGBT people view as asylum and sanctuary. Thank you to the many churches and non-profits and our State Department when we successfully support these applications. Thank you to our campuses who make a way for people who land with us.