Equality Federation Throws Out Youth Leadership from State Meeting; Youth Fight for Dignity in National Equality Movement
Published On July 2, 2013 » By Kevin McKeon » Breaking News, National

As the national equality movement advances with historic progress, critical questions remain about how our community’s leadership will develop a national strategic plan that reflects the voices of all LGBT people.

As the Convener of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, the nation’s first entirely youth-led statewide LGBT organization, I have recently seen our leaders experience incredible discrimination and harassment from fellow advocates because of our age. Far too many of our community stakeholders believe youth are underqualified for high level discourse on pressing issues, and that we are an uncontrollable constituency that would be ineffective in creating change.

I have always maintained that unyielding love toward others, even those who would seek to do us harm within our own community, will shine through in the end. At the helm of our organization, I have always directed myself and others to focus on the important work ahead, rather than responding to the hurtful words and actions of others.

While there are only a few youth-led LGBT groups in the United States, we are all fighting for respect and a seat at the community table. We do this while fighting for progress in the larger struggle toward justice. Sadly, in a world without the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC), which disbanded in 2011, national organizations seem to have found it convenient to completely dismiss the youth voice, rather than to work toward our inclusion.

HarrisburgWe are not an insignificant organization in the equality movement. Our organization represents the grassroots power of thousands of young Pennsylvanians. PSEC has crafted a safe schools bill which has garnered the most co-sponsors of an LGBT inclusive piece of legislation in state history.

Last Thursday, our Executive Director Jason Landau Goodman, was invited by a Central Pennsylvania community leader to a listening session by the Equality Federation in Harrisburg regarding a statewide strategic plan. He gladly accepted to listen and offer contributions to the conversation. As an Executive Director of an established statewide LGBT organization we assumed there would be a seat at the table for us.

Within moments after he arrived to the meeting, Ted Martin, the Executive Director of Equality Pennsylvania, left the room with Roey Thorpe, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Equality Federation. A few minutes later, they came back in and Roey approached Jason and asked to talk in the hallway. She claimed this was an “invitation-only meeting” and that he must immediately leave the premises. However, an invitation to the meeting explicitly asked guests to welcome any leaders they saw fit. I was absolutely shocked to learn of this unprofessional behavior when he called me as he left SEIU Pennsylvania’s office.

Sadly, this is not unusual behavior from LGBT organizations. For years, there has been a culture of discriminatory attitudes within the supposedly “safe space” of LGBT groups. The voices of trans people, people of color, and youth are rarely heard at the table of LGBT organizers. If they are lucky, perhaps they will get a physical seat. However, it is not uncommon for marginalized groups to be literally forced out of the room. This is unacceptable.

Truitt BannerSince contacting Equality Federation Executive Director Rebecca Isaacs and Ted Martin, there has been no acknowledgement of this behavior. We have asked to talk with Issacs on the phone three times with no response. Instead, she only sent us one, non-responsive email and cast blame to our Executive Director instructing that he “take on the constructive leadership role you so desire” in order to work with the Equality Federation. How can we assume a “constructive leadership role” within an organization which literally closes their door to us?

The integrity of the movement is fractured when adult leaders fail to stand up for our emerging voices. While many community leaders have supported youth-led work, there are still Executive Directors who make the decision not to intervene in support when youth fight for their voice to be heard. Getting involved to help youth struggling against community barriers has been seen as politically inconvenient for some adult leaders. However, this is not congressional electoral politics – this is the treatment of youth by adult leaders, and this needs to stop.

We are asking that these organizations take action for inclusion. The first step would be to apologize for last Thursday’s incident. In the same way a professional colleague would expect an apology, as equals, we too expect an apology. While their egos may not permit them to issue a statement, there is still a pressing need for a pledge to do better – to not dismiss marginalized voices from the table – and a new precedent of taking youth voices, among other groups, seriously.

carolynSilencing youth voices from within social justice movements is far from new. Youth advocates in the Suffrage and Civil Rights movements faced significant marginalization by established leaders. In the struggle to build their power, young leaders formed organizations such as the National Woman’s Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The bold actions they designed and executed complemented their adult counterparts and has been credited in supporting major legislative victories.

While youth leaders throughout history have risen up to claim responsibility for their part in their struggles – and perhaps defied establishment leaders along the way – their positive impact on strengthening those movements was proven invaluable.

Sadly, the LGBT community appears to be years away from full and mutual respect within the movement’s leadership. When discriminatory behavior is commonplace, a serious look inward must be taken before we can forge ahead. True progress will not be made until we treat all of our members with dignity.

Young leaders can be innovative and forward thinking. As has been proven throughout history, youth are free to move an agenda with our own independent agency. We are not just the leaders of tomorrow – we are the leaders of today.

 

Kevin McKeon is the Convener of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition Coordinating Committee. Originally from Bucks County, Kevin is a rising Senior at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. At PCT he serves as the President of The Alliance. As the elected Convener of the Coordinating Committee, Kevin oversees all operations of PSEC.


