In a message released today, The Center outlines its next step in its commitment to Black lives
Dear Center Community,
Yesterday was a landmark day in American history, as the Supreme Court of the United States held that employment discrimination against LGBTQ people violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. No longer in America can LGBTQ people get married on Saturday and then fired on Monday. The Civil Rights Act now includes LGBTQ people, who stand on the shoulders of the Black and women’s rights leaders who fought for protections. We celebrate this victory and we stand firm in our commitment to the work left to be done for equality– to fight for legal rights in accessing healthcare, at retail stores and restaurants, adoption agencies and public accommodations, and in the fight for racial justice.
In the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis, and this watershed moment in the fight for Black lives, this decision is heartening and gives momentum to the fight for equal rights for all. But we know the legal rights of all LGBTQ people won’t be secure until we end the systemic ways that racism oppresses and hurts Black people. As our country is in a national moment of reckoning, it is important for all of us – individuals, communities, companies, organizations, and government – to reexamine the structural ways we have contributed to not valuing, and in fact devaluing, Black lives.
For The Center, it is a time to continue to reexamine our own organization, and expand this dialogue with our Board of Directors, staff, volunteers and our broad community to do more than say that Black Lives Matter, but to actively work to be anti-racist in tangible ways and engage in actions to make it so. We have reflected deeply on what we have heard from our Black community members about how The Center can better serve the Black LGBTQ community, particularly in this moment of tension and trauma that surrounds law enforcement.
Last year, The Center heard from over 140 Black community members at our Town Hall for the Black LGBTQ Community. Many spoke of the pain and hurt that is caused when one does not feel welcome in our LGBTQ community, including at The Center. Overwhelmingly, we heard that the lack of policy restricting the presence of armed uniformed law enforcement officers is a barrier to the Black LGBTQ community feeling welcomed at The Center. We value the bravery and trust that the Black community placed in us to speak their truth then, and since then, through the work of The Center’s Black LGBTQ Community Advisory Committee. We acknowledge the many times in our 48-year history that The Center has failed to welcome and value our Black community members. We apologize for those failures, and we pledge to do more in action.
As a social service provider, we center our work through the lenses of trauma-informed care. We hear the Black community say that we cannot provide critical services like counseling and support groups that serve victims of trauma, while also having armed uniformed law enforcement officers allowed in the building, which often re-traumatizes members of the Black community. As a social justice organization, we understand that we cannot be truly intersectional until we center Black lives and the needs of the Black community to come together in spaces that do not include law enforcement.
The Center has long-existing policies that include prohibiting weapons on the premises of our facilities and only calling law enforcement into our facilities as a last resort or a true emergency. These policies will continue, and today we announce a new policy in addition. The Center’s Board of Directors has voted unanimously that beginning today, The Center will no longer allow armed uniformed law enforcement officers at Center facilities or at Center events, unless as a last resort or true emergency. This is not about good or bad individual law enforcement officers, but rather a systemic problem in law enforcement that devalues Black lives and creates an environment in which our Black community does not feel welcomed, and in fact strikes fear and trauma.
Our decision focuses on what armed and uniformed law enforcement officers represent to overpoliced communities that The Center seeks to serve. It also reinforces the truth, that while law enforcement is supposed to serve and protect us all, in practice, law enforcement has too often endangered the safety of our Black community through unwarranted stops and searches, excessive force, and in the most devastating cases, extinguished Black lives and Black futures. Several recent studies of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD)and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department conducted by Campaign Zero and Voice of San Diego both identified clear evidence of discriminatory policing; SDPD stopped Black people at 219% higher rate per population than white people, and once stopped, Black people were more likely to be searched, arrested, and to have force used against them. Additionally, the data shows that anti-LGBTQ bias intersects with racial bias, resulting in the highest search rates for Black and Latino/a/x community members who police perceive to be LGBTQ. In order for The Center to fulfill its mission as a health and social service provider who believes in trauma-informed care, and as a social justice organization that seeks to value every person, we cannot serve the Black community in this moment when armed uniformed law enforcement officers are present.
The Center will continue to engage in dialogue over the coming weeks with our community, including our Black LGBTQ community leaders as to how to better serve the Black community, and what that means for our relationship with local law enforcement. All across our county, people, families, communities, organizations, and institutions are in a period of self-examination and reflection, and asking what path forward will create a new America, where Black lives do matter. We support San Diego Pride’s recent reflection and decisions, and call on all San Diego organizations to join us in reexamining structures, hiring, policies, partnerships, vendors, and implicit and explicit bias that prevent us from creating a world where Black lives truly do matter.
-Caroline (Cara) Dessert (Pronouns: She/Her/Hers)
Chief Executive Officer - the San Diego LGBT Community Center