City’s Inaction on LGBTQ Demands Raises Questions About the Old Divide-and-Conquer Strategy

On a brisk March morning, Lex Have Pride, a Lexington-based LGBTQ advocacy group, submitted a petition to the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG). Among their demands: the expansion of the City’s minority business criteria to include LGBTQ-run and non-citizen-owned businesses.

Prioritizing minority owned business is a cornerstone of improving outcome equity, however LGBTQ owned businesses, and businesses not owned by US citizens, are excluded from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s (LFUCG) guidelines. Additionally, marginalized immigrant nationalities, while ethnically caucasian but decidedly not a part of the majority experience, also may not benefit currently.

A Lex Have Pride demand to LFUCG
In a March 10 email, Craig Cammack requested feedback on a Lex Have Pride demand to add LGBTQ and non-citizen owned businesses to the City’s definition of minority businesses.

While initially borne of an inspiring show of solidarity between the group and Lexington’s burgeoning immigrant and refugee population, the dialogue around the demand has since been marred by stagnation and silence.

Internal City Hall emails obtained by the The Lexington Times reveal an interesting subplot. Todd Slatin, LFUCG’s Director of Purchasing, cautioned that including non-citizen business owners could be “potentially volatile” due to differences between African Americans who are immigrants and those whose descendants were enslaved.

In a March 10 email Todd Slatin, LFUCG’s Director of Purchasing, called the inclusion of non-citizens in the definition of minority businesses “potentially volatile”.

Historical echoes

Historically, colonial regimes have strategically pitted marginalized communities against each other to maintain power, as highlighted by scholars such as Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Howard Zinn.

Frantz Fanon, the Martiniquan born psychiatrist, committed Algerian revolutionary and Pan-African thinker. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Colorized by The Lexington Times.)

Frantz Fanon, in his seminal work, “The Wretched of the Earth,” critiqued the colonial tactic of exploiting tribal and ethnic differences to solidify colonial rule. Fanon’s analysis reveals how powerful entities use internal divisions as a mechanism of control.

Angela Davis, in “Women, Race, & Class,” eloquently elaborates on how women of color were often sidelined and marginalized groups were set against each other during the feminist movement. Davis’ work illustrates how dominant groups exploit divisions among marginalized communities to maintain a status quo that favors them.

W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Black Reconstruction in America” speaks to how the American capitalist system and white supremacy manipulated black and white labor to prevent unification against shared oppression. Du Bois’s concept of the “psychological wage” of whiteness served as a division tool.

And Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” chronicles how the elite have used racial hostility and other divide-and-conquer strategies to maintain power throughout American history.

Tracing the Fault Lines: How Lexington’s past practices weigh on present demands

A newspaper clipping from the Lexington Herald-Leader dated June 24, 2020.

Amid the current impasse in addressing Lex Have Pride’s demands, it’s prudent to cast a glance backward. A 2020 article by Beth Musgrave in the Lexington Herald Leader titled “Why most of Lexington’s ‘minority business’ contracts go to white-owned businesses” unveils a systemic disparity in the allocation of contracts to minority businesses. According to the article, in 2020, a commendable 20 percent of Lexington city contracts were awarded to minority businesses, doubling the city’s stated goal of 10 percent. However, there was an unsettling revelation that over half of the sum awarded to minority-owned businesses was actually funneled to white-owned companies.

This was due to the inclusion of women-owned and veteran-owned businesses in the city’s minority business enterprise program, city officials explained at the time. However, the critical finding was that less than 1 percent went to black-owned businesses, and Hispanic-owned businesses received a meager 0.49 percent. Native American-owned businesses received 1.7 percent, and Asian American-owned businesses received the second-highest at 2.1 percent.

This historical data throws into sharp relief the city’s ongoing reluctance to address Lex Have Pride’s petition. In their petition, Lex Have Pride not only advocated for the inclusion of LGBTQ-run businesses but also non-citizen-owned businesses in the minority business criteria, which could address some of the disparities revealed in the 2020 article. It suggests a pattern of not fully supporting or recognizing the varied and multifaceted nature of minority communities in Lexington. It also underscores the imperative for the city to reevaluate its policies and foster a more inclusive and equitable environment for all marginalized groups.

As Todd Slatin’s email raises concerns of potential division among marginalized communities, the historical context further exemplifies the necessity for solidarity and the need to ensure that the city’s policies genuinely reflect the diversity and interests of its population.

The sound of silence

The echoing silence from Lexington Fayette Urban County Government raises eyebrows. While the cautionary note in Slatin’s email could well be seen as pragmatic foresight, the lack of action that followed rings alarm bells. Notably, the last email produced in the open records request was sent on April 4, from the Mayor’s office to the purchasing department inquiring about the status of their research on Lex Have Pride’s demand. The email received no response, and LFUCG did not produce any subsequently dated emails, which indicates that no further written discussion has occurred since.

The Lexington Times also requested emails sent and received by council members pertaining to Lex Have Pride demands. Despite multiple council members being copied on Lex Have Pride related emails to and from the Mayor’s office, council staff did not respond to the open records request within the legal timeframe, nor did they produce any responsive records. The Lexington Times plans to appeal their decision to the Kentucky Attorney General.

Is the city inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, employing a divide-and-rule tactic, reminiscent of colonial regimes, as an excuse for inaction? By highlighting potential internal conflicts within marginalized communities, is the city evading the responsibility to address legitimate demands?

The residents and advocacy groups in Lexington deserve transparency and action. The historical manipulation of divisions among marginalized groups for the benefit of those in power is well-documented. It’s essential to remain vigilant to ensure that such tactics, whether intentional or not, do not stifle progress toward a more inclusive and equitable society.

Lex Have Pride’s demands merit prompt attention and a commitment to constructive dialogue and action. The specter of the past must not haunt the corridors of the present.

The Lexington Times reached out to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.