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    An Issue Our Community Has Grappled with for Years

    zoeLast week, a friend and I were talking about Pride Month, since she had just come back from her employer’s Pride Month reception and celebration. I asked her how it was and her response was, “It was okay. There were more allies there than LGBT people.” It wasn’t a criticism, but it was more than just an observation. She was certainly appreciative of her straight boss and her boss’ straight boss attending the event, but there was definitely a slight tone of disappointment in her delivery. The exchange has stuck in my head ever since.

    Our community has been aspiring for, fighting for, and even begging for recognition and support from a broader base of advocates and allies than just ourselves. There is strength in numbers, and all non-dominant groups to some extent need some support of the dominant group to advance their civil rights and secure equality.

    Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would not have been repealed if it weren’t for the leadership and brave testimony of Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ireland just voted for marriage equality, with a majority of its mostly Catholic citizens recognizing and voting in support of our community. Two brilliant legal strategists and straight allies, Ted Olson and David Boies, argued California’s Prop 8 legal case before the United States Supreme Court and won. The recent anti-gay legislation in Indiana was stopped in its tracks largely by the economic power of large organizations that declared they would no longer send employees to the state, hold events there, or do business there. That could not have been organized or accomplished with only LGBT people and resources.

    Our LGBT community needs to continue to reach out and build bridges with our allies. Every time a straight or cis ally steps up and speaks out against homophobia, trans phobia, and any law or action that threatens our safety, rights or access, we advance as a society. But when is it appropriate to limit a gathering, an event, or leadership positions to only members of your own community?

    I am a co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Our primary objective: Work within the Democratic Party and within the community at large to influence the Democratic Party policy on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights issues and to help educate the public about issues related to public policy and the positions of the Democratic Party. It is not written in our bylaws, but by tradition we limit our Board of Director seats to only those who self-identify as LGBT.

    Our membership is broad and includes a large number of allies, but we keep the leadership positions within our community as a means of developing the San Francisco LGBT political pipeline and ensuring we prioritize LGBT policy advocacy. Another wonderful organization of Democrats is Emerge CA. Its goal is to increase the number of Democratic women in public office. Until recently, its Board of Directors was all women. This year, they brought on two men to its Board in a move to broaden and strengthen its outreach and capacity. It was a fairly bold move with a number of the organization’s stakeholders who were fully supportive, and some that question the direction.

    Some LGBT community events do limit the participation of allies, and I’ve been on both sides of it. The Dyke March is coming up later this month, a wonderfully rare opportunity for visibility for women in all our queer manifestations—lesbian, bi, questioning, transdyke, MTF, genderqueer and others. As such, the event limits the participation of men.

    The Dyke March website states: “We continue to hold the Dyke March as dyke-only space. We invite our male allies to enjoy our Dolores Park rally with us, and to please support us from the sidelines during our march to Castro.” It seems more men ignore this request, and in recent years I’ve seen an increasing number of men marching along their queer sisters. It brings up conflicted feelings for me. On the one hand, I’m excited to have their support and attendance, but on the other, I am annoyed—in one of the few opportunities we queer women have to create and share a common space and community, men still have to insert themselves.

    On the flip side, I’ve also been requested to stand on the sidelines. This past February, I attended a demonstration at San Francisco City Hall where dozens of people dressed in red held a die-in. They were protesting the murder of a transgender woman, Taja DeJesus, who was the most recent of many murders of transgender women of color this year. The organizers announced that they were limiting participation in the die-in to only transgender women of color, as they were the ones at risk and wanted to be visible. (Even with this request, a man lay down with them wanting to demonstrate solidarity, but in obvious contradiction to the organizer’s request.) I remember this exclusion making me slightly uncomfortable, but I understood the request and complied. It was indeed powerful to witness the die-in from the sidelines and to see in front of my eyes the women who were impacted by this rash of anti-trans violence.

    I cite these examples to bring to light an issue our community has grappled with for years, and will continue to deal with as we grow in numbers, visibility and support from our allies. We welcome our allies and will continue to build bridges with them. They are our co-workers, our neighbors, and our families. And, we will still need to exclude allies and even members of our own LGBT family in certain venues to ensure we give the proper visibility and attention to those who continue to struggle to have a seat at the table.

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, as a San Francisco Library Commissioner, and as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.