Race & the LGBT community: Grand Rapids filmmaker advocates for equity & inclusion

Grand Rapids filmmaker Gregory Mason is set to debut his documentary that delves into the need for multiracial and multicultural inclusion in the country's LGBT community.
When Gregory Mason was going for his Master’s degree in social work at Grand Valley State University, his teachers encouraged the students to cultivate hobbies in order to avoid becoming burned out. While deciding what to pursue outside of academia, he began to search for websites dedicated to the multicultural LGBT community — only to discover very few existed. Immediately, Mason knew this needed to change — and he was prepared to tackle it himself.

“We need to start talking about [race in the LGBT community] and considering it as a big issue,” says Mason. “We focus on the political issues, but not so much the social issues. You need to start caring about people who don’t look like you.”

To open dialogue about racial discrimination, as well as to celebrate multicultural and multiracial viewpoints in the LGBT community — both in Grand Rapids and across the country, Mason in November 2012 launched the  LGBTCollege, a website that tells the complex stories of race and identity and advocates for more diversity.

“There is a predominantly white/Caucasian presence, instead of a more equal representation of the community of LGBT in entertainment, media and other popular sources of daily LGBT information,” Mason writes on the LGBTCollege website. “When it comes to LGBTCollege, I want to make it different. I want to focus on the LGBT community when it comes to our differences and similarities, because, as a community, there is value in having multiracial and multicultural representation in popular media.”

While telling these stories on his website, Mason wanted to further expand and grow his audience — so, in early 2015, he began working on a documentary, “LGBT for R.A.C.E. (Racial and Cultural Equity),” which delves into the past, present and future of multiracial and multicultural LGBT inclusion. After pouring countless hours into the film, for which he traveled across the nation to conduct interviews, Mason is about to debut his first documentary at the Wealthy Street Theatre on Monday, March 21 at 7:30pm (doors will open at 7pm).

The film includes interviews from a series of LGBT leaders of color, including Ted Freed, of Men Of All Colors Together NY; Harlan Pruden, of the Northeast Two-Spirit Society; and Curtis Lipscomb, the executive director of LGBT Detroit, among others.

“People of color have been involved in the LGBT movement from the very outset, like from Stonewall night number one,” Freed says in the film, referring to the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City — which is largely regarded as one of the main turning points in the United States’ modern LGBT civil rights movement. “That’s no big secret, but we forget about it sometimes.”

The exclusion of people of color in the LGBT community is something that must be addressed, the film’s interviewees stress.

“I came out in 1978, and that’s one of the things we were talking about in ‘78, ‘79 — why is it all white men; why is it all white middle class men in the gay movement?” Freed days. “And it still seems to be the case somehow.”

Pruden notes that “all of the leadership of most of the national [LGBT] organizations are all white men.

“There may be a white woman, but it is a very white-dominated movement,” he continues. “In that respect, we’re replicating the same social inequities in the dominant society.”

To address this, Mason says the larger LGBT organizations must acknowledge their own lack of diversity, as well as actively try to change.

“The bigger organizations, instead of just going to the suburbs to promote their organizations, need to go into the inner cities,” says Mason, who adds he wants to grow the presence of Gay Straight Alliances in Grand Rapids schools.

“It’s middle class white men who’ve been at the forefront, so it’s about groups getting out of their comfort zone and going to people who don’t look like them,” Mason says.

Such an outreach to inner cities would have made a big difference when Mason was growing up in Detroit, the filmmaker says.

“Growing up in a predominately black neighborhood and surrounding area that makes up the inner city of Detroit, I knew what my family and others thought of gay men, especially black gay men,” he writes on the LGBTCollege website. “I knew that they did not like it, thought it was disgusting, always addressing them as a girl and wanting to be a girl because of the feminine qualities.”

However, once Mason left for college — he graduated with a degree in psychology from Grand Valley State University — his world changed.

“Before college, I had never stepped into the real world outside of my Detroit inner city bubble, so I had a very close-minded and sheltered viewpoint of the world as a black man who knew I was gay, but, at that time in my life, was never going to acknowledge it,” he writes. “Then, after college, and even during college, I received a more holistic view of how the real world public perceived the gay black man to be.

“During college, and after college, that perception became different, based on the more holistic approach I was taught through my college education and looking beyond my own social circle and reading, researching, and investing time into learning about what the whole world really thinks of someone like myself,” Mason continues.

Now living in Grand Rapids, he says the city can, like everywhere else, improve when it comes to being more racially inclusive.

“I definitely think they can be more racially and culturally inclusive, and they’re open to improving; it’s just a matter of having people say it’s needed," Mason says.

“LGBT for R.A.C.E. (Racial and Cultural Equity)” will screen at the Wealthy Street Theatre on Monday, March 21. Doors open at 7pm, the film will start at 7:30pm, and there will be a discussion about the documentary immediately following the screening. Tickets are $11, and seating is limited: if you want to see this film, it’s best to buy tickets ahead of time. For more information about the documentary and to purchase tickets, you can go here. For more information about the LGBTCollege, you can visit its website and Facebook page or email [email protected].
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