Khan: On diversity, inclusiveness city should aim higher than bonus points

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Personally, I give the Human Rights Campaign as much salt as I do my morning oatmeal.

Which is to say little. In fact, I do not actually eat oatmeal in the morning, preferring Grape-Nuts to reinforce my coarse exterior right from the get-go.

The Human Rights Campaign is a fragile institution and not — to quote Lesley Gore — “sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.” In fact, according reporting first done by Buzzfeed and subsequently released documents, Lesley Gore, as a lesbian, may not have fared particularly well in the lily-white, male organization.

As a gay white male, I surely do not speak for the masses on the spectrum of the LGBTQIA community. In fact, being a homosexual white male in contemporary society, particularly one as in-your-face inclusive as Massachusetts, is probably only below heterosexual white male (and in some cases, higher in social standing through some odd fictional reparations for the 1950s).

Outside of losing the preeminent spot to “L”, the “G” is riding high these days, and continues to do so head-and-shoulders above those with whom we trickle in the spectrum. The gay white male still on net will make more than the gay white female.

And despite the crises that seem to be plaguing the Human Rights Campaign, of course, even hypocrites internally are not inherently externally wrong in their assessment. Thus, I cannot ultimately fault Worcester for its improvement in one year from a 55 (2013) to a 100 (2014), nor the city’s receipt of such a grade in 2015 through the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipality Equality Index.

Worcester's downtown skyline, slightly askew

Wikimedia Commons

Worcester’s downtown skyline, slightly askew — like, perhaps, the inclusiveness scores the city’s received the past two years from the Human Rights Campaign.

Rather it is certainly nice that action has been put in place, both legislatively and independently, to provide greater protections for LGBTQIA individuals. This is something to be applauded if used effectively.

Applaud without fear of retribution or lingering eye of the downcast that “it is the policy of the city to assure that every individual shall have equal access to and benefit from all public services, accommodations and employment opportunities to protect every individual in the enjoyment and exercise of civil rights”; and the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee tasked to “identify and engage all residents [so you], but especially underrepresented groups [maybe not you], in accessing and obtaining city opportunities and services”.

Additionally, carry on with good favor that in 2014, the city amended its 2008 ordinances to “ensure that persons and businesses supplying goods and/or services to the city of Worcester deploy policies consistent with the city of Worcester concerning gender identity and expression.” In other words, any contractor or vendor that wants to work with the city must have adopted and implemented gender identity policies.

If used effectively, these mechanisms are good, if not great. However, if used ineffectively or without leverage, these policies are to the LGBTQIA community as your missing car keys are to your Subaru in the driveway.

Outside of this, of course, the scoresheet laid out and bandied about by the Human Rights Campaign creates the superficial appearance that Worcester has begotten itself a culture of total inclusivity, in and of itself, while in fact, Worcester, as well as all others graded within the report, piggybacks fairly or unfairly on the work being done by the state as a whole.

From a purely informational standpoint, and without greater clarification in the differentiation of scoring, this does little. The HRC markets its report to “understand the unique situation of each city and is structured to reward the specific achievements of a local government”, while weighing and acknowledging this needed balance for municipality incentives and disincentives based on preexisting state law. Yet this imbalance is slightly impenetrable from the standard then of “what’s the point?”.

Every gay person knows that moving from Alabama (average score of 12.17), to Massachusetts (average score of 80.5) makes some sense.

Outside of such feel-good, inside press release fanfare, there seems no direction to the relevancy of this report, if not for some weird cross municipality rivalry premised most likely on some Napoleonic complex on the part of one, to the dulcet snores of another. In fact, there is little cross-municipality assessment, thereby leaving divergence from lackluster state-encompassing policies as the basis of point-based superiority.

Eliminating this criterion from circulation, given the overt prevalence of bonus points to compensate for a flourishing state, serves to show that the Human Rights Campaign is packing its pillow with fluff.

Yes, that may make those already with a bed even more comfortable, but those still slumbering on the streets most likely would appreciate more if those pillows were filled with the same concrete barrier between themselves and their equal protection under the law.

