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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I didn’t feel like an ally

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I have always felt weird about the term ally, mostly because I tend to see it during my quick glances at Instagram, where vegan white guys post images of themselves at Black Lives Matter protests or chest thumping in support of protests that turn “violent” (I am not a pacifist, so I put violence in quotes as my definition might be different than yours).

I find many of these types of posts done by white guys who basically seem as if they have to scream they are an ally but have made so many missteps in front of me – not only as a woman of color but even as a woman.

Ironically, this has primarily been my experience with white guys – saying random things about women and POC but falling short in person.

I explained this to a friend of mine, pattrice jones, and she explained to me that when my husband Mark and I got married in Massachusetts (we refused to get married in California due to Prop 8), we were acting as allies. Okay, that I got – sort of. I mean, I didn’t feel like I was doing this as an ally but more because it was right.

When something happened recently, it got me thinking again.

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) had an event in San Francisco at a Latino cultural center. As with other events, we put signs up on the bathrooms (the one at the top of my blog) so that all would feel welcome. But people working at the center took issue with the signs and asked us to take them down.

The preparations for the event had already been stressful, but I knew that it would be difficult for me, as the founder of F.E.P., to have an event where people would not feel comfortable. This was not something I could accept, and as a Chicanx, I was a bit perplexed.

I asked to speak to the manager and was told they were not there. The woman who had told my event coordinator that the signs had to be removed said that the person in charge was not there. I asked if I could speak to her. She told me no, she had left for the day; she repeated that we were not allowed to put the signs on the bathrooms and said that they had already received complaints from pregnant women attending another event in the building who said they did not feel safe in the bathrooms because of the signs.

As we were discussing this, another employee called the person in charge and just handed me the phone.

I spent half an hour on the phone with this person explaining why it was imperative we have these signs up. When I mentioned that I felt it was discriminatory – a woman sweeping the floor in the front got very angry and said out loud – this is not discriminatory. I continued to try to explain to the person in charge that given how our people had been treated in the past (and even now), we should understand discrimination and should not be participating in it.

I offered a compromise for us to be able to put the signs up after their other events were over and take them off when our event was over. She then explained it would be hard for her staff, so I offered to go up personally and speak to each and every one of them (about 5). I offered to introduce them to any transgender people at our event and how it makes them feel for us to not have these signs up.

She was not interested.

In fact, she had told me that no other organization had ever asked for this to be done―we were the first.

Then I asked her to please put in writing why they felt this was unacceptable and email it to me so that I could share their concerns with the people of San Francisco.

That got her attention. At that point she was interested in my compromise.

I was incredibly upset and on the verge of tears when we hung up.

One of the employees came up and gave me a hug, thanked me, and told me they were so ashamed.

I admit, that there was one point during this argument that I thought she was going to ask us to leave and terminate the event. I was worried because I knew I would accept that versus not having these signs up. Right or wrong, I could only hope the supporters of F.E.P. would understand.

Never once did I feel like an ally. The entire time I just felt like I was doing what was right; I was fighting for everyone to feel safe and equal.

I know that I tend to be very skeptical, but my hope is that everyone who thumps their chests by posting images to show they are an “ally” is actually living their day-to-day lives in this manner and not just doing it for show.