Multiple identities, multiple barriers
The Brooklyn-based Audre Lorde Project organizes LGBTQ people of color to stop various forms of harassment and discriminationand to promote health, wellness and community. Executive Director Kris Hayashi relates the reasons.
Tell me about yourself. How did you become an activist and a writer?
I've been active in movements for social justice for over 15 years. I am from the West Coast, grew up in Seattle and spent a number of years in California. In California I was active on a range of social and economic justice issues, particularly environmental justice, as I was part of a statewide community organizing group led and run by young people of color that focused on social and environmental justice grassroots organizing. I moved to New York City over six years ago to work at the Audre Lorde Project (ALP). While I had been active in different movements for some time as a Trans Person of Color, ALP was an ideal and incredible opportunity to be a part of building an organization that was about organizing for justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming (LGBTSTGNC) people of color.
For several years, you've been involved with the Audre Lorde Project (ALP), a New York City-based LGBTQ people of color community organizing center. What role does ALP play in the city and nationally?
ALP is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color community organizing center in New York City. ALP seeks to build the collective power of LGBTSTGNC People of Color to address health and justice issues through community organizing, leadership development, mobilization, education and capacity-building. Our work sits firmly at the intersection of multiple oppressions based on race, class, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status and able-ism. While ALP is a local organization, as one of the only LGBTSTGNC people of color-led community organizing groups, we also engage in both national and regional movement building work as we see ourselves as part of a broader, national and global movement for justice. We seek to promote the visibility and inclusion of our communities within these larger movements.
What are some of ALP's current projects?
Currently, the Safe Outside the System Collective, ALP's anti-violence organizing program area, is leading a Safe Neighborhood Campaign. This campaign seeks to prevent and end violence and harassment against LGBTSTGNC people of color in Central Brooklyn using strategies that call on the community to take responsibility for ending violence. Strategies include establishing "safe spaces," businesses, schools, community groups and agencies that agree to prevent and intervene when violence and harassment occurs.
We currently have a campaign led by TransJustice, ALP's Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color organizing project, that seeks to end the discrimination and harassment that Trans and Gender Non Conforming people face when seeking to access welfare/public assistance. Through this campaign we have been working with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ) and Housing Works to get the NYC Human Resources Administration to pass a new procedure to prevent harassment and discrimination.
We have an Immigrant Rights project that organizes for the rights of all immigrants and seeks to ensure that the voices and needs of LGBTSTGNC immigrants of color are integrated into broader immigrant rights movements.
Last, we have a Resource Center that seeks to provide holistic health, wellness, community building and cultural activities for our communities. For example, last year we held a "Burn Out Retreat" to provide LGBTSTGNC people of color organizers and activities with tools to support wellness and sustainability. We also coordinate and support the People of Color Leaders Roundtable, which is a network of nearly 40 LGBTSTGNC people of color groups in NYC.
This tookit is exploring how funders can better promote racial equity in this country. Through your work at ALP or through other experiences, how have you seen racial, economic and gender inequities affect LGBTQ communities?
All oppressed communities within the U.S., particularly immigrant, poor and communities of color struggle to survive and resist a growing system based on war, globalization and colonization. Specifically for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming (LGBTSTGNC) communities of color, it is clear that our communities are particularly targeted and struggling to exist and to survive on a daily basis.
In New York City, LGBTSTGNC immigrants of color face increasingly restrictive and oppressive immigration policies that create a climate of extreme fear and vulnerability.
LGBTSTGNC youth of color face high rates of unemployment and homelessness: 40-60 percent of the homeless youth population in NYC is LGBT.
Trans and Gender Non Conforming (TGNC) POC face unemployment rates of 60-80 percent and face discrimination and harassment when seeking to access public assistance.
Furthermore, LGBTSTGNC people of color overall face racial and gender profiling by police and state agencies; increased policing in our neighborhoods; daily homophobic and transphobic violence and harassment in our communities, ranging from verbal harassment to murder and sexual assault; violence, harassment and discrimination from state agencies, employers, schools and community organizations; and homophobic, racist, and transphobic media coverage.
Yet, LGBTSTGNC people of color continue to face underrepresentation and a clear lack of visibility across multiple movements including LGBT, racial justice, gender justice, immigrant rights and even within progressive, grassroots organizing movements. Furthermore, our communities our highly under-resourced, receiving little foundation funding and support.
What are some of the daily challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people of color?
Due to systemic oppression based on race, gender/gender identity and class, transgender and gender non conforming (TGNC) people of color are one of the most disenfranchised populations in NYC, facing some of the greatest barriers to survival.
