Creating Change: Reflections of an AmeriCorps VISTA
By Annie Berman, AmeriCorps VISTA, Communications
Until all of us are free, none of us are. Our liberation is linked to each other’s.
This month, I was able to attend Creating Change, a conference in Chicago organized by the LGBTQ task force and attended by 4,000 social justice-minded people. I spent five days attending workshops and panels addressing the state of the LGBTQ movement and solutions for liberation beyond marriage equality. Approaching the conference with HOLA in mind, I asked myself how, as an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Heart of Los Angeles for one year, could I help encourage this already inclusive space to grow even more welcoming and safe for LGBTQ HOLA youth.
The first workshop centered around the connection between being LGBTQ and being financially secure. When many people think about “Gay Rights,” they don’t think about poverty and violence, and the ways race, class and gender intersect with LGBTQ identity. This is because economic and racial justice are issues that doesn’t get enough attention within the mainstream LGBTQ community. In the last decade, many leaders and activists have mobilized around issues such as legalizing same-sex marriage and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Meanwhile, over 40% of homeless youth identity as LGBTQ, only 30% of shelters in the U.S. admit trans women, and the average life expectancy for trans women of color is 35.
“Let’s engage our community in conversation to make invisible and targeted bodies more visible. Let’s stop seeing poverty as a source of shame, and let’s engage in transformative politics by valuing human life more than we value profit,” one of the panelists proposed. The more we speak out about issues facing the least privileged members of our community, she argued, the more united, inclusive, and better equipped to address injustices we will be.
There is also a connection between being trans and being undocumented — both statuses affect a person’s ability to find work within the formal economy. As activists within the immigrant rights community have been putting it lately, “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.” Just as rigid gender binaries define who people are and how they are treated every day, against their will, nationalistic lines drawn by the state deny immigrants their safety and their human rights. Another parallel between LGBTQ folks and undocumented folks is that “coming out” as gay or trans has been an effective way of shifting outsider perceptions of LGBTQ people, just as “coming out” as undocumented has been a politically brave and effective way of creating social change.
On a whole, my main take away from the conference was that until all of us are free, none of us are. Sometimes, politicians don’t like when activists or lobbyists bring up too many identities at once. When protection laws or policies are written for merely one specific community within the U.S., i.e., queer, disabled people of color, it is often labeled “too controversial.” This is something to resist: isolation and division puts political progress at risk. Our liberation is linked to each other’s.
Throughout the weekend, I kept thinking about how LGBTQ HOLA youth are the very people most needing our protection. At HOLA, we give children and youth an opportunity to get the best education and support possible. This is crucial to their future success, but I think it’s also important for us to remember that the safety and success of our LGBTQ students require special attention, intentional conversations, and radical inclusivity. HOLA is already a loving and safe space. But let’s keep talking about identities, laws and the struggles LGBTQ people face — especially as this identity intersects with class and race — to make sure our youth know that they can trust their teachers and mentors to fight for them and accept them for who they are.
View panels from the conference here.
Download inclusive bathroom signs here.