Central PA's LGBT News Source
Harrisburg’s Amanda Arbour is on the job as executive director of the LGBT Center of Central PA.
On her first day, Sept. 11, Central Voice sat down with the dynamic leader.
Arbour joins the center from her most recent work as the Racial Justice Program Coordinator at the YWCA Greater Harrisburg. A Messiah College graduate who studied sociology and politics, she is pursuing a Masters of Education degree in training and development at Penn State Harrisburg.
“I’m proud to be part of this diverse, vibrant and resilient community,” Arbour said in an initial news release. “I look forward to working with the board of directors, staff, partners, donors and community members to continue providing the safe spaces, supportive services and educational programs for which the center has become known.”
Arbour’s experience includes serving as the Legislative Liaison for the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and Interim Coordinator of local community service at Messiah College’s Agape Center for Service and Learning. She was named a 2017 Wonder Woman by Harrisburg Magazine.
Frank Pizzoli: What draws you to social justice work?
Amanda Arbour: It's been a passion of mine for a long time. I was informed by growing up in Philly. That's where I'm from. I saw a lot of injustice – poverty, racism, homophobia. Growing up in that context, and then studying sociology and politics, really gave me the academic foundation to inform and to understand the ways that oppression is systemic and is embedded throughout all of our society or institutions. These stereotypes and prejudices are things that we learn and have to actively seek to become aware of and unlearn.
FP: You’re in the thick of it now…
AA: I’ve lived in Harrisburg over the past eight years on Allison Hill, a community that is marginalized in many different ways. There's a lot of stigma attached to living there. There's a lack of job opportunities, racism and discrimination against people who are undocumented or perceived to be undocumented. That experience has shown me many ways that injustices show up.
For five years at the Harrisburg YWCA, my focus has been on confronting racism as the Racial Justice Program Coordinator. It was really a learning experience for me as I got to work with a lot of people of color who were leaders in the community. And to hear more about their experiences and to see how can we work to educate others, particularly white people and people who hold a variety of different privileges about what that means. To come together to confront these various forms of oppression.
FP: There is Identity Politics and there is Policy Politics. By that I mean some people start with ‘identity’ and others start with ‘policies’ when engaging in the political life of their community. There is often tension between the two approaches when creating change.
AA: Can you define what you mean by identity politics?
FP: If we said, as a policy there shall be no hungry people in Harrisburg, then we can stop arguing over who’s the hungriest according to their identity.
AA: We have to be careful about getting into the hierarchy of oppression debates. Arguments that say my oppression is worse than your oppression. That is counterproductive. But it is important to recognize that because there are different layers of oppression – racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, economic classes - individuals who have many layers of oppression are further marginalized.
FP: And that’s what you will add to the center’s existing mission and programming?
AA: As part of my work here at the center I will be seeking to intentionally include those within our LGBTQ communities who are most marginalized. Our identities should drive our policies but there is a disconnect among those who are in positions of power and with more privileges. They don't necessarily have the lived experiences of those who experience a variety of oppressions. So, there can be a lack of understanding and a lack of a willingness to pursue social justice issues.
FP: We all need to work together?
AA: Yes. Certainly, I think it's pretty clear you're not suggesting that a policy should be more important than the people it hopes to help. Wherever we’re coming from within or outside the LGBT community we can stand together with those who are experiencing marginalization.
FP: Help readers understand what you mean.
AA: For example, as a white gay woman who is cisgender, a U.S. citizen and a Christian, I experience sexism and heterosexism. But I don't have to worry about transphobia or xenophobia or Islamophobia or other forms of oppression. So, it's my responsibility to particularly listen to the experiences of others and to ensure that their voices are at the center of the conversations we have here at the Center.
FP: Central Voice convened a conversation like you mention with your predecessor, Louie Marven. We corralled people 18 to 70s and asked them two simple questions – What can you teach or learn from someone younger in the group? And, what can you teach or learn from someone older in the group? The conversation went on for two hours, non-stop.
AA: That's great. In my work over the past five years with the YWCA (as Racial Justice Program Coordinator), I've led a lot of similar discussions in which we all learn from one another.
FP: When we talk about white privilege it's important for me to recognize the ways in which I don't have to worry about a lot of things. No one follows me in a department store because they think I might steal something.
AA: When I’m talking to a group it's not about making anyone feel guilty or blaming anyone for things that are out of their control. It’s about all of us taking responsibility that we do have these privileges. We need to be aware of them and use them in ways that stand for and with people of color.
FP: Try starting an LGBT newspaper on the Buckle of the Bible Belt. We’ve been covering intersectional topics since 2011, maybe longer. Too busy to count. Central Voice invited the Center, representatives of This Stops Today Harrisburg, Occupy Harrisburg, other related groups to a discussion we convened in a union conference room. They had never before been asked to convene as we did that evening.
AA: We could use a lot of that.