LGBTQ youth of color interrogate equality and how we create change

Guest blog by FIERCE

This year, FIERCE attended the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Baltimore, MD. Not newcomers to the conference, FIERCE has maintained a consistent presence for over six years, striving to create space and build capacity for LGBTQ youth-led community organizing.

FIERCE at Creating Change 2012

FIERCE Member Evonna Crudup leading LGBTQ Youth of Color Caucus. Photo credit: Tiph Browne, NerdScarf

In 2009, FIERCE held the first LGBTQ Youth of Color Organizing Summit as part of Creating Change’s then racial and economic justice day-long institutes. This year, we organized a media justice workshop and youth of color caucus to connect with LGBTQ youth from across the country and talk about the issues facing our communities and the solutions we are creating to address these issues.

Since 2000, FIERCE has been organizing LGBTQ youth of color in NYC to lead campaigns against policing, gentrification, and violence that routinely impact our communities. Today, LGBTQ youth of color face targeting and harassment from NYPD policing tactics, such as ‘stop, question, and frisk’ and racial profiling—the same policing strategies and tactics that are exported to train police departments across the country and around the world.

Through our work, we draw direct connection to and solidarity with queer and trans people of color in the U.S. and around the world who are fighting for liberation. We know that the systems that detain, abuse and deport immigrants in the U.S. are the same systems that target and lock up low-income and homeless communities of color in the U.S. We know that Palestinian and Iraqi struggles against occupied and militarized land is directly linked to police states in the U.S. that nurture gentrification and displace low-income and homeless communities.

It is this exact juncture – of acknowledging interconnected oppression across identities and borders – that moved us, as young queer people of color, to use our collective voices to speak up for liberation, and in doing so, question the “LGBT Agenda of Equality” so prevalent at Creating Change. We did so by organizing a People’s Mic at the Task Force’s Friday morning session, “The Obama Administration and the LGBT Community.” Footage of our Mic Check and a full account of it can be found here:

By interrupting the panel, we took a space that was never intended for our voices nor the injustices we wanted to talk about as LGBTQ young people of color. We demanded that our voices be acknowledged, and though there have been individuals who have reached out to us since we organized the People’s Mic, by and large, our action has still only played a small role in the historical retelling of the session by the Task Force. Immediately following the session, there was no mention of the action and though we did receive a brief mention in the conference wrap up blog—“Fierce NYC Mic checked the panel, you can watch it here”— the content and importance of our message has yet to be acknowledged by the organization. Until the writing of this blog, we have remained silenced and erased.

The terms “silenced” and “erased” may seem like strong words to describe the Task Force’s actions, however as young LGBTQ people of color, we can’t help but to ask:

What are the repercussions of WHO is talking, WHO is listening, and thus WHOSE equality is being promoted?

These vital questions make it evident that the notion of silence and erasure as “too strong of a description” for what happened, becomes a soothing excuse for those not only included in, but in control of, setting the “LGBT Equality Agenda.” Indeed, for LGBTQ youth of color, the silence feels really loud.

If we are truly building a movement where we have the opportunity to engage our country’s political leaders and elected officials, we must create space to hold the depth and breadth of a movement that encompasses much more than marriage equality and the right to serve in the military. We must build an agenda that acknowledges the limitations of equality—how equal access to unjust systems that are embedded in racism, classism, ableism and sexism, only grants relief for a few, not liberation for all.

Undeniably, the Task Force has a lot of power to get the ear and presence of the White House and that too as representatives of the LGBT movement. Given this power, how is the Task Force accountable to the broader movement, to the needs and voices of the most oppressed communities? How is the Task Force using their power to elevate folks on the ground doing grassroots LGBTQ organizing from a racial and economic justice lens?

The White House choosing to highlight LGBTQ youth homelessness at their National Conference on Housing and Homelessness in Detroit is an important step forward in bringing awareness to this issue. However, if we are to truly address issues impacting LGBTQ youth, it is crucial that LGBTQ youth have a seat at the table as key leaders and experts who hold the power and knowledge to put forth impactful and sustainable solutions.

Our experience at the panel and at the conference overall, makes us truly question “How does change happen?”  As queer and trans youth of color, we believe we have the power to meaningfully shape and lead an LGBTQ movement for transformation, liberation and revolutionary change. The LGBTQ youth movement is a crucial piece of the broader LGBTQ agenda, and we need more spaces at Creating Change and in our mainstream movement to step up and build our power.  And when we do step up, like we did with the People’s Mic, our voices, viewpoints and issues should not only be acknowledged but also treated and respected as integral leadership in this movement.

While Creating Change helps provide access to space where we can meet other LGBTQ youth and work with other organizations, we know that there is much work to be done to make Creating Change a conference that creates space for meaningful and authentic participation and leadership by LGBTQ youth, especially youth of color. We spoke to several youth at the conference who stated that while Creating Change did a good job of providing space for LGBTQ youth to hang out, have fun and meet each other, there weren’t many workshop spaces centered on youth leadership development, youth experiences or spaces where young people felt like their ideas and contributions were taken seriously.

As the Task Force plans for Creating Change in 2013, we ask that critical changes be made and actions taken to make the conference both accessible to LGBTQ youth and one where LGBTQ youth don’t just try to fit in but play a key role in shaping the conference.

We ask the Task Force:

1) Waive registration fees for low-income LGBTQ youth and provide substantial monetary support for food, housing and travel for LGBTQ youth of color to attend.
2) Create a Youth Organizing Track and/or have 30% of all workshops be by and for youth.
3) Prioritize day-long institutes and workshops on LGBTQ youth organizing from a racial and economic justice lens (i.e. not have Campus Organizing be the dominant or only space to highlight youth organizing)

Similarly, as the conference will take place in Atlanta, we know that the South is an incredibly under-resourced region, powerfully altered by both slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, and home to the most military bases in the country. We stand in solidarity with organizations like S.O.N.G. and Project South that have been organizing LGBTQ Southern people and creating models that grapple with what does it mean to be Queer and Trans in the South.

We ask that the Task Force use their role in the movement to support grassroots work already being done by those of us who are creating models, building leadership, and leading campaigns. We must forge strategic alliances between grassroots and national organizations to shift power and strengthen our movement.

What we say and what we do ultimately comes back to us, so let us own our responsibility, place it in our hands, and carry it with dignity and strength.
– Gloria Anzaldua