Democrats in North Carolina had a much-needed conversation on diversity and inclusion recently — specifically surrounding transgender and LGB people and the necessity of education, the importance of allyship and what exactly it means to be an ally. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing, and rightly needs to continue.
It began on Jan. 20, when the leading candidate for chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Patsy Keever, called transgender candidate Janice Covington Allison “a man.” We’ve reported on the incident and its follow-up online. You can read the original story at qnotescarolinas.com/33696/ and the follow-up at qnotescarolinas.com/33734/.
The insult exposed a rift between party and community members.
On one hand, some LGBT people and other members involved in the party, especially those who’d worked with Keever in the past, defended Keever, though admitting she’d erred. They’d found her to be friendly to the community in the past, were sure she’d continue to be friendly in the future and argued her mistake emanated from a lack of education or awareness of transgender issues, something Keever herself admitted and committed to work on.
On the other hand, some members of the transgender and LGB community said that a lack of awareness or education was no excuse — that Keever should have taken the time beforehand to learn more, to be aware, to know the best ways in which to interact with transgender people, especially considering her foreknowledge that she was running against a trans candidate. Self-education, they said, was the responsibility of people who claimed to be “well-intentioned allies.”
This divide — between community members willing to accept alliances with imperfect, still-learning allies and those who call for a more stringent commitment to principles and ideals — cuts at the heart of several important conversations.
Where do Democrats stand when it comes to a commitment to their own ideals? How far can they bend when the party, as a whole, must seem united as it faces a new political landscape in which it has lost nearly all legislative and governmental power for the first time in over a century?
Where do leaders of the LGBT community place their loyalty — to a political party or to their own community? And where does this community leadership — much of still largely male and largely cisgender — place transgender inclusion on its list of priorities? To what standards do we hold allies and how much leeway do we give those who honestly seek to stand by us, even if they occasionally slip up?
I won’t pretend to know the solutions or try to personally represent all the many different ways members of our community might answer them. What I will ask is that we continue to lean in, find the answers, discuss the topics on which we disagree. At recent community forums in Charlotte, I’ve heard a repeated tip for this kind of intentional conversation: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s a good message for all of us. : :