Monday, June 12, 2006

Activism = Elitist?

In preparation for tomorrow's panel on the state of LGBT politics and activism, I was asked to think through a series of questions. I was so compelled, infuriated, perplexed, annoyed and tickled by the questions that I challenged myself to get my thoughts onto paper. I'll be sharing plenty of my responses with you here on this blog in the weeks to come, and I'd like to begin with the question that elicited the most lengthy and emotional response.

Is activism solely an elitist activity?

photo by Andres Duque
LarryLy addresses the crowd at the Rashawn Brazell Memorial March.
Photos by Andres Duque

Activism can often seem like an elitist enterprise, since we often use funding, corporate support and the audibility that they provide as the sole criteria by which determine the quality and impact of our work. Needless to say, this is a problematic practice, but not one essentially rooted in the enterprise of activism itself.

For me, the question of whether it is or is not fundamentally elitist lies in this question: How do we measure the success of activism? How do we quantify the impact of our work? More responsible conversations in our public forums or more government funding? (These two are not mutually exclusive, but they do represent two estranged value systems.)

An example from my work: When the press was hungry for quotes about the horror of hate crimes, the RBMF instead offered a broader commentary about the value of black gay life in general. In our public statements and in the building of our organization, we refused to use the narrow vectors of crime and disease to define our lives and instead pushed a platform that identified and prioritized the root issues to which the mainstream media felt they had no responsibility: namely, the social penalties for standing at the intersection of marginal identities.

Instead preoccupying ourselves with the race and sexuality of Rashawn’s killer (which will not be determined until the NYPD invest the same amount of resources in the investigation as they did with Nicole DuFresne and Emmet StGuillen), we consistently spoke about the role that Rashawn’s intersectional identity plays in the ongoing disparity in the coverage the cases receive and their attendant public outcry.

Why? Because the race, sexuality and even the motivation of the killer cease to be significant priorities when the police, the media and the public refuse to value the life of the victim.

So, in what some might identify as a key moment in the history of black LGBT organizing in New York, we used our audibility strategically to create more and louder conversations about the value of our lives. I like to think that our work is playing a role in shifting the community further away from the pigeon hole of single-issue organizing and toward a more holistic platform that honors the complexity of our lived experience as an intersectional people. To me, this is an important development in the landscape of black LGBT organizing.

However, the Memorial Fund boasts no corporate sponsors and no steady source of income, save our grassroots fundraisers. Whereas the RBMF staff has had to work doggedly for nearly a year just to touch the $5000 mark, Imette St. Guillen's folks were able to generate more than $250,000 in less than five months.

So, if one uses financial gain as the means to evaluate the efficiency of the RBMF, we may not appear to be as successful as our white, straight, upper and upper middle-class compatriots in the fight against violence. Indeed, this reality reeks of a synthesis of racism, classism and homophobia that adds insult to injury for a community morning the loss of a brother, son, lover and friend. And this is the reality that I’ve dealt with everyday since March 4, 2005, when I got news of Rashawn’s murder.

Luckily for us, however, we do not measure the fruits of our activism this way. We are encouraged by the fact that despite the death grip of the compounded injustices at play in the Brazell murder, we have managed to contribute to a significant change in the way we talk about our lives, our bodies, our sex and our deaths.

So, my answer is no. Activism is not an elitist enterprise. Not for those of us whose value system is rooted steadfast in the health and well-being of our communities. Not for those of us who commit ourselves to the unglamorous work that goes on in between and after the marches, the rallies and the vigils. Not for those of us who do not enjoy the audibility afforded to the white heterosexual upper class and the hundreds of thousands of sympathetic dollars that their identities have a knack for garnering. It's not an elitist enterprise for me.

Taking it to the Streets!