It is a reductive standpoint, a manner to show affirmatively what is happening, without acknowledging what is needed in these communities. Blatantly, this is shown through the puerile use of bonus points, whose presence is required for an otherwise 80-point scoring municipality to be proclaimed a 100. (For the record, Worcester would have been valued at a 97 in that case).

There is no clear reason why these bonus points (outside of pure ease of math) exist. If they are so compensatory to inflate the score of municipalities, by gods get out a calculator and squeeze them in somewhere, or switch the point — to a percent based scale for an accurate count.

I cannot see how “non-discrimination in city employment” could be more valued than “municipality is a welcoming place.” Bonus points make no particular sense if the HRC is attempting to create a clear image of how municipalities rank against one another.

This, I suppose, is the problematic difference between systematic and merely procedural bias. Sure, the laws that allowed Worcester to rank a 100 by the HRC are working at a procedural level, and anyone within the city can pull a lever triggering a series of events that may or may not lead to legal prosecution, protection or restitution due to some LGBTQIA related infraction.

For some that is a tally-ho moment, a stick a candle in that cake and blow it out to Greenland moment. But to others, the fox hunt is over, the bake shop is closed, and all the matches have been scuttled away by some nocturnal rodent into the walls awaiting a loose wire to celebrate a festive “do svidánija” to the furniture.

No, Worcester LGBTQIA protection is not going to burn down, surely not, but rather there is no need for such great celebration that seems to be presented by the HRC’s report.

AIDS Project Worcester's home base, 85 Green St.

Alex L. Khan / For Worcester Sun

AIDS Project Worcester’s home base, 85 Green St.

Sticking it to progress

Before continuing, I am by admission about as touchy-feely as a radioactive porcupine. However, from time to time even an anthropomorphic cactus wielding a nail gun can enjoy the various movements toward “progress” within the acronymically enlarging community into which I was born.

Why, we have all been there: you go into the craft store and pace, up and down aisles infinitum looking for the pom poms (generally near the boas, for the record) or the build-your-own-birdhouse kits (better get some balsa wood by the models and shellac it yourself). This is really a question of visibility.

Remember that fun little committee touched upon earlier? Yeah, the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee — in Article 2, subsection 6, of the second part of the city ordinances? Yeah, that one. This group is slightly promulgated on the cultural bent of the city. It is tasked dually with a) making recommendations and issuing reports to the city manager to effect greater procedural change; but additionally b) to “make recommendations and assist with city programming designed to establish a welcoming climate for all people and cultures.”

Therefore, even within the legal foundation for diverse, inclusive organizations within Worcester, there is the conceit that procedural/mechanical revisions are not the same nor can take the place of cultural climate in the case of diversity.

But it is difficult to ask in these most sensitive areas. Being (loaded term alert) persecuted or (hedging term alert) targeted based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not the same as merely being beaten up in the street or called a “[insert profanity of choice]-head” by someone crossing the street irrespective of the legality of such pedestrian peregrination at the time.

If one peruses a search of Google results, or better yet, downloads a brochure from the Worcester Office of Human Rights, it is clear that there are a number of services and mechanisms available to those within the LGBTQIA community, and implicitly that there is pride by the city of Worcester for these services and areas.

Worcester Pride festivities are notably structured toward family, showcasing the acceptance that has blossomed in the heart of the commonwealth. These are all good things, and things for which Worcester ought be celebrated highly, but to acknowledge the good without likewise noting the bad is antithetical to progress itself.

This of course finds itself once again within the same context that overwhelmingly damns the 100-point score given by the Human Rights Campaign culture.

Being called a “faggot” when leaving the bank in the center of Main Street, not fun.

However, it is not something that I generally share with others, unless of course those others are you, and I am trying to make a point, or you are a wonderful girlfriend of mine with whom I have few boundaries primarily because there are a handful of states between our respective cell phone towers.

Again I am only speaking from the perspective of the highly valued and highly visible gay white male. For every “faggot” that is being shouted, there is another “GBF” or “gay best friend”, a diminutive ascription placed pet-name, whose intent is either for quirk or tokenism, or both, but likewise of acceptance.

