Walking the Talk on Social Equity:

ASPA and the Public Administration LGBT Community—A Perspective

Jose Luis Irizarry, MPA, MA

ASPA District I Representative/ Vice-chair, LGBT Advocacy Alliance Section

First, let me thank all of the attendees and supporters of this panel, Walking the Talk on Social Equity at the ASPA Annual Conference.  I was not sure how many people to expect at the panel considering the way many people feel about LGBT Issues. The support means the world to me, the ASPA LGBT Advocacy Alliance Section, ASPA, and the public administration community as a whole. You inspire us to continue to do what is right, even if it is not easy.

The purpose of this post is to provide you with a quick summary of my portion of the presentation, The Future of LGBT Persons and Issues with ASPA: A Perspective. I know that many supporters and conference attendees had conflicting workshops when the panel was on and I want to make sure you do not miss out.

I presented last and by that time, Wally Swan had already explained the history and impact of LGBT issues on public administration (or lack of impact in some cases) and within ASPA. He also provided us a detailed overview of the growing number of social injustices that face the LGBT community and the response of the field (which was practically nonexistent except for a few select points in time including the publication of his first text on LGBT Issues in Public Administration) and ASPA’s response or lack of reaction to the issue. As a whole, ASPA has not done much to take a stand against these social injustices, discrimination, and inequities. With the exception of the first LGBT Panel developed by Wally Swan for the 1992 ASPA Annual Conference, various efforts by sections that touch topically on LGBT Issues in Public Administration, and finally the approval of this section by the council.  But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

IMG_1223Antoinette Samuel, ASPA’s Executive Director informed us on how associations are addressing issues of diversity and inclusion which also topically touch on issues facing the LGBT Community. It seems like our section, LGBT Advocacy Alliance, is the only one focusing on these issues head on, while topically touching upon the other issues. Although this too could be changing thanks to many supporters of true social equity and justice in many of ASPA’s other sections (SWPA in particular) and sister organizations such as the organizers behind the Social Equity and Leadership Conference and the Southeast Conference on Public Administration (SECoPA) in particular.

Three things (in no particular order) really hit home from Antoinette’s presentation. Two of them were statements that I think are at the heart of what the LGBT Section stands for at ASPA:

  • First, we need to consider “the way we think…the way we do things…[&] the way we are.” According to Antoinette, this is who we are at ASPA. Looking at ASPA as a whole since I joined, I have to say that this applies in theory but ASPA hasn’t really started ‘walking the talk’ until relatively recently and even then it is more like a hesitant first step that was taken when they thought no one was looking to move them an inch forward. As was asserted during the panel, more needs to be done and I guess it started with the creation of this section and that this section will need to facilitate and lead these moves.
  • Second, during a conversation of what others have done in this area (she did not provide much on what ASPA has done in this area) in terms of ensuring that the LGBT perspective is adequately represented was her mention and specific focus on “Diversity + Inclusion” with “+” representing “PLUS” and not “AND.”  There is a difference and I am glad that she singled that out and explained that to the audience.
  • Finally, (and of course there was more but I don’t want to summarize her presentation when you can email her for the slides) what impacted me was her slide that proposes the following question: “What is ASPA’s commitment to diversity in its leadership and membership and most important, our profession?” After her presentation I asked to her to leave this question posted for the audience for the rest of the session because I truly believe this is a critical question that we must be addressing NOW.

Following Antoinette’s presentation, our “feisty” but friendly, Claire Mostel, LGBT Advocacy Alliance Section Chairperson and ASPA Life Member, spoke. Claire covered several issues including the issues that we as a community of ASPA face and continue to struggle with when trying to focus on social equity of the population. A population that tends to be forgotten by the PA community and the general discussions in the field of social equity—LGBT issues.

Social Equity PanelAdditionally, Claire explained the decision to form a section versus a task force, what thought went into the name, mission, and purpose of the section, and what obstacles and challenges we are ready to overcome in order to continue to do what is right while advocating with our allies (which she made a point of identifying and thanking for everything because without them we would not be here) on issues of social equity that impact the LGBT community and the field of public administration.