Below is the email exchange between the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition and the Equality Federation.

UPDATE: At the time Equality Federation sent their first email on Friday evening, no Equality Federation staff had reached out to PSEC. Since then, staff have reached out to PSEC about a statewide strategic plan, but have not addressed through multiple emails and appeals to talk on the phone about last Thursday.

NOTE: We have redacted names from the invitation email.


From: Jason Goodman
Date: Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 4:17 PM
Subject: From Pennsylvania LGBTQ Youth
To: Rebecca Isaacs
Cc: Jace Woodrum, Michael Brunelle, Kevin McKeon, Faith Elmes, Victor Galli

Dear Rebecca,

I hope this email finds you well. This was a truly historic week with the Supreme Court, but we certainly have plenty work ahead of us at the state level.

I am writing to you regarding a meeting yesterday morning facilitated by the Equality Federation in Harrisburg, PA. We appreciate your time in reading this letter and addressing our concerns.

First, we want to thank the Equality Federation for taking the time to send staff to Pennsylvania and take into consideration the leaders who are on the ground for a statewide strategy.

I was invited to this community stakeholder meeting by a fellow leader from Lancaster. He had attended the same meeting on Wednesday in Philadelphia and mentioned to the facilitators how important it would be to have Pennsylvania youth voices at the table. I accepted his invitation to join the meeting in my capacity as Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition (PSEC). I did not know at the time that these meetings were intended to be “invitation-only.”

Upon arriving at 9:00am, I was happy to see our community partners at the table from several organizations, such as the LGBT Center of Central PA and Marriage Equality for PA. Shortly after I arrived, I noticed Ted Martin, the Executive Director of Equality Pennsylvania, asking Roey Thorpe, Equality Federation’s Director of Strategic Projects, to talk outside the meeting room at SEIU Pennsylvania. Moments later, the two came back in the room and Roey asked to speak with me outside. Our conversation was very brief, but she told me directly that this was an invitation only meeting, that she would be happy to connect at a later date, and asked me to leave immediately. I had not said or done anything when I arrived besides saying hello to our community partners.

In response, I only asked two questions to her. First, that if she understood that I was representing PSEC as Pennsylvania’s leading voice for LGBTQ youth, and that PSEC had previously started an application for Equality Federation membership. She said yes. I then asked that in requesting me to leave if she realized that there would be no youth voice (just as there was no trans voice) at this meeting. She said she understood. I then came back into the room to collect my portfolio and wish our partners a good meeting. Those in the meeting were not briefed on my departure and so it was not discussed during the meeting.

I do not believe that I was asked to leave solely because this was an invite-only event. An email invitation for the meeting included a call to extend the welcome to leaders not directly sent an email. That email is below. There were participants in attendance who were not related to any organization. We know of at least one individual from Embrace Lancaster who was not formally invited – but was allowed to stay. One participant has alleged that that Equality Federation staff made negative comments regarding my age following the meeting. With this context, we are left to assume direct prejudice against PSEC was responsible for asking our youth presence to be removed from the meeting.

PSEC represents thousands of young Pennsylvanians with over 50 student organizations and dozens of LGBT youth organizations. We have been present for several years across the state – from Erie and Scranton and every region between. Legislation that we have drafted and are currently advocating for in Harrisburg has the most co-sponsors in state history to include LGBT protections. We have a lobbyist and offices across the state. As you may remember in May 2012 you saw our board meeting in progress at the William Way Community Center with over 40 youth. We not an insignificant group in Pennsylvania. As the Executive Director, I am tasked to represent youth voices in the legislature and at the table during community meetings.

We are saddened by Equality Pennsylvania’s behavior and see it as reflecting poorly on our state. We reached out to Ted Martin for an explanation yesterday and have not heard back from him in the past twenty-four hours.

Worse, however, is that an Equality Federation staff member has condoned and participated in these unprofessional actions. Asking the Executive Director of PSEC, the first youth-led statewide LGBT organization in the nation, to leave the community table, reflects some of the very worst behavior in our community.

Community support of youth voices, trans voices, or people of color voices should be embraced and respected to build a stronger community. At the start of the meeting this morning, none of those voices were present.

I arrived in good faith to listen and offer contributions as the leader of an established statewide LGBT organization, but was summarily dismissed by the Equality Federation. With the shared goal of civil rights for LGBT people in Pennsylvania, a meaningful listening session with community leaders should have welcomed a diversity of stakeholders. There should have been an assumption that participants would be professional and would not have been disruptive or unprepared for high level discourse on strategic planning for our state, regardless of age.

In this process, the Equality Federation has effectively silenced the thousands of youth voices we represent. This also sets a dangerous precedent that national organizations have the agency to reject the presence of youth voices in the future.

Thank you for letting us share our concerns. All we ask for is an apology, and a pledge to do better. That in future conversations about our state you would invite us, and with other states you would embrace connecting with authentic youth voices to be at the table.