March and Rally this Saturday
Raise Your Voice Against Anti-LGBT Hate in Our Neighborhoods

When: Saturday, June 17, 2006

Where: Gather at NE Corner of 14th Street and First Avenue at 2PM;
March at 3PM to Christopher Park (Christopher & West 4th Streets)

Why: In the last week a number of hate incidents have impacted our community

Saturday, June 10, 12:30 AM - East Village, Manhattan
On his way home, Kevin Aviance is brutally attacked by a group of men yelling anti-gay slurs

Saturday, June 10, 1:10 AM - Astoria, Queens
A group of three friends are attacked by a larger group yelling anti-gay and racist epithets and wielding a baseball bat

Sunday, June 11, 5:45 AM - Astoria, Queens
A man is followed off of an "N" train by another man who harassed him with anti-gay language, pushed him down elevated platform exit stairs to the street, and kicked and punched repeatedly.

Make your voice heard!!
We will not be targeted even as we celebrate our History, our Pride and our Survival...

Community Partners in this Effort include: the NYC Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, Daniel Dromm, Empire State Pride Agenda, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Gay Men of African Descent, Hedda Lettuce, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, the Latino Commission on AIDS, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, mano a mano, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, New York State Black Gay Network, NYC Council Member Rosie Mendez, NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, NYS Assembly Member Deborah Glick, NYS Assembly Member Sylvia Friedman, NYS Senator Tom Duane, People of Color in Crisis, Unity Fellowship Church of Christ and the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund.

Click here for more information and safety tips.

Friday, June 02, 2006

News from the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund

Exciting news!

In our efforts to increase the visibility of the Rashawn Brazell case in a variety of arenas, the RBMF has focussed its creative energies upon a number of web-based projects. Take a look at what we've done!

  • We have created an entry about Rashawn in the Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. This popular reference tool will allow users all over the world to learn more about Rashawn and the RBMF.

  • We've started a blog in Rashawn's name that will keep the public abreast of developments in the investigation as well as local and national stories and events that pertain to the intersection of racial and sexual identities. Check it out at

  • We've also launched a RBMF page on, a popular social networking hub. This page that will keep friends of the Fund abreast of all developments and allow for more informal interaction with the RBMF staff . Visit to add the Fund as a friend and to sign up to receive our email newsletter today!

How's that for creative web-savvy organizing?

Rashawn's Memorial March: The Impact

(photo by Andres Duque)

The April 15th Rashawn Brazell Memorial March was a success in more ways than one. In addition to showing the NYPD our determination to find justice for Rashawn, we also showed the press and the public that we are not willing to allow the case to be denied the visibility afforded to the white heterosexual women whose unfortunate murders have dominated the press.

The Advocate, the award-winning national LGBT news source, covered the march in their April 25th issue. The article, features quotes from co-founder Mervyn Marcano and marks the RBMF's first spot in a national magazine.

To view a scanned image of "Staying True to Rashawn", click here.

The march was also covered on Fox 5 New York. After the story aired, a link to was added to the website's "Viewer Information" section. At long last, the scholarship established to honor Rashawn's legacy was added to the area that had formely housed similar programs for white, straight murder victims Immette St. Guillen and Nicole DuFresne.

To view the listing, visit the "
Viewer Information" page of the Fox 5 News website and click on Rashawn Brazell Fund.

The march was also attended and reviewed by several New York area bloggers, activists and photographers. Check out the following sites for original photography and more!
Ocean Morisette (41 photo slideshow), Donald Agarrat (24 image photoset), Andres Duque (139 pictures), whose noteworthy blog entry can be read here, and Taylor Siluwe (28 pictures).

The RBMF would like to thank The Advocate, Fox 5 News, Andres, Donald, Ocean and Taylor for the crucial work they have played and continue to play in keeping the story alive in the hearts and minds of the community at large.

Coming Events

ART & ACTIVISM: Contemporary LGBT Arts and Protest
State of Politics and Activism in the Black LGBT/SGL Community

Tuesday, June 13, 2006, 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
The first of two programs co-sponsored by the Schomburg Center’s Black Gay and Lesbian Archive will focus on political activity within the black same gender loving community over the past 30 years. Currently, politically active LGBT/SGL activists of African descent are a mix of seasoned and new thinkers, engaging a range of issues including marriage equality, homophobia in the black church, and hate crimes, among other issues. Panelists include Samiya Bashir (The Right to Marry Campaign), Larry D. Lyons, II (Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund), Kevin McGruder (Gay Men of African Descent), and others. For more information on LGBT programs throughout the month of June see the Art & Activism website.