Both the expectations and tensions were high going into last week’s inaugural Community Conversation, held by the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.
It was the office’s first-ever community forum, and the formal introduction to the community of new director Amber Hikes, who replaced former head Nellie Fitzpatrick in a shake-up earlier this spring. It was also an opportunity for the community to get to know and learn about the work of the new Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, which went through its own recent shake-up with the ouster of chair Sharron Cooks. Needless to say, there was a lot to be discussed.
And the meeting held true to its title. The community came prepared with tough questions and comments — from demanding representation of all facets of the community in the commission to urging transparency in the office’s work. And Hikes and commission members came prepared with answers, and commendably did not skirt or dismiss challenging issues.
The local LGBT community is in the midst of some important transitions, and those are processes in which the Mayor’s Office on LGBT Affairs and the LGBT commission has the potential to play important roles. If last week’s meeting is an indication, both are positioned to help the community navigate those shifts — though, importantly, not to dominate them.
The office and commission are community-oriented entities and, as such, rightfully have a duty to represent the full breadth and depth of the local LGBT community. They will be hosting Community Conversations for at least the next two months, at which community members are invited to actively interface with the city leaders. These are opportunities for the community to air both their grievances and their praise, their ideas and their issues. Just as it is incumbent on the commission and office to seek input from the community, it is the duty of the community to engage in that process. Social media has undoubtedly played an important role in mobilizing community engagement, but in other ways the medium has been isolating — creating rifts and infighting and inviting personal disagreements into community conversations.
Last week’s event established a face-to-face, two-way street for productive dialogue in and about our local LGBT community. Now the work of getting and staying on that path begins.