By Isis Asare
I remember the first day at my elite high school in southeast Texas. Compounding by my first day jitters was the sudden realization that in an incoming class of 150 students, I was one of three African Americans. Academic success – success of any kind for that matter – often proved to be culturally isolating. There are few higher indications of success than a personal invitation to the White House for the inaugural LGBT Innovation Summit on Monday, July 7. As I read the invitation, sent by Kortney Zeigler, I began to dread the pending isolation, dread being in room and feeling painfully different, and dread knowing my sense of urgency for economic opportunities for black, brown, and queer communities was of little concern to many of my nation’s elite.
But as soon as I arrived, I knew I had nothing to dread. As I approached the entrance, a familiar voice called my name. I looked up to see David Dennis – a talented software developer that interned at the large tech company I worked for in Seattle, WA. He was at the White House to brainstorm ways to leverage his expertise in Bitcoin development to create opportunities for the LGBT community. The memories of David, my gay husband, and I marching in the Seattle Gay Pride Parade several years earlier came flooding back. His presence let me know that I was with like-minded individuals passionate about using technology to create opportunities for marginalized communities.
Kimberley McLeod, the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of ELIXHER.com and ELIXHER Magazine, was at the entrance. Establishing herself as a media mogul, her publication has been pivotal in creating the Sistah Sinema brand. Though we have collaborated together for numerous years, this was our first opportunity to meet in person. We were both attending the Summit to garner resources for media platforms focused on queer women of color. She – in particular – was looking for investors, while I was seeking potential leads in new cities. We supported each other every moment of the Summit; there would be no feeling of isolation in this success. She introduced me to bloggers, such as Monica Roberts, who might help Sistah Sinema get traction in Houston. I introduced her to my mentor, Heather Hiles, who has a successful track record with angel investors and venture capitalists.
The panelists – which included Megan Smith: Vice President of GoogleX and former CEO of PlanetOut, Tim Gill: founder of the Gill foundation – were insightful and engaging. A Gurlz Guide founder Michelle A. Dowell-Vest wrote a great overview of the speakers here. I was most excited to see Ashlee Davis on the Challenges and Opportunities Facing LGBT Communities panel. Ashlee is working with the USDA to ensure that LGBT members of poor rural communities have access to grants and resources to secure a home and create a livelihood. Earlier this year, she presented at the Sistah Sinema – Portland screening of The New Black. Inspired by the power of film in driving meaningful conversation, she will include screenings in all her #RuralPride presentations. The week following the Summit, Ashlee and I had a detailed conversation on how Sistah Sinema could support her work by curating the films for Rural Pride.
During the happy hour after the Summit, I had the opportunity to meet Clair Farley, Associate Director of Economic Development at the San Francisco LGBT Center. As a small business owner, I was surprised how unaware I was of the broad array of small business services they provide. I am excited about the possibility of collaborating with Clair to establish programming aligned with the mission of the San Francisco LGBT Center and Sistah Sinema. Namely, inspired by Funded with Baratunde Thurston, I hope to work with Clair to launch a Bay Area version of Detroit Soup for businesses launching products relevant to queer women of color.
At the end of the long day, I was finally able to sit down with Kortney Ziegler and discuss his plans on leveraging his success organizing TransH4CK to establish a coding school for transgender and gender non-confirming individuals. Kortney’s work has long since been a beacon of light for me. His film Still Black: Portraits of Black Transmen inspired me to produce the documentary A Social Hack: Changing the Conversation on Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Tech. However, I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to the work that I hope inspires both of us. The work of James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Langston Hughes, and Lorraine Hansberry as activist artists created a tipping point for a cultural shift that allows me to exist.
I hope you’re ready to put in work. The struggle continues to be beautiful.
Isis Asare is the founder of Sistah Sinema, a monthly event showcasing Queer Women of Color Cinema. You can access movies at their monthly events in cities across the country, or stream instantly online. Access content from www.sistahsinema.com.