Tuesday, November 29

“We’ve been here before.” – How creating a budget for Stonewall Columbus became about saving lives

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I have weekly meetings with Stonewall’s board chair…it’s more me doing some version of what may be the closest thing, realistically and humanly possible, to a Vulcan mind-meld. I often find myself prattling on about a list of things with no particular order to them…stream of conscience at its purist. During one of our last check-ins the Board Chair mentioned that it was time to start considering a budget for the coming year—it actually frazzled me so much that I had to stop and acknowledge what was happening.

We’ve been here before.

The conversation around the preparation of a budget had happened before, at a parallel moment in time just around a year ago—this was my first time stepping into a Stonewall cycle that I had been through before. In this present experience, of the moment, I had to stop and truly acknowledge that I’ve been doing this work for a year, well for a little over a year. It has been a year where while the pace has been slowed by the COVID pandemic the speed at which I’ve pushed myself is/was three times what it may have been in a normal year—let us not forget a summer of protests for Black lives, an insurgence at The Capitol, and the most violent period on record in relation to the deaths of trans identities. I’ve pushed myself, and this organization, in the past year because it is who I am…but also because time is of the essence—people in our community are dying.

We’ve been here before.

However, a year ago I had not been here before. A year ago I had to do the forensics work of figuring out how the Stonewall organization had sustained its mission for the last forty years. In tandem I had to do the work to understand what the Stonewall organization would need to sustain amid a pandemic, in an era of an ever evolving LGBTQIA+/queer community, and to effectively, with intention, turn on and create partnerships and programming in support of our diverse and intersectional community—while working to uplift those among us who are most in need of uplifting. And, although a year ago I was just first sitting in this seat, our community was not new to this fight.

We’ve been here before.

Our community has long been at the intersections of evolution—over the years we’ve centered various identities in this fight…at times to be more palatable, other times to be more inclusive, and more recently to be more intentional—our community of identities demanded we do better and we continue to strive to be better. Our community has been at the intersections of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, truly what should be known as a pandemic in the LGBTQIA+/queer global community, and a government that did not see the greater impact on subsets of our LGBTQIA+/queer community. During the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic our community came together to fight for those most in need; and although their methods varied they all were fighting with the same end goal in mind—to save lives.

We’ve been here before.

It’s coincidental that budgeting season begins during LGBTQ/Queer History Month—a period of time when we should learn about the various identities and struggles in our community that have come before us, that have impacted and shaped our present by simply existing in truth as part of our history. It is coincidental because budgeting is truly a study in understanding your history and what you’ve been able to accomplish, considering what you want for the future, and realistically accounting as to whether or not you’ll be able to achieve your vision for the future based on the lessons learned during the past budgeting cycles.

Our fight for LGBTQIA+/queer equality has been long and continues, but today we fight for LGBTQIA+/queer equity and equality because we better understand, and are held accountable by, the diverse intersectional identities of our community. Our fight has sustained because we’ve been pushed to evolve—pushed, often, by those who are marginalized in our fight. And although we’ve been here before it seems we forget; we forget the lessons learned from the history of our past. Our fight, the queer fight, is like a budget, one we’ve managed before; we have experience, history, and therefore a bit of knowledge on our side. We have an opportunity to demonstrate our capacity for change, for evolution; not to be pushed to evolve but to bring an evolutionary mindset to how we all work toward what should be our similar goal—to save lives.

To be seen, to truly be seen, acknowledges someone’s worth and in societal and institutional ways is lifesaving.

We’ve been here before; the questions are what have we learned and how will we respond differently ensuring that since we know better we do better? 🔥

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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