Furthermore, I have a bed, and a car, and a generally healthy lifestyle by permission of my monetary supply. This is unlike the 25 percent of gay and lesbian adolescents, and 15 percent of bisexual adolescents who reported homelessness in Massachusetts in 2011. Nor have I had to confront the 2015 report bearing that 31 percent of individuals believe that transgenderism and gender-nonconformity is morally wrong; or with the 41 percent of adults who would be upset or very upset if I were trans or gender-nonconforming, or even the 39 percent who would be upset or very upset that I am their homosexual child.

This last statistic, albeit, is an improvement compared to the sentiments expressed in 1985 (with 85 percent upset or very upset), which indeed shows progress. Yet cultural climate ought be addressed to accurately describe the tenor of any municipality’s inclusiveness.

Prejudice persists, and cannot be grasped completely and utterly, but mitigated.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the year 2014, Worcester had two hate crimes reported based on Sexual Orientation, up from one in the previous year. These statistics place us in a notable quagmire. For every reported crime, there most likely is an unreported crime, or, an unrecognized crime. To be clear, this latter circumstance, not on the fault of the police who report these crimes, but through a confluence of needed recognitions and sanctions. To the former, failure to report a crime done unto oneself is similarly built around a confluence of influences, none of which are inherently negligent or deserving of scorn.

To dismiss, however, the complications that are present in Worcester would be elected bias and elected negligence.

Walk down Green Street one of these days. All along the street now are bourgie restaurants and faux Etsy-inspired storefronts, mingling in with the bars, graffiti, and in need of pouring-cement sidewalks. Yet even amongst the yuppies, the discrete cultural dismissal of LGBTQIA inclusiveness persists.

Listed on its website at 85 Green St., AIDS Project Worcester is truly around the corner — up a side street that initially appears to be a loading dock, and with limiting marking. The only true indication from Green Street that this organization exists is written on a shed, in an untouched spot of grass next to a more “expected” service offer.

One would think in this echelon of hipster-cool, that things such as LGBTQIA health would not be relegated to such a backwards position, not so relegated that one has to search.

Statistics on HIV/AIDS are clear. In 2010, the most prominent bracket to newly contract HIV was between 25 and 34, while disproportionately African-American/Black American, and nearly 13 percent unaware of their positive status. Blocking access or stripping away the ability for individuals to easily reach services runs counter to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which demands that newly infected persons “will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”

Why hide the access that can save so many lives? Why make it more difficult for individuals further stigmatized to be present, when work it currently undertakes, including an HIV/AIDS support group, acts to break down these stigmas.

More pronouncedly, AIDS Project Worcester is also one of the primary resources of Narcan in Central Massachusetts, and has the only transgender support group in the area, while serving as the host organization for the Transgender Emergency Fund.

This is an organization that ought to be celebrated rather than relegated.

Who I cannot fault on grounds of current efforts is the Worcester Police Department. Unlike Northeastern University, where the police apparently solve most of their problems through semiautomatic assault rifles (per The Boston Globe), the Worcester Police Department’s year-end Safe Zone Training in conjunction with Worcester College Campus Police LGBTQ Liaison Consortium is something to be noted and upheld as a substantive step toward progress, if not a bit chewy around the names

Overall, I hope that more instances for fireworks to be shot off in the future regarding Worcester-LGBTQIA inclusiveness are held, but celebration means much more than that. Watching fireworks alone, however, is much different than watching them as a community, a whole community; one unencumbered by the prejudice with which many litter the ground now.

This prejudice is not like a cigarette butt, brushed easily aside, nor is it so pervasive that it fills the streets like tar on cracks. Rather while viewing the fireworks, we are slightly turned away from the gum caked and blackened on the sidewalk, that which still allows us to walk, but which does not necessarily allow us to enjoy our strides in the lightness of day.

This, of course, is why fireworks are held at night, because one should revel in them, but it is important not to revel too long, or revel too fully.


To read more from Alex L. Khan (if you’ve got the time):

Art is life for multitalented Burncoat teacher and Lifetime movie star Kevin Cox

Cover story: In this home beats the heart of recovery

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