December 2019 Diversity Article

“Diversity is being invited to the party.  Inclusion is being asked to dance.”


Lately I have been thinking more and more about our Triangle Community's diversity, as well as our inclusiveness.  My rationale started with this specific question:  “Are we inclusive to females in our community?”  While we are a good and strong community of LGBTQ+ people, the large majority of us who attend functions are white, male, coupled, and 55 plus.  As I talked with several people within Triangle Connection about my concern Robyn Kelly, a longtime community member of Triangle said, "We need to make sure everyone is welcome" and not try to focus on a particular segment of our Triangle population.  So true, Robyn.  Randall Keeton, another active Triangle Connection friend, added that "we want a community where all different kinds of people can thrive" which will lead to more diversity and ultimately more inclusiveness.”


Deep down I believe we all want to see this level of diversity and inclusiveness as we grow the Triangle community.  For example, our mission statement addresses our goal of being a "welcoming and inclusive environment for all people."  Your Triangle board is committed to this concept.  Many Triangle people I have spoken with agree this should be a priority.  A more welcoming community will lead to more diversity and an inclusive community.  This is how our group’s effectiveness will expand. 


Board member Bruce Endsley reminded us in a July article for Triangle, "We are open for all:  LGBTQ, straight, all genders, non-binary, any ethic group, singles, couples, older, younger, transgender and non-transgender, secure in their identity or struggling, those who live in Lake County and those beyond.”  Bea Palmer, a longtime participant within Triangle Connection, recently said to me, “We always feel welcome at events.  We enjoy the guys, but it would be great if we had more woman, too.”  Another Triangle Connection person community, Mari Cruz said to me recently, "We are improving on being more inclusive, but we have "to be more welcoming to grow and expand; not just women but all people."


I am not pointing fingers and blaming.  Instead, I am looking internally as a white, male, coupled, and 55+ person within Triangle Connection.  I realize my identify group is the dominate segment within our family at most functions.  Since there are lots of other people who look similar to me, I wonder if I can see what transgender people, female, brown or black, younger, single, non-binary and others feel when they walk into one of our events.  It’s clear we have good intentions of being more diverse and inclusive, but others may see walls we don't even realize exist.  As Mari said, "We are born into our identify groups but they don't have to separate us."  Good point, Mari.  Not reaching out more to all people and more effectively will hurt our efforts to grow our community and will also limit our long-term and overall effectiveness.  We want to be a resource for everyone, including straight allies.  They need us as much as we need them.


The good news is we have new people becoming part of our Triangle Connection community regularly.  Yes!  We are growing.  Tina Manning and Michele Matheson are new to our Triangle Connections. Tina said to me, “We came into the group because of Jack and Bruce.  They were originally clients of our business and we became friends.  They invited us to Friday night cocktails by saying, ‘We’d love you to join us,’ and indicated that Triangle was trying to bring in new friends and improve diversity in general.”  Tina added, “We’ve enjoyed being around the group. The best thing about Friday cocktails is how warm and welcoming people are.  We were not ignored.  People reach out and we already feel like we’re part of the family.  It would also be great if we could help others in the area know Triangle is here for them.  Recently we took a friend of ours to a Meet & Greet and she really enjoyed it.  She may never have attended a function had we not invited her, like Jack and Bruce did for us.”


Tina added, “Sometimes you need women to get more women involved.”  In looking at our TC Facebook followers, a definite trend is we are attracting more females.  Eighty percent of our new FB followers are women and on FB, we actually have more women followers than men.  It appears that females are observing TC through FB and this is a good sign about our long-term diversity.  “Historically a lot of the LGBTQ+ bars were segregated,” Michelle added.  “Especially in Chicago.  That’s the way it was, but not the way it has to be.”  When you look at our nearly 500 FB followers, 600 people who receive our email addresses, and realizing some of the above two overlap, we figure we have about 750+ friends at Triangle Connection. Being a truly integrated community of ALL 750 will bring us strength as we look at even furthering our inclusiveness.


I hear from people like Jane Rutter and Gary Brozenich, a straight couple who moved to Eustis about ten years ago from New York State who love our community.  Jane was telling me about how when they moved here there was a common bond at that time - the quest for marriage equality - that pulled the Triangle Connection group into a diverse family.  "Gary and I are a straight couple but immediately felt included.  The group's solidarity led to strong friendships and walls didn't exist," Jane explained.  I believe history can repeat itself.  A Triangle Connection without walls will lead to more diversity, which will lead to more inclusiveness.”    


Bea Palmer commented further, “While we really enjoy the group, but having more women in the mix would make it even more inviting for women to easily join in.  We met some new women recently at a Meet & Greets and are now friends on FB.  To include more new people of all identities, Bea suggests we “mix it up with more activities such live music or a DJ.”  Bea continued by saying, “The drinks and dinners are fine but more of a variety would be great and it would probably lead to more people who are different from the usual mix.”  A better mix of activities would lead to a better mix of people.


Bea also said we would love to see more single people join our activities, so in looking at a variety of functions what would the singles want to see” is a question the community should also consider.  “A few singles joining us would probably lead to more single people, Bea added.  “Rainbow’s weekly dance at the Bonifay Club draws a nice mix of single and coupled people.  I’d like to see something of that nature here in Lake County” so we don’t have to drive all the way to the Villages to enjoy a different type of activity.


And the desire to be more inclusive to people of color must also be part of our vision for a long-term and successful Triangle Connection community.  As I ponder this subject and I think you’ll agree, we have much work to do.


To quote Randall Keeton once again, "Diversity is what you have.  Inclusion is what you do."