I will try to get some notes on this history as it is important in demonstrating how imbedded social inequities are in people and collective organizations regardless of how much they talk the talk of being in favor of and supporting social equity and social justice.

At this point, I should admit (though I could not say this during the panel), that these were tough acts to follow, especially as a newer member of ASPA and the ASPA National Council but I believe I did us proud. 🙂

I began my portion with looking at what I consider to be landmark events, from my current past that I recall and that impacted me greatly.  In chronological order these include:

  • Passage of the Defense of Marriage Act by President Bill Clinton;
  • Various states banning and limiting same sex marriage and civil unions;
  • Various states banning LGBT people from adopting and limiting other civil rights;
  • Protections, and liberties for LGBT peopl;
  • President Bush’s attempt at passing an anti-gay marriage bill that would forever define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Select states continue to lead the charge and in the face of political disaster pursue the right course of action and extending civil rights and liberties, or better yet providing what is constitutionally guaranteed and being unconstitutionally withheld from those in the LGBT community. Finally, the recent attempts by Presidents Obama and Clinton to announce their determination that DOMA is unconstitutional and asking the United States Supreme Court to rule in accordance with their determination in the cases before them this year.

One who is knowledgeable about public administration has to see the complexity, impact and implications of LGBT issues on public administration whether they agree with or disagree with the issue of gay marriage. The issues and their implications extend well beyond marriage and the LGBT community.

This leads me to my ultimate point during my portion of the presentation: the future of LGBT persons and issues with ASPA, and that is that we as THE association of experts in the field of public administration and as scholars in social equity must be on the front lines. We must be ready to interpret what is going on, identify the implications of recent and upcoming developments, and lead the efforts to address the implementation and social equity issues that are present and will arise in the various areas of technical expertise of the field.

Some of the technical areas mentioned during the panel include areas in which ASPA already has sections and partnerships including: education, training, and competency development, ethics, personnel administration and labor relations, criminal justice administration, health and human services, international and government relations, research, and public law and administration, to name a few.

IN ORDER FOR ASPA TO REMAIN RELEVANT TO THE FIELD AS EXPERTS AND A RESOURCE we must remain on the cutting edge of our areas of expertise otherwise people will go elsewhere and the relevancy and usefulness of the organization, and the field as a whole, may be in question.

I then discussed three ways that ASPA can be current and on the front lines—the cutting edge. First, we could and I believe should, take a position against injustices outright and support good socially just policies that address all traditional areas including LGBT issues as they continue to become major policy issues in society and government. In my history on the ASPA National Council (since 2010), ASPA has not done a good job at this, with a handful of exceptions.

Second, we need to ensure that the LGBT perspective is adequately represented in persons in top leadership positions and in contributing leadership. This means that we should do our best to encourage and support this throughout our organizations, at all levels as much as possible, rather than excluding those that would bring those fresh and critical perspectives to the table in meaningful ways by choosing not to focus on the specific issues head on when they are brought to the table. Additionally we should not assume that because a small victory was achieved or that because people are talking about the issues, that the issues have been resolved. As we know, we must continue the fight for social equity as it is an ongoing struggle.

Finally, we need to ensure that LGBT issues are adequately represented in issues at national conferences, PAR, the PA Times, and other arenas.  As I mentioned during the panel, I believe we have taken major steps forward at this conference but many more steps are needed before we can claim victory.  Of particular importance on this front are three events that were hosted at this conference and endorsed by several ASPA sections and tracks. The three events were held on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (nicely divided by chance) and they are:

  • Saturday’s Panel, Social Equity and the Intersection of Same Sex Marriage: A New Understanding of Partnership in 21st Century America in the Social Equity, Gender, and Diversity Track and endorsed by SWPA.
  • This panel on Sunday, from the same track and endorsed by SWPA.
  • And Monday’s Roundtable Forum: A Narrative Approach and the Inner-City: An Early Analysis of an Action Research Project in Miami’s Liberty City Neighborhood, that addressed social equity with a strong LGBT emphasis, in the Nonprofit/nongovernmental and Civil Society Organizations track.

I hope ASPA and the field continue to move in the right direction and WALK THE TALK that they talk so much!

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