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lgbtqi workshop at brooklyn aikikai by h. eberhardt and s. donahue

April 6, 2020

On Saturday February 22nd, thirty members of Brooklyn Aikikai were privileged to participate in a discussion led by fellow dojo member Elana Redfield on LGBTQI history, politics, and policies. As director of LGBTQI Affairs for the New York City Department of Social Services, Elana regularly leads similar training workshops for city employees, and this past month, was invited to facilitate a discussion at the Gowanus dojo. Elana expertly facilitated a dialogue about sexual and gender identity and the intersecting nature of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class.

LGBTQI stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Intersex and represents a diverse spectrum of sexual and gender identities that remain widely criminalized and stigmatized, even today. Our training began with members sharing their names and gender pronouns. We talked about why asking someone’s gender pronouns is important: you can’t assume gender identity based on how someone looks or their physical characteristics (even though most of us are taught to identify gender through visual indicators). We explored the many assumptions that we carry (often unconsciously) when it comes to the gender binary. Many of our members shared experiences, discussed stereotypes, and explored our own biases and assumptions, and how to be better allies, both on and off the mat.

Elana brought up the concept of ‘intersectionality,’ a term coined by lawyer and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw that recognizes that different racial, gender, ethnic, class and sexual identities cannot be separated; different identities uniquely inform how individuals experience and negotiate privilege, power and discrimination. Elana provided an overview of the history LGBTQI movement in the United States and discussed key figures such as: Bayard Rustin, Stormé DeLarverie, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and Crystal LeBeija, to name just a few.

It’s not possible to capture everything discussed in one short article, but this training was the start of an important dialogue at our dojo. Before ending the session, we were asked how these issues relate to our Aikido practice. Some important points arose:

  • Aikido is a practice that allows each of us, both as individuals and as members of a dojo / sangha, to negotiate new relationships to power, freedom, masculinity / femininity, force and receptivity.

  • It was called out that members who perform activities at the dojo such as folding laundry, showing attention to detail in cleaning, are frequently members who identify as female. Awareness needs to be brought to this, so it can change.

Just as we honor Zen and Aikido masters who devoted their lives to spiritual liberation, LGBTQI leaders have put their bodies on the line for collective liberation. We honor and learn from their example of courage and commitment.

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