‘The Room Is Crooked’: NW Indiana Activist Group Breaks Ground With Racism Panel

Panelist Kaleidscope

Portage, Indiana: Home of roughly 37,000. Republican-run. ‘White flight’ haven for those fleeing nearby Gary. Not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think of racial and LGBTQ+ activism.

Yet in early July, that is just what took place.

Metropolitan Community Church Illiana (MCC)—a Christian church with a focus on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer spirituality—became the grounds for a locally groundbreaking event: a panel on racism. In a town that is 83% White this is no small feat.

As a young person of color who speaks on racial oppression, I was asked to sit on the panel. I arose the morning of July 12th unsure of what to expect. Two bagels and a three-hour bus ride later, I had arrived. Fellow panelists included:

  • Dr. Raoul Contreras, Chair of Minority Studies and Associate Professor of Latino Studies at Indiana University Northwest
  • Rev. John E. Jackson, Sr., founder and Senior Pastor of The Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, Indiana
  • Lorrell Kilpatrick, adjunct lecturer at Purdue University–Calumet, Indiana University Northwest, and Ivy Tech Community College
  • Samuel A. Love, White male ally, educator, artist, and keyholder at Mess Hall in Chicago
  • Cami J. Thomas, doctoral student in the Department of Africology and Administrative Director for the Black Graduate Student Alliance at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee

An Atheist, I tend to avoid churches in fear that my “unholy soul” will set them ablaze. Still, the atmosphere was welcoming. At the church entrance, a table with rainbow cloth draped over it was the home of various MCC-related pamphlets, business cards, and a bowl of condoms. (Clearly I attended the wrong churches as a child.)

A sea of 38 Black and Brown faces stared as the panelists took the stage. Present were kids, teens, adults and senior citizens, heterosexuals and homosexuals, theists and atheists, and a tree-hugger who smelled of beeswax and a substance whose recreational use is legal only in Colorado and Washington. A sole White man sat nervously in a pew to my left.

Moderator and co-coordinator of the panel, Paulie Garcia, wasted no time. In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on DOMA and the Voting Rights Act, Garcia dove into a series of questions that, while seemingly basic and superficial, ultimately created a much needed discourse that laid the foundation for what racism is and how people of color, including those who are LGBTQ+, experience it.

What is racism? Is ‘reverse racism’ real? Sharing versus waiting—in activism, is it best to share the spotlight or wait your turn? Are things better for people of color in the United States? How can we make things better?

While each panelist generally agreed in their responses to the questions, how each came to understand their beliefs varied.

“I’ve been an activist for a decade, and most of that time I was silent,” says Samuel A. Love amidst a discussion about community progress and alliances. “I’m glad that I was. I needed to listen.”

Following the panel, I spoke with co-coordinator Gail Thomas to reflect on the event. Thomas currently serves as the chairperson of Standing Together In Tolerance Changing Humanity (STITCH), an organization that seeks to support youth struggling with their sexual and gender identity to help them thrive and avoid depression and suicide.

Thomas and Garcia say they were inspired to organize the panel after LGBT Pride festivities were moved from Gary to Portage, a town that is far less accessible to people of color.

According to Thomas, the purpose of the panel was ‘to offer education on what racism really is–a system.’ “If we are a part of the system,” she says, “then we are involved in racism in some way [and] need to be responsible for our thoughts, words, and actions.”

Although Thomas’ son, who is biracial, was recently racially profiled by local police, she remains optimistic about the state of progress in northwest Indiana. “With consistency, I believe more people who need to hear the message (the White community) will come.”

In October, STITCH will team up with Northwest Indiana University for a two-day workshop on LGBTQ+ issues.

More information on the event and panelists can be found here.

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Dear White “Allies,”

Dear White "Allies"

There are but 52 of you in the sea of my 477 Facebook friends–roughly 11%. Most of you are LGBTQ-identified, and for some, to be frank, that is the ONLY reason you are on this list. I don’t do many dealings with White folk.

I’m considering doing less.

As my Black and Brown skinfolk are in a state of anger and fear, the White people are talking about Glee, their new shoes, the Color Run, that funny thing their pet rock did, and next week’s dinner. Of you 52, only three have dared to acknowledge the pain my people are enduring. Only two have done so publicly.

Just as Trayvon Martin’s case is representative of a greater issue, this activity (or lack thereof) is the same. The problem is not that Trayvon was walking home at night in a hoodie. The problem is that he was walking home at night in a hoodie while visibly Black. Similarly, the problem is not that many White “allies” are silent on this issue and the verdict. The problem is that many White “allies” are continually silent on this issue and verdicts nationwide.

I am not arguing that White “allies” need to dedicate their Facebook activities to any specific issue, nor am I suggesting that one issue is necessarily more important than another. It is your space. Do as you wish. But I’ve found that our behavior on Facebook is a reflection of our actual personalities. If you are not willing to reach out to ‘people of color’ in a time of severe distress, why should we believe that you are willing to reach out during every day struggles? If you seemingly do not care about the Kings, Bells, Grants, and Martins of our world, how can we expect you to care about the kid down the block or the Black guy writing this letter? (I won’t even bother questioning your concern for the Harlins, Browns, and Boyds.)

Respectively, not being aware of the situation does not mean you are a bad “ally.” That, however, is not the case for most of you. All but one of you 52 are American-born citizens with access to television, the internet, and Black people. Many of you are aware yet are choosing not to speak. This is a problem. This is YOUR problem.

Get it together, White folks. Quickly.

Sincerely,

A Black Man Who Is Tired of Half-Assed “Allies” & Needs You To Do Better