From the Sidelines to the Front Lines: Stand Your Ground

arrest photoMy father’s early teachings groomed me to believe that money and power were the two critical pieces that made this world function properly; but it was the counter-balance of my mother’s compassionate nature that stuck with me. As a black, lesbian activist I lean on those adolescent teachings to try and help me to not only understand the political realm but also to change the foundational structures that have been set in place. I’ve detailed in recent entries some of the specific reasons why I chose to answer the call, retiring the familiarity of the softball field and on base percentages, for the opportunity to become a passionate, young (hey, hey, hey; relatively young) organizer committed to seeing legislative change for my LGBT community.

It was important for me to hone the skills that would help me move from a stagnated position into the frontlines of my life. A majority of the leadership experience I had developed came from outside of traditional office settings: placing me as a camp counselor against the sun-drenched backdrops of California, counseling youth in the urban areas of Miami and participating in several service projects in Vancouver, BC. I can share with you, (we’re family now), that I would like to be a part of the institutional change of our movement, the advancement of the African American and LGBT communities and am willing to sacrifice my time, energy and personal recognition to help see that full equality is granted to BOTH of my communities.

I stand up, speak out and march; using strategic non-violent direct actions to bring awareness to issues regarding our LGBT communities; focusing specifically on ethnicity, class, immigration, environmental issues and the spectrum. Intersecting these areas and holding accountable those with the political power to bring about change will be critical to forward movement. We can’t work in silos any longer.

In America in 2013, you can still get fired for identifying as lesbian, gay and bisexual in 29 states and for identifying as transgender in 34 states.

Hearing those statistics always makes me think…

How would I feel if I couldn’t share family photos at work without fear of being terminated? Let me put it another way; when you check in with your co-workers about weekend activities, do you typically share what you did and who you hung out with? I know that I do; so it would be cruel for me to not be able to mention my partner without the anxiety of retribution.

The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a legislative bill that would federally protect workers from receiving discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I mention ENDA as it just approved with a bipartisan vote 15-7 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is now headed on to the Senate for a vote. We need this bill not to fail. It’s imperative that we be the voice for those in our community that can’t speak due to fear of job loss or financial instability.

Speaking of failures; one of the greatest failures that I ever experienced had nothing to do with a political campaign or a grassroots movement.

At 24, I was substitute teaching at a small, private Christian school in Fresno, California. Concurrently, I had impulsively accepted the Head Coaching position for the school’s softball team. The players, very sweet girls with incredible intentions, lacked the fundamental skill-set to compete against the overpowering opponents that we faced during league play. There was too much to teach them and not enough time. Game after game of losing by more than 10 runs translated into an overall unmotivated attitude during practices and the player’s apathy began to weigh heavily on me. As a former collegiate athlete I hadn’t experienced the kind of defeat that we faced that season in my entire softball career. It was heartbreaking and if my memory serves me correctly, we only won two out of 25 games that season. I wrestled with walking away from coaching after that.

However, I was given another opportunity at a Blue Ribbon school a couple years later, a vast difference from the small private school where I made my humble beginnings. Before the season began, I sat down and wrote out all the things that I had done wrong that I believed led to our defeat and low team morale. I also wrote out a detailed code of conduct for myself, going over what I thought was important to creating a successful season.

At the beginning of the school year, all throughout the pre-season months, I spent a majority of my time at the field offering offensive and defensive clinics for my players. I also started to identify positive attributes with each individual player that superseded the athletic arena. By helping them to see that the characteristics that they were learning could be a useful aide to them as they transitioned from player to person. How they were more than just an athlete. That tactic worked.

We won three quarters of our games that season, but even above successful game statistics, I earned the respect of 16 young women and changed the way that I viewed coaching forever. The lesson this experience taught me was to get off the sidelines! If you were “groomed” by your parents at an early age, by teammates, classmates, or outside influences, I urge you to continue pushing forward and fighting back. Whether you are involved in the social justice field, the political field or just struggling to get up every day – we need you to stand your ground, to get up and get activated. Use each day’s failures and successes as lessons; use the words of your colleagues and friends as motivation; and use your community and the work that you are involved in to keep moving forward. And if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and dig in with me – we can get things done, together. I’ve got your back, will you have mine?

Check out this guide from the National Center for Transgender Equality to find your state Senator.

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