How to Create a Plan for Racial Inclusiveness: One Nonprofit Story

Questions and Answers signpostThis is part one in a multi-part series documenting the story of one historically white organization’s journey toward becoming racially inclusive.  The series seeks to document the challenges and successes on the road toward racial inclusion in an effort to provide a resource for other nonprofit organizations who wish to do the same.  This first part is designed to give a brief snapshot of the entire timeline with subsequent editions delving more deeply into each step of the process (11-7-2013).

Forward by David Antonio Garcia, Executive Director of Affirmations  This past Saturday I attended an Affirmations’ Board Retreat. As I looked around the room, I saw a tremendously diverse group of board members. The Affirmations’ Board of Directors is a beautiful mix of diversity and a true representation of our vast LGBT community. The Board consists of transgender members, straight allies, people of color, seniors, varying social economic backgrounds and much more. The current staff at Affirmations is also representative of this diversity from the top down. There are currently five director level positions at the Center and of those 5 positions, two are held by people of color, two by women, and our current Fund Development Director is a straight female ally. Having a diverse board and staff is not simply the right thing to do, it is the best way forward. The organization is profoundly changed, grateful, and stronger because of the work done by so many. It is not enough to simply talk about the importance of a diverse culture, you must live it to truly understand its inherent value. We are not perfect but we are improved. We are not finished but we are better.” (11-6-2013)

How to Create a Plan for Racial Inclusiveness: One Nonprofit Story

By Kathleen LaTosch

 Black employees say racism played part in Affirmations shakeupread the newspaper headline on October 12, 2006.  The article reported on the exit of two black staff members from Michigan’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center, based outside of Detroit, Michigan.  The circumstances surrounding the two staff members leaving the organization reopened historic wounds within the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and sparked the formation of picket-style protests, letters to the editor, and boycotting of services.  It was also the catalyst that drove the agency to embark upon what would end up being a multi-year racial inclusiveness initiative.

How it began. The process formally began in 2007 after a heated meeting between community members and organizational leadership.  At that meeting, LGBT people of color met with an all-white group of Affirmations leaders and shared a comprehensive and proactive list of recommendations for the organization to become racially inclusive.   Following the meeting, a small group of board and staff members gathered together to take a closer look at the circumstances leading to the incident, explored the long-standing historical context within which it took place, and began to seek varied and vocal community perspectives.  By 2008, the committee had determined that Affirmations needed to form a quasi-independent “Multicultural Advisory Committee” (MAC) tasked with creating a set of best-practices to address racial diversity and inclusion. 

Getting the right people.  The committee, made up largely of non-staff, non-board community members of color, was offered the opportunity to do culture-changing work with full support of the board of directors. The MAC began meeting twice per month and would continue to meet at least monthly throughout the duration of its existence, maintaining and limiting participation to two staff and two board members at all times plus one coordinator in order to maximize community input and participation.  The racial balance of the committee, until the last year when the committee was coming to a close (and new members were no longer sought to replace outgoing members), maintained a white minority to enhance the relevancy, quality and integrity of the process and eventual outcomes.

Doing the work. By 2009, the committee had pledged to do the work at a very detailed level, leaving no stone unturned and documenting the entire process so that it could be used as a learning tool for other organizations.  Two years later, in 2011, the MAC completed the “Blueprint for Change” and forwarded it to the Affirmations’ Board of Directors for legal review and adoption.  With a subsequent reading and minor revisions, the plan was fully adopted and formally worked into the organization’s strategic plan in the fall of 2012.

MAC coverMonitoring progress.  Once released to the public, a formal MAC2 was formed – the Multicultural Advisory Compliance Committee.  The committee, chaired by people of color community leaders, was tasked with monitoring Affirmation’s progress in meeting the objectives outlined in the Blueprint for Change.  This winter, 2013, Affirmations will be releasing its first report on work toward meeting those objectives.   The full plan is available online at Affirmations’ website: http://www.goaffirmations.org/?page=about_us.