TGNC individuals are people who fall under a multitude of identities outside of conventional gender norms in society and challenge the belief in a two gender system. The belief in a two gender system is enforced in nearly every aspect of our society, from bathrooms to men's/women's sections in clothing departments to hospital wards. It is common and accepted to believe that we live in a society in which only two genders exist. As a result it is common and often acceptable to ridicule, make invisible, harass, discriminate and even murder communities that challenge this norm. Thus, TGNC people of color face rampant discrimination when seeking to access housing, education, health care, social services and public assistance. And it has only been six years since New York City added gender identity/expression to its human rights law.
The majority of TGNC people of color lives in poverty and faces incredibly high rates of underemployment estimated at 60-75 percent. When seeking to access public assistance (welfare) TGNC people of color face discrimination and harassment and even denial of services. Further, TGNC people of color face high rates of homelessnessyet shelters are often spaces of violence, harassment and discrimination for TGNC individuals.
TGNC people of color also have high rates of various health conditionsas one example, HIV/AIDS is estimated at 14-68 percent.
Finally, TGNC people of color face daily harassment and violence from the public and the police, ranging from verbal harassment to sexual and physical violence to murder.
While TGNC communities of color face great discrimination in society today, there are few organizations seeking to address these issues. Community organizing groups rarely address the needs of TGNC people of color and LGBT groups rarely prioritize TGNC people of color. While strong service programs exist and a few advocacy projects (though all are under-resourced) there is an overall lack of programs focused on organizing and/or leadership development.
One issue that has recently captured the interest of a few major foundations relates to "leadership development" among LGBTQ people of color leaders in a movement where most LGBT state and national nonprofits are not led by people of color. How should funders address "leadership" questions among LGBTQ people of color and others? How should these LGBTQ groups address racial justice?
I think that this is really about two issues. First, the reason that (non people of color) LGBT state and national nonprofits are not led by people of color is due to the racism, classism, transphobia, ageism, sexism, ableism and xenophobia that persists in many organizations and across the national (non-people of color) LGBT movement. This also means that the issues these groups address often also do not prioritize the needs of our communities.
This creates a real barrier to people of color participating in these organizations. I think there is a belief that LGBTSTGNC people of color leaders do not exist or lack the necessary skills to serve in leadership roles. This is not true and highly racist. It's often a way for groups to avoid doing the necessary work to address oppression within their organizations. LGBT groups who wish to address racial justice should start by making that commitment in a real way; this means committing to internal political education and training, particularly anti-white supremacy training; committing to making changes to the culture and structure of the organization; and committing to actually advancing work that is led by, and meets the needs of, our communities.
That said, there is of course a need to support the leadership development of LGBTSTGNC people of color. However, I think that many organizations led by and for our communities have been successfully running leadership development programs and activities for years, with little resources. Instead of funding new projects, I believe it's critical to support existing work. It does not make sense to fund new projects, which will be starting from scratch, when the experience and knowledge already exists.
What are some successesin our society, in our political movements, in the mediathat you'd like to see in your lifetime?
So this is a big question, I would like to see a world where we all have what we need to survive and thrive and differences are celebrated. Where U.S. imperialism, oppression and injustice have ended. It's pretty unlikely that this will happen in my lifetime, but I would at least like to see us making some steps in this directionand building a stronger and broader movement for justice in the U.S. that's part of a global movement for justice.
Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who's interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?
Groups led by and for LGBTSTGNC communities of color exist all across the country, many of which have existed for years, and in some cases, decades. I think it's critical that foundations start by funding existing LGBTSTGNC people of color groups, groups by and for our communities.
I've often heard of funders who have initiatives to fund LGBTSTGNC people of color; however they are funding a large national group (either non people of color or non LGBT) to start an LGBT people of color initiative. This is highly problematic, as there are so many groups led by and for LGBTSTGNC people of color that have been meeting the needs of our communities for years yet remain unsupported. I think that it's critical for funders to find out who the groups are in your region or focus area that are already doing the work.
I think that funding our communities often calls for flexibility as groups have had to meet the needs of our communities for so long without funding. Groups tend to be volunteer-led or with one staff person and a small budget and may or may not have its own 501c3so it's important to think about ways that strict funding criteria (budget size, 501c3 status, etc.) might be barriers to our communities accessing funding.
Last, while there are a handful of national LGBTSTGNC people of color groups (that are also under-resourced and in need of support) most of the groups are locally based. I know that many funders have been focused on funding national work; this alone bars all but a handful of LGBTSTGNC people of color groups from accessing funding. Due to the depth of oppression and lack of resources facing our communities, much of our work is by nature locally-based. As a result, the funding focus on national work has been a serious barrier to our communities accessing resources.
Kris Hayashi, Executive Director, Audre Lorde Project (New York, NY)
Kris Hayashi has been the Executive Director for the Audre Lorde Project, based in Brooklyn, NY, for over six years. For seven years he was part of a community organizing organization in California, led by young people of color organizing for justice. He served as Executive Director managing two offices and a budget of over half a million. Kris has been active in various social justice organizing campaigns.
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