Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thoughts About GMAD and New York's Black Gay Community

by Joey Pressley

The recent resignation of Tokes Osubu from New York City’s Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) has prompted me to think very seriously about the future of the Black gay/same gender loving (SGL) community and the vision needed to confront and address our needs as we work to move forward. It has also generated my interest in becoming GMAD’s next executive director. A position for which I would consider applying the moment the organization’s Board of Directors elects to initiate its search process.

I’ve read that GMAD founder, the Reverend Charles Angel, was a tireless, outspoken and fearless activist who stood in the forefront of several organizing efforts in the New York City gay and people with AIDS communities including, the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, ACT-UP, and the People with AIDS Coalition. In those Silence = Death days, he understood the vital importance of advocacy, a clear vision and establishing a set of goals for addressing a community’s broader needs. It was a holistic approach to activism rooted in a proud African heritage, progressive Christian teachings and his belief in psycho-spiritual growth. It was from this set of beliefs that GMAD grew, and continued to grow even after Charles Angel’s untimely death from AIDS complications in 1987, three years before I discovered GMAD via its Friday night forums. These forums often brought a hundred or more Black gay men to The Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in Greenwich Village.

Organizations such as GMAD, many of which are more than two decades old, were founded as psycho-social-political entities designed to celebrate and empower Black gay/SGL men. GMAD employed its holistic approach to create a much needed safe space for its constituents to look at the intersecting issues in our lives. In the 1990s, these well-intentioned organizations sought funding to combat HIV/AIDS. This shift transformed them into AIDS service organizations that, by necessity, narrowed their scope and vision. As the unpaid director of GMAD in 1991, I was involved in securing one of the first grants for the organization thinking that it would create a pathway to growth and facilitate a greater response to the devastation levied by AIDS on our community.

Given this ongoing devastation, it stands to reason that our organizations must maintain a powerful response to the epidemic; however, being pigeonholed as only an AIDS service organization restricts the ability of Black gay/SGL institutions to effectively speak for and to the myriad needs of their constituents. Black gay/SGL men are as concerned about employment as they are about HIV prevention and treatment. We are concerned about the impacts of climate change and hate crimes, a woman’s right to choose as well as marriage equality and our presence in the military. Black gay/SGL men are equally concerned and impacted by lack of access to healthcare, education, housing, criminal justice issues and income inequality. Working with faith-based institutions, combating stigma, homophobia and addressing the social, economic and behavioral cofactors related to the rise in HIV/AIDS infections will be ongoing work for GMAD. At the same time, I see GMAD standing shoulder to shoulder with other progressive organizations working in coalition to promote a fairer, more just society and world.

Our organizations need new funding streams that will enable us to become active participants and thought leaders in these arenas. As an expert in community organizing and policy analysis, with years of experience in organizational management and fund raising, I would seek to diversify GMAD’s revenue supports so that its efforts would reflect the broader needs of its constituents. An initial first step moving forward is for GMAD to engage in a strategic planning exercise designed to assess strengths and weaknesses and to redefine its vision and related mission. Stakeholders engaged in this process would include past and current staff and funders, policymakers, community leaders and of course a diverse representation of New York’s Black gay/SGL men. The organization would work directly with Black gay/SGL men via ongoing participatory engagement to develop agendas and strategic plans reflective of the community’s priorities and work with legislators and public officials to shape policy and legislation responsive to identified needs.

I recognize that this vision is broad and ambitious, but it is also one of more personal concerns. I think about my 9 year old nephew. What if he shared with my husband and me that he is gay? What world would he face? Simply put, I would want our society to embrace and support him. I would look to GMAD, and organizations like it, to stand without equivocation or shame in demanding that all of us, including my dear nephew, have the equal and unmitigated opportunity to celebrate our lives, and have the space to act as partners in bringing about transformative social, economic and political change. 

No comments:

Post a Comment