Member Mondays: Beth Applegate

Tell us who you are and what you do:

I was born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana. I'm known as an insightful, forthright and intrepid person who holds a deep concern about racial equity and social justice. For a decade starting in the late 80's, I served as a grassroots organizer, the Indiana state Executive Director, and ended my professional organizing career as the National Field Director for Pro-Choice America, known at the time as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). In 1997, I founded Applegate Consulting Group (ACG), an organization development (OD) practice which assists national and international non profits and networks of nonprofits with developing human and organizational/network capacity and sustainability, and building a more just and equitable society. As a seasoned consultant, former national nonprofit executive and Board Chair, I have three decades of experience in applied behavioral science, organizational capacity building, governance, strategic leadership development, and legislative and electoral organizing. My OD practice specializes in organizational equity and racial justice initiatives, leadership development, strategic planning, transition management, executive coaching, and process facilitation of national networks. I hold a master’s degree in organization development (OD) from American University/National Training Laboratory (AU/NTL) in Washington, DC. I've served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, Indiana University, American University, and Trinity College. I'm a member of the NTL Institute, serve as on the national implict bias campaign group for the Within Our Lifetime Network (WOL), was appointed by two mayors to the Human Rights Commission in Bloomington Indiana, served as the national Board Co-Chair of the Gay, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and currently serve as a local co-chair of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national organization that works as part of a multi-racial movement is to undermine white support for white supremacy and to help build a racially just society. In addition to my civic engagement and OD practice, I'm an active contributor to the field of applied behavioral science and co-author of Embracing Cultural Competency in the Nonprofit Sector: A Capacity Builder’s Guide, and have published numerous articles and chapters for academic journals.

What is your involvement with NOW, and why did you get involved?

My initial involvement with NOW began in the 80s in Indiana, when I was the statewide Executive Director of the NARAL affiliate. NOW and NARAL were part of a statewide progressive coalition that worked together to defend women's reproductive health and rights. Recently, I was asked to join the Advisory Board of the Monroe County NOW Chapter, and I said yes, to continue my commitment to defend and expand Hoosier women's reproductive health and rights.

How do you define “feminism”?


Feminism is a broad collection of movements that recognizes that women are oppressed, which means they are granted less power, social capital, material goods, and/or freedom than men. The goal of feminism is to move toward gender equality and/or justice for people of all genders. To this end, feminism investigates and challenges the forces that cause injustice or inequality; and feminism is a response to this oppression that aims to provide women with liberation or equality. There are many types of feminism, and each type in itself is a broad movement (liberal feminism, radical feminism, difference and equality feminism, black feminism, white feminism, womanism, intersectional feminism). There are often big differences between feminists even when they consider themselves the same ‘type’ of feminist. While I'm white, I most identify with intersectional feminism. The term “intersectionality” was coined by Critical Race Theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It is a feminist sociological theory that centers around analyzing and discussing how oppression often intersects, creating unique and varied experiences of discrimination. It includes the analysis of discrimination faced by anyone who identifies with the multiple social, biological, and cultural groups that are not favored in a patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist society.

For me, intersectionality is important to feminism because without attending to intersectionality, two things tend to happen:

  1. Problems which are unique to specific subsets of women or non-binary people go unaddressed. The issues of lower-class lesbians, or the issues of non-binary people of color, for instance, aren’t discussed in mainstream feminism.
  2. Problems which occur for most/many women are only solved for otherwise-unoppressed women. For instance, when “women” in the US got the vote, what that actually meant was that white, upper-class women got the vote. It was decades before Black and Native American women got the vote. Thus, as a white, lesbian woman to ensure justice and equality in the feminist movement, it is very important to me to be mindful of intersectional issues.

Of NOW’s six priority issues, where are you most channeling your energy?

I'm channeling my volunteer energy locally on racial justice. White people have been told time and again by our friends of color that a critical piece of the work is to engage white communities to create change. Fundamentally, white people need a place where we can be brave, curious, and unedited so that we can discover the ignorance and innocence of our racial conditioning and racial character as a collective. While Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is open to all community members, we focus on providing space that encourages white community members to get together and investigate and cultivate racial literacy. We want to understand deeply what is difficult to acknowledge; feel, and attend to within us and among us. The local SURJ Chapter supports creating the space to do this work. While Bloomington is more progressive in the context of Indiana, our whiteness remains entrenched. There are ample current examples in Bloomington when whites and people of color attempt to dialogue across race as good individuals before we have understood our racial identities as a collective, where much harm was done. There are ways white people need to understand our habits in brave spaces so that we’re not trying to solve racial issues before we understand what we’re rooted in. This is particularly important for white people because the conditioning has been so individualistic. It’s useful to come together to understand this thing called “whiteness” that other races tend to know a lot about, to investigate what that means, what that means to you, how it feels in the body, what it means to you as a collective of like-minds and like-races. White people need to see race and understand themselves as racial being with roots and a collective history of power and privilege. Through SURJ facilitated discussions, training and action taking, white people can discover together their group identity and discern its privileges and impact without the aid of and dependence on people of color. Together, whites cultivate racial solidarity and compassion for themselves and support each other in sitting with the discomfort, confusion and numbness that often accompanies racial awakening. While it is a delusion to believe that our hearts won’t be broken again and again in this awakening practice, and that we won’t find ourselves often in the throes of fear, righteousness, and ill will; we can acknowledge these contractions, forgive ourselves, and, when centered, apologize and forgive others. Resisting forgiveness causes much injury and strengthens conceit. The work of white people requires both/and thinking instead of either/or thinking. It requires understanding the wisdom in Justice and Mercy; Humility and Confidence; Taking Care of Self and Taking Care of Other; and Bravery and Empathy. SURJ seeks to create an alternative to the dominant white culture through building a community of white anti-racist people who represent a sub-culture of whiteness; and 2) to offer a form of white identity that is explicitly anti-racist and allows white people to acknowledge and embrace our histories and cultures. It is in the interest of facilitating change in white people, both those conscious and unconscious of racism, that SURJ organizes across the country. SURJ continues to raise white awareness in Bloomington and different parts of the country to actively struggle against racism through community organizing and social justice campaigns and to help articulate and define an identity and process for white people to be effective allies in the struggle for racial justice.

When you aren’t working towards social change, what do you do for fun in your life?

Travel, garden, make art, dance, yoga, and engage in life-long learning and ongoing personal development.