While we understand that you personally were not at this meeting, we sincerely hope that you will take swift action to remedy the behavior by the staff within your organization. If we do not hear from you in the next twenty-hours, then we think the LGBT community and press would deserve to know that youth voices in Pennsylvania are not valued by the Equality Federation. For obvious reasons, that is not an avenue we desire to pursue since we hope instead to have a productive conclusion to this incident.

We write to you in the spirit of collaboration and the basic integrity of Equality Federation’s values. I look forward to connecting with you soon.

Sincerely,
Jason Landau Goodman


Jason Landau Goodman
Executive Director
The Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition
Pittsburgh – Harrisburg – Philadelphia
jgoodman@pennsec.org
www.pennsec.org

From: A.S.
Sent: Monday, June 24, 2013 5:20 PM
To: R.V.; A.L.; P.E.; M.B.; D.C.
Cc: Roey Thorpe
Subject: Getting your help with PA

Hi —————————,

Just a quick update that Roey and I had a terrific site visit in Ohio last week (shout out to Andy for his participation). We won’t have a similar site visit in PA for a number of months but Ted Martin, the ED at Equality Pennsylvania, has organized meetings for us to attend with various leaders this week to talk about their state’s nondiscrimination campaign. When he just shared the list, I noticed some gaps in terms of faith leaders.

Part of this process is to see where those gaps are and begin to fill them, but I thought it would great if we could do a last minute (and it is truly last minute and a long shot) reach out to any key players you know in either Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg or Allentown.

Below are Ted’s lists. If you have anyone who you feel comfortable enough to reach out to to join with such short notice, please do (or give me their contact info and I will happily reach out). And because it is short notice, we can follow up with other folks by phone later if we need to. Many thanks! -A.S.

###


From: Rebecca Isaacs
Date: Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 6:36 PM
Subject: Re: From Pennsylvania LGBTQ Youth
To: Jason Goodman
Cc: Jace Woodrum, Michael Brunelle, Kevin McKeon, Faith Elmes, Victor Galli

Hi Jason,

I understand that both Equality Federation and Equality Pennsylvania staff have reached out to you about your concerns. I hope that you will respond to them. I agree that collaboration and cooperation are key to moving our work forward and hope that you can work this out. Just a suggestion, but I don’t think that threats about 24 hour responses are very oriented toward problem solving or collaboration and seem to obviate the collaborative tone you seem to want. There are so many opportunities in this work to make alliances and show rather than say that you want to work collaboratively. I know that this has been an issue for you in the past and I urge you to take on the constructive leadership role you so desire. All of us at Equality Federation want to work with you in that way and look forward to it.

Best,
Rebecca

Rebecca Isaacs
Executive Director
Equality Federation/
Equality Federation Institute


From: Jason Goodman
Date: Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 7:38 PM
Subject: Re: From Pennsylvania LGBTQ Youth
To: Rebecca Isaacs
Cc: Jace Woodrum, Michael Brunelle, Kevin McKeon, Faith Elmes, Victor Galli

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for your quick response and feedback.

We absolutely value your suggestions in moving forward.

Our goal is to identify solutions in order to achieve progress.

To this end, I would like to have a phone conversation with you as soon as possible.

I am available anytime this evening and anytime over the next couple days. If you could identify a time to chat, that would be great. My cell phone number is ###-###-####.

I look forward to being in touch shortly.

Best,
Jason

About The Author

Kevin McKeon is the Convener of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition Coordinating Committee. Originally from Bucks County, Kevin is a rising Senior at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. At PCT he serves as the President of The Alliance. As the elected Convener of the PSEC Coordinating Committee, Kevin oversees all operations of the organization.

He can be reached at convener@pennsec.org.

2 Responses to Equality Federation Throws Out Youth Leadership from State Meeting; Youth Fight for Dignity in National Equality Movement

  1. Jennifer says:

    I am backing Jason 100% in this situation. ALL LGBTQ should be invited and actively involved in organizations that support the rights of issues pertaining to the future of the LGBTQ community. When we start to exclude people within our community, the wave of discrimination begins. Being in the college setting as a doctoral student and a program coordinator for a Hispanic academic college mentoring program, I understand the necessity to include the voices of all members, no matter what age.

  2. Andrew dellorfano says:

    To paraphrase Jennifer:

    I am backing Jason 100% in this situation. ALL LGBTQ should be invited and actively involved in organizations that support the rights of issues pertaining to the future of the LGBTQ community. When we start to exclude people within our community, the wave of discrimination begins. These kids should have the freedom to be themselves no matter what orientation. It sickens me as a gay man to hear that LGBTQQIA youth continue to be harassed on a regular basis so much so that I want to tell these kids that I’m fighting with you all. I am so proud of you guys and wish you success Keep it up, because you kids say us adult LGBT are your role models, well this 21 year old can say these kids are y role models

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