This is one post in a multi-part story documenting one historically white organization’s journey toward becoming racially inclusive.  The series seeks to document the challenges and successes faced along the way in an effort to provide a learning tool for other nonprofit organizations who wish to do the same.  For a complete copy of Affirmations’ “Blueprint for Change” visit www.GoAffirmations.org and click on About Us.Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012 

Read Part 2 here.

 
Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations.  She worked at Affirmations, Michigan’s largest LGBT organization, from 2002-2011 and served as Chief Administrative Officer from 2007-2011.  While there, she was responsible for facilitating a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at gmail.com

LGBT Workplace Inclusion Guide for China Launched

LGBT ChinaOn Sept. 21 in Beijing, IBM and Goldman Sachs helped launch a new guide to LGBT inclusion in the workplace. According to Gay Star News, the Asian workplace diversity non-profit group Community Business created the “Creating Inclusive Workplaces for LGBT Employees in China” resource guide, which highlights the business case for addressing the needs of LGBT employees and provides the cultural and legal context of LGBT issues in China.  Read more.

Gender Identity is Not a Disorder

Transgender-SymbolOn December 3 2012, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it is replacing “Gender Identity Disorder” with the more neutral and less-stigmatizing title, “gender dysphoria” in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, more commonly known as the DSM.

The DSM is the mental health professional’s diagnostic book.  Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors all use this book to assign a diagnostic code to mental health disorders.  These codes are then used to bill insurance for proper medical treatment and are often required to justify covering the cost of office visits, prescriptions, and needed medical procedures.  It is paramount in the healthcare of someone who is transgender.  Perhaps at no other time in one’s life is it more important to have quality healthcare than during a gender transition.

The title change comes after decades of advocacy to remove the more stigmatizing diagnosis, “Gender Identity Disorder,” which equates gender identity with a mental health disorder.  Being transgender is not a mental health condition and it’s not abnormal.  Uncommon, yes; but abnormal, no.  There is no normal – normalcy is only what one perceives as common in his/her own existence.

If I grow up a white woman in a middle-class catholic suburban neighborhood, that’s my normal.  If a lot of women grow up the same way around me, it’s common.  But we’re not normal for everyone, just for us.  If I grow up Arab American in Dearborn, Michigan and all my friends speak Arabic as easily as English, and go to the same Eastern Orthodox church and celebrate the same holidays, that’s my normal.

Being transgender is not abnormal.  It’s just not as common and it’s doesn’t appear en masse within families and communities.  It can be a very isolated and isolating experience.  And it’s not a mental health disorder.  It’s like being born red-haired in a blonde, black and brown-haired world.  Or at least it should be… but it’s not – red-haired people don’t lose their homes, their jobs, their families; they aren’t denied basic human dignities based on the fact that they have red hair.

Having to cope with the societal stigma of gender transition drives many mental health concerns for transgender individuals.  Layer hormone therapy and other medical issues on top of that and it’s a difficult and uncommon territory to navigate.  Seeing a professional to sort through all that can help, but it comes with a cost – the cost of having that mental health diagnosis attached to your name, the cost of being “outed” to every other person who comes into contact with your medical record.

And how do you find a therapist who understands these same truths – that there’s nothing abnormal about being transgender, that it’s a personal characteristic.  How do you find someone who understands that the anxiety you are dealing with is caused by societal stigma and not caused by your gender identity?  It’s not easy.

Last week the Detroit region’s LGBT community center, Affirmations, brought together leading Michigan experts on LGBT mental health in what’s been called a queer mental health “think tank.”   After months of work, The LGBT Mental Health Task Force led the first ever two-day training on Clinical Issues & Sexual Orientation for therapists.  It was sold out with a waiting list for the next training.  This March, they are forging even newer territory – putting together the first two-day training on Clinical Issues & Gender Identity for therapists and counselors.  It will be the first such training offered in Michigan.  On the heels of the APA’s new announcement, there is no better time to be preparing mental health professionals to competently and knowledgeably provide services to people who fall outside of the two most common gender boxes.