Tuesday, October 19

Stonewall Columbus Director’s Corner: The right people, the right seats, the right time.

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Recently, a friend came over for a Wine Wednesday; it’s been a while since we’ve been able to come together in an intimate moment and share experiences as two queer male presenting Black people who identify as gay. By what must have been our third glass of wine we dove deeper into the idea of movements and what brings about real change; my friend recommended that I read “Let the Record Show” written by Sarah Schulman—a reflection on ACT UP. Before this moment in the Wine Wednesday conversation shifted to something far less hefty, I ordered Schulman’s book, the hard back version at that, via Stonewall’s Amazon Smile account (spend a little, give a little) using my mobile device.

The tome arrived only a day later, and I tore into it like a child who had just received the most wonderful gift—little did I know that it, the book, truly would be a gift. Early Saturday morning I escaped into my backyard while my partner and daughter slept in the house quietly above my head. I cracked open the book’s bind and in I went…within lines I was entrenched, within pages I feared this would take months because I couldn’t stop highlighting critical lines that were just so perfect! I believed that my draw for comprehension would have been my connection to HIV/AIDS from a very personal and intimate perspective; however, it has been the lessons of community dissent within community activism that has drawn me in so deeply.

I grew up in New York city during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I was a young Black queer person understanding their identity and existence as it was bleakly painted by the media in large swaths of death—my reality came to life in the play “RENT”. There were no images of the warriors fighting against the establishment, working to see everyone who was dying and being impacted by this disease that was, in particular, ravishing the gay male community. I didn’t learn of ACT UP, or the coalition of queer identities fighting for my life, the lives of others, and their own, until after my mother passed away in 1995 of “complications due to the HIV/AIDS virus”.

By page twenty-five there were at least twenty-six texts highlights; several in particular which stood out:

  • “In order to make something better, we have to face it at its worst.”
  • “In order to change institutions, we have to confront institutions.”
  • “A few committed activists, when focused on being effective, can accomplish a lot.”

These, among many other lines, were so poignant as I’ve been considering Stonewall’s forty-year history in the Central Ohio region and the parallels to our activist origins and the evolution of Stonewall’s work and the birth of new activist organizations—those similar to, and different from, ACT UP. We know that movements are truly made by many small moments, but we also understand that when a few committed people align their actions, intentionally or not, toward the same goal a great deal is accomplished in a rapid amount of time. Like our fight for marriage equality, like the Black Lives Matters movement, like that faithful night at Stonewall in New York City a few committed activists, supported by their communities and beyond, confronted institutions to begin the work of changing these institutions in order to make them better because of the reality that these institutions were at their worst—these fights persist with small moments that have nudged us toward progress.

When we look within the aforementioned movements, we have witnessed that when fractions within these movements wavier from their committed direction their communities work to realign their direction—it is frankly community accountability in community activism. Real change happens in movements of community activism when all are heading in the same direction although the path may be different. Part of the progress thus far in the queer liberation movement has been our deep roots of community activism and the space we allow for the different paths we may take as we work heading in the same direction—full equity and equality for all of the various identities within our LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

For forty years Stonewall has been a part of Ohio’s story of LGBTQIA+ community activism and like the LGBTQIA+ centers in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco we have worked, been transformed by, and evolved alongside the communities in which we exist, aim to serve, and work to empower. Only twenty-five pages in and “Let the Record Show” has painted such a wonderful picture of what we, our community, can accomplish when we are together heading in the same direction—real change.

 

 

Densil P.

About Author

Densil Porteous is the Executive Director/CEO of Stonewall Columbus. He has over 20 years engaging in nonprofit work as a volunteer and leader, at local and national levels, primarily working with organizations focused on issues of equity and access. Porteous’ nonprofit service work has been with groups like Advocates for Youth (Board Secretary), Human Rights Campaign (Board of Directors; former national Board of Governors), Equitas Health (Board Vice Chair), the Legacy Fund of the Columbus Foundation, and Create Columbus Commission (Chair).

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