Leaders of Color Visibility Project

BTL and Model D collaborate, enhance reach

By Crystal A. Proxmire

An exciting media partnership is bringing the stories of young LGBT leaders of color not only to the state's gay press readership, but to mainstream media and the circle of arts, culture and philanthropy as well. It's Between The Lines first such outreach and it's called The LGBT Leaders of Color Visibility Project.

The 18-month undertaking peaks with a panel discussion on June 6 and culminates with a showcase of photography, stories and video in the Pittman-Puckett Art Gallery at Affirmations in October.

The project is the brainchild of Katie Brisson of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan's Hope Fund. Brisson wanted to find ways of educating the public about the Racial Education Initiative through the Fund, and to advance the mission of supporting minority youth. She hopes the project will "expose the larger LGBT community to the growing work and leadership in LGBT organizations of color, provide educational networking opportunities that bridge the leaders and organizations of color with a broader network of leaders, inspire LGBT leaders of color to continue in their individual roles, and to serve as mentors to others and inform LGBT communities of color that these organizations are available to support them."

She brought BTL to the table with Model D, an independent online magazine, in order to tell this part of the story about LGBT people who are changing Detroit. "The idea is to recognize leaders in the African American, Latino and Arab communities, and share their stories broadly," said Jan Stevenson, BTL publisher.

BTL found ten LGBT leaders to profile, and enlisted the help and expertise of Desiree Cooper, herself an accomplished writer and African American role model.

"The LGBT community is vibrant and diverse, but just like society at large, it struggles with the same 'isms' -- including sexism and racism," said Cooper. "Too often, LGBT leaders of color are overlooked because of these biases. It has been a pleasure to be able to bring the lives, experiences and contributions of LGBT leaders of color to the foreground," she said. "People disclosed sexual abuse, child abuse, violence, addictions, HIV status, painful coming out experiences--the whole gamut. I was amazed at the honesty and openness that everyone brought to the process. If the tables were turned, I'm not sure that I could have been so trusting and open. But what really struck me is that, despite the strides we've made with LGBT civil rights, people still go through so much trauma in order to simply be who they are. As a baby boomer, I guess I was hoping that the new generation was much freer to express the range of sexual identities. We still have a long way to go."

Stories reported so far include a young woman who is the press secretary for Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, several individuals who are doing AIDS and HIV prevention and support, the founder of a drag show benefit, a young restauranteer, and a Latino woman whose work includes teaching English in Ecuador and Mexico, advocating for interfaith acceptance, and promoting immigrants' rights.

To go along with the articles, Model D is producing videos about each leader. They're also planning the June 6 event, which will be a panel discussion led by Cooper at The Scarab Club (217 Farnsworth, Detroit) with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. and the program starting at 6 p.m. Space is limited, and reservations are accepted online at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDd4MzdfVXdxNzhGelAzdGFyc2k1NFE6MQ.

The discussion will feature Detroit entrepreneurs and community leaders who are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk to create a more welcoming city for all. There will be young leaders featured in the series as well as more seasoned leaders in the community that youth can look up to and learn from.

Light refreshments will be provided by Detroit Vegan Soul, a new meal delivery and catering company specializing in soul food made from whole food. DVS was started by Kirsten Ussery and Erika Boyd. Ussery was featured in the first installment of the series that began last fall.

In October the event at Affirmations will celebrate the entire collection of stories. "October is Gay and Lesbian History Month, so we thought this would be the perfect way to recognize the people who are making history here, today," said Stevenson. Plans are in the works for how to give this day the most impact, including possible speakers. They hope to showcase the Model D videos as well.

Cooper, who will be facilitating both events, looks forward to sharing the leadership series with the public. Her wish is for every young person to view themselves as a leader. "Leadership is something everyone does every day. Leadership by example, action or service is just as powerful as leadership by acclamation or election. What kind of leadership you exhibit is up to you."

"The Community Foundation saw that BTL and Model D could each bring different strengths and networks to this project," Brisson said. "Working with BTL was ideal, given their extensive reach in the LGBT community. We then decided to ask Model D to become a partner as they provide a creative in-road to larger, mainstream audiences. Also, Model D has a younger, Detroit-focused audience, who are critical to reshaping the vision for the region.

"I think it is telling that one of the leader profiles was the most-read article in Model D one week. Quite a lesson for everyone that it would be a top-read story in a mainstream publication," said Brisson.

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