How I went from performing to organizing

By Trystan Reese, Senior Field Organizer, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

I thought I was called to be a performer.

I’d been performing my whole life, and when I saw injustice in the world I knew that theatre could help do something about it. It was a hard road, though, and I soon learned that making art felt far away from the immediate political shifts I wanted to see. I began to crave work that would get my hands dirtier, help me connect with people 1-on-1, and more directly affect the change I wanted to see.

Trystan Reese leading a session at Creating Change.

Trystan Reese leading a session at Creating Change.

That’s when I met Jonathan and Moof, organizers at the Task Force. They suggested that I apply for the Summer Fellowship Program, where I’d be given the opportunity to work side-by-side with experienced political organizers and add my unique perspective to their campaigns. I thought it would be totally impossible — being an organizer seemed so out of reach, like something you needed a fancy degree to do but I applied and was accepted.

Five years ago I worked on my first campaign, a project that was the precursor to the now-infamous Proposition 8 fight. I worked intense long hours, talked to hundreds of strangers, and learned to stop performing and just tell my story.

Since then, I’ve fought for trans rights in New York City, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Nevada and Maine. I’ve worked on marriage fights in Oregon, California and Maine. I’ve built a leadership development program for trans and genderqueer activists in Los Angeles. I’ve been supported to carry on my own anti-racist personal journey. I was accepted into the prestigious Rockwood Leadership Academy. I’ve trained at the New Organizing Institute’s RootsCamp. I’ve presented at the California Trans Leadership Summit… three times.

At the Task Force, sometimes I call the shots and pave my own way. Sometimes I simply show up and go where I’m most needed. Sometimes a campaign finishes with a huge victory and other times, we face great defeat. But I always know I will be asked to directly stand up for who I am and who my community is, and that I’ll have a lot of fun along the way!

If you’re willing to work hard for what you believe in, travel to small towns and big cities, invest in new leaders and challenge homophobia across the country… apply for the Task Force’s Organizing Fellowship this year!