National Policy Roundtable Discusses Need for More People of Color Leadership

October 01, 1999

Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications

How does racism operate in the work of national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations and in our movement?

That question framed the discussions among 31 representatives of GLBT groups at the fifth National Policy Roundtable, convened Sept. 24-25 in Washington, D.C. by the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The discussion concluded with an affirmation that racial justice was an issue of central concern and priority to the GLBT groups represented at the meeting.

Executive directors and co-chairs attending the National Policy Roundtable spent two days discussing how and why race and racism shape organizational structure and affect the agenda, direction and face of GLBT politics and organizing.

"Many national GLBT organizations have closed the gender gap in leadership positions but very few have crossed the color line in leadership positions," observed Urvashi Vaid, Director of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Talented people of color leaders abound, running many local and national non-profits in the HIV/AIDS movement, leading the gay and lesbian people of color movement, serving as elected and appointed officials, working in non-GLBT social change organizations, and in the corporate sector. But our mainstream movement remains largely untouched by the racial diversity that is American society."

Three presenters offered their perspectives on racial and GLBT politics; Barbara Garcia, former executive director of Salud Para La Gente, and current Deputy Director of the San Francisco Department of Health; Phill Wilson, executive director of AIDS Social Policy Archive at the University of Southern California and the co-founder of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum; and John D'Emilio, Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Chicago and Senior Fellow at the Policy Institute.

Roundtable participants broke into small groups to delve into the problem of racial barriers to leadership in institutions and to brainstorm concrete strategies. Four aspects of the challenge facing GLBT organizations interested in doing anti-racist work were discussed. These included: (1) specific strategies for diversifying the racial composition of national GLBT organizations; (2) ideas on how to integrate racial justice commitments into the missions and programs of non-people of color GLBT organizations, (3) securing resources and financial support for leaders of color, for autonomous people of color organizations and for doing anti-racist work, and (4) defining GLBT agendas to internalize a commitment to racial justice.

Facilitators in these groups included: Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council; Frances Kunreuther, former executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute and current Fellow at the Hauser Center for Non-Profit Management at Harvard University; and Richard Burns, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center.

Extensive discussion centered around why some issues are seen as "gay" and others as not appropriately belonging to the GLBT movement. Significant acknowledgement was made of the GLBT movement's political diversity, and how it always results in debate on what the most critical issues are. But strong consensus emerged among Roundtable participants that racism is a central issue for the GLBT movement to tackle, and is an issue of central importance to large numbers of GLBT people of all colors.

Roundtable participants individually committed to detailed next steps to move the discussion on racism forward in their organizations. Commitments made included bringing expanded mission statement recommendations to their board, revisiting board composition, conducting staff and board diversity trainings, training people of color leaders in organizations on fundraising, educating donors and constituents about the importance of a diverse leadership, and recruiting expertise and staff from other social justice movements.

"Equal opportunity, freedom from violence, non-discrimination and collaborative struggle are bedrock values of the social justice civil rights movement of which the GLBT movement is a part," said Roundtable facilitator Deborah Johnson, executive director of the Motivational Institute, which consults and trains on issues of cultural diversity within organizational development. "By building these strategies we express a commitment to the GLBT movement being an active participant and ally in our nation's struggle for justice."

The National Policy Roundtable is a strategic project of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The National Policy Roundtable convenes the executive directors of policy-oriented national GLBT and HIV/AIDS organizations, and the national co-chairs of policy-oriented national associations of local organizations. It meets semi-annually to provide a forum for discussion, strategic thinking and information sharing. The Policy Institute of the NGLTF is a think tank dedicated to research, policy analysis and strategic projects to advance the equality and understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

Participants in the 9/24/99-9/25/99 meeting:

A. Cornelius Baker, National Association Of People With AIDS, 202-898-0414
Michelle Benecke, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, 202-328-3244
Richard Burns, NY G&L Services Center / C0-Chair National Association of GLBT Community Centers, 212-620-7310
Rea Carey, National Youth Advocacy Coalition, 202-319-7596
Matt Coles, ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, 212-549-2627
Charles Cox, Dignity / USA, 202-861-0017
Ray Drew, Family Pride Coalition, 619-296-0199
Scott Gansl, World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Jewish Organizations, 609-396-1972
Richard Haymes, NYC G&L Anti-Violence Project / Steering Committee, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, 212-714-1184
Paul Kawata, National Minority AIDS Council, 202-483-6622
Kate Kendell, National Center For Lesbian Rights, 415-392-6257
Deb Kolodny, Director of Policy, BiNet USA, 301-565-0719
Roger Leishman, Co-Chair, Federation of Statewide LGBT Political Groups, ACLU of Illinois. 312-201-9740
Yosenio V. Lewis, FTM International, Inc., 415-281-9445
Kerry Lobel, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 202-332-6483
Jeffrey Montgomery, Triangle Foundation / Steering Committee National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, 313-537-3323
Ann Northrop, ACT UP / NY, 212-727-8674
Lorie Camargo-Guenaga, National Latina/o LGBT Organization, 202-466-8240
Felicia Park-Rogers, Children Of Lesbians & Gays Everywhere, 415-861-5437
Clarence Patton, National Consortium of GLBT Anti-Violence Projects/ NYC G&L Anti-Violence Project, 212-714-1184
Bob Schoenberg, National Consortium of LGBT Resources in Higher Education / LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania, 215-898-5044
Nadine Smith, Co-Chair, Federation of Statewide LGBT Political Organizations/Equality Florida, 813-253-5962
Winnie Stachelberg and Nancy Buermeyer, Human Rights Campaign, 202-628-4160
Rich Tafel, National Log Cabin Republican Clubs, 202-347-5306
Kevin Vaughan, International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials, 215-686-4673
Carmen Vazquez, New York Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center, 212-620-7310
Susan Wright, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, 718-383-3318
Daniel Zingale, AIDS Action Council, 202-530-8030


John D'Emilio, University of Illinois, Chicago - 312-996-2502
Deborah Johnson, the Motivational Institute, 831-688-6147
Urvashi Vaid, Policy Institute, NGLTF - 212-604-9830


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movementís premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.