Metro Weekly

Sorting Out Solutions

Forum seeks remedies to difficulties facing LGBT community, people of color

A group of LGBT people of color and community organizations held a modified town-hall forum Thursday, Oct. 27, to address violence and discrimination against people in the LGBT community.

The forum was hosted by Queer People of Color (QPOC), a loose collective of LGBT individuals and community organizations with a goal of engaging and fostering activism among LGBT people of color. It marked the second time this year that the group has met to discuss issues of importance to LGBT people of color. The first meeting was in the run-up to Capital Pride in June 2011.

The meeting also comes against the backdrop of an increase in violent incidents, dating back to mid-summer, that have been directed at members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender women of color.

Instead of a traditional town-hall format, moderators Lisbeth Melendez Rivera and Gem Daus split the roughly 30 attendees into four smaller groups to brainstorm ideas, write down observations and present those findings to the larger group.

Rivera and Daus asked participants to answer four questions relating to the nature and causes of anti-LGBT violence and the community’s perceived inability to stop such acts, asking the smaller groups to propose concrete solutions or remedies to these problems.

Rivera also emphasized that the term ”violence” does not necessarily refer to a physical confrontation, but can include forms of intimidation or institutional discrimination against people of color within the LGBT community.

”Sometimes where you walk can be as scary as what is [physically] done to you,” she reminded the group.

The discussion was calm despite debating sometimes controversial issues such as gentrification, economic strife, intra-racial discrimination toward LGBT individuals, and bigotry and indifference within the LGBT community toward lower-income earners, people of color and those who do not conform to gender stereotypes.

Some of the loudest cheers came during criticism of mainstream gay-rights organizations for allegedly failing to engage marginalized populations, and of the media – including the ”gay press” – for bias against transgender individuals and immigrants.

But attendees also proposed specific solutions to what they viewed as problems, including the importance of building coalitions with other organizations, specifically local businesses, community advocacy groups and churches – even if they might not be in agreement on all issues – to curb violence and foster LGBT-supportive environments.

Some attendees suggested that operating outside of a governmental or police framework and focusing on creating long-lasting relationships with other members of the LGBT community could help the group accomplish its goals. This way, it was suggested, LGBT people could provide each other with safety information, such as places to avoid walking at night.

Near the end of the evening, Charles Butler of Get Equal quoted a speech he heard Rivera’s wife, Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, give at The Center, D.C.’s LGBT community center.

”She said that she knows that she will be safe and secure once the most marginalized members of the population are taken care of,” Butler said, referring to Weiner-Mahfuz’s speech. ”And if we keep that in mind, and never allow ourselves to fragment and give into our personal self-interest, that’ll be just amazing.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at