An LGBT Pride Month Event with US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Senator Tammy Baldwin

US Senator Tammy Baldwin and US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on the stage at the US Department of Labor's 2016 LGBT Pride Event.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin and US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on the stage at the US Department of Labor’s 2016 LGBT Pride Event.

NOTE: This blog contains several links including to other previous related blogs. Please do explore them. In addition, here is a link to the video recording of this event on Youtube!

For the past two years, I have been invited to attend the US Department of Labor’s LGBT Pride Month event. Not living in Washington DC, I am not normally able to attend, but this year I was in DC for two days of business at the time of this event. What a privilege to be able to attend this event on June 28, 2016 in our nation’s capital with two outstanding high ranking US government leaders.

(NOTE: two years earlier I had attended a meeting with Secretary Perez and a dozen other “faith leaders” representing the North Carolina Council of Churches. Link to the blog about that meeting.)

The 45 minute discussion was held like a “town hall meeting” with Secretary Perez starting with a five minute address and then interviewing Senator Baldwin. In his introduction, Mr. Perez quoted author Charles Dickens about it “Being the best of times and the worst of times” eluding to the US Supreme Court ruling on marriage a year ago followed by the recent massacre at the Pulse Bar in Orlando. He also mentioned the absence of nationwide employment protections for LGBT people and said that a gay person could get married today and then go into work tomorrow and get fired. (NOTE: I actually wrote a blog with that title – link.)

This year's US Dept of Labor LGBT Pride Month poster featuring a quote from out NBA basketball player Jason Collins.  (Link to my blog about Collins' coming out as gay)

This year’s US Dept of Labor LGBT Pride Month poster featuring a quote from out NBA basketball player Jason Collins. (Link to my blog about Collins’ coming out as gay)

Mr. Perez then introduced Senator Tammy Baldwin, the first openly out LGBT US Senator. He praised her for what she has done and how she had also done it with “Midwestern kindness” in an overall caustic political climate. Here are some of the key points Senator Baldwin made her comments:

• She personally realized the importance of universal healthcare coverage for all Americans early in her life. She was raised by her grandparents, and when she suffered through a rare and long childhood serious disease, she was not covered on their insurance since she was a grandchild. Then later in college, she had many classmates who were unable to obtain health insurance.

• She shared her journey as an out lesbian politician; from her county commission to the Wisconsin state house to US House to US Senate. She spoke of the importance of working for all constituents and building relationships. She also mentioned she was very fortunate in that a few out gay politicians helped pave the way for her and served as role models.

• The day before this meeting, she was fortunate to be in Greenwich Village, New York City, where President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn (gay bar in New York City) as an historic National Monument. (National Park website information about this new National Monument.) Stonewall was the location of the 1969 rebellion against police harassment of LGBT people and considered the birthplace of the American gay rights movement. Senator Baldwin poignantly spoke of how in the gay community, bars are actually places of safety and sanctuary, especially for people rejected by their families and communities for being gay.

Living in North Carolina where our politics is quite regressive (see my recent blogs about HB2 and hate in NC, and about alternative actions to boycotting our state,) I am encouraged by these excellent diversity and inclusion embracing leaders at our national level working for the benefit of ALL Americans.

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On a personal note, once again I got hopelessly lost driving in DC and arrived a little late, missing the introduction by Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Outreach and Recruiter Director for Presidential Personnel, the White House’s first openly transgender staff member.

Islamophobia – a current growing US diversity issue

NC Council of Churches Governing Board and Staff are proud to stand with the banner showing us as united against racism and Islamophobia

NC Council of Churches Governing Board and Staff are proud to stand with the banner showing us as united against racism and Islamophobia

As a diversity consultant, I strive to stay up to date on current trends and issues in the diversity and inclusion field. One of the tough issues growing within our country is Islamophobia. My definition of Islamophobia is, “an irrational fear or hatred of Muslim people based on unfamiliarity or stereotyping.” FYI, Webster’s Dictionary defines stereotyping as “forming a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion.” Unfortunately, many people are judging the world’s one billion Muslims based on the actions of a very small radical visible few.

I was actually starting to plan this blog over two weeks ago, before the horrific massacre at the Pulse Bar in Orlando, which makes this entry now even more timely.

Why is Islamophobia or any phobia or fear of a group of people problematic? When we cannot all respect each other and work together within our society, we cannot be as productive as a nation as we can, and at its worst, hate and violence occurs.

I am currently on the board of the North Carolina Council of Churches, which represents 17 denominations and several independent congregations. We work to build respect and understanding across denomination and religion lines to impact our state for the good of all our residents. At our quarterly board meeting on June 7, we had a guest presenter, Manzoor Cheema from MERI – the Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia.

Manzoor share several interesting (and some disturbing) information:

• Islam is not a new religion in the United States. Muslims have been present in our country since the 1830s, including Africans brought over in the slave trade (many forced to renounce their religion by their owners)
• Given that a large number of Muslim are “people of color,” racism and islamophobia are connected and intertwined.
• Myths about Islam, like that it is inherently violent, are widely propagated based on the actions of a very small minority.
• There has been a tripling of the attack rate on mosques and Muslims since Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim statements
• There are a disproportionate ratio Muslims incarcerated and expelled from school. And this statement does is not meant to imply that Muslim commit more crimes, but instead to point our the inherent bias in our justice system.
• Most Muslims do not hate women, Jews, Christians and LGBT people. For example, the MERI organization has partnered with the Jewish Voice for Peace as well as Methodist and Quaker organizations. Manzoor also mentioned addressing discrimination against LGBT people several times during his presentation.

I close with a three recommendations:Mosque photoI close with a three recommendations:

1. Visit a local mosque or attend a Muslim sponsored event.
2. Do research on Islam including viewing resources on the MERI website.
3. Connect with an actual Muslim person and ask them to tell you about their beliefs instead of listening to what other parties are saying about them.

Later this summer I hope to blog about Islam in the workplace, and the LGBT issue within Islam, but for now please do read this excellent and provocative piece reacting to the Orlando massacre by Salma Mirza, a queer-identified Muslim organizer of MERI.