News & Media

A Flexible Force for Change: The Audre Lorde Project

Nov 23, 2011 | Category: Feature

Nov 23, 2011—General support and multi-year funding from Astraea strategically allows grantees to respond to immediate needs as well as plan for the long term. Programs supported by Astraea are deeply rooted in, and developed by LGBTI communities of color and work to build safe neighborhoods, support community wellness, and organize trans and gender-non-conforming people (TGNC) to advocate for politics affecting their lives. Like Astraea, programs at the Audre Lorde Project (ALP) utilize a holistic approach to fighting injustice. They engage stakeholders, provide education on issues, and create networks across communities.

Like so many initiatives at ALP, Safe Outside the System (SOS) grew out of a community need—to curb hate violence in low income, predominantly people of color neighborhoods without relying on the police. SOS set out to create and train a network of businesses that would act as safe spaces and intervene in hate violence. Last year, the 3rd Annual Safe Neighborhood Summit drew 150 people. Chelsea Johnson-Long, who coordinates SOS, went to recruit a business owner struggling to stay open as the neighborhood gentrified: “He was about to refuse, but when I started talking about cases that we’d worked on, it became a conversation about the landscape of the neighborhood and how it had changed. He is a straight black man but also had a really strong understanding of gentrification and how it’s affected local LGBTSTGNC people of color. SOS is about taking knowledge that people already have and turning the stories into responses.”

In 2004 ALP formed TransJustice to respond to TGNC members who were experiencing police harassment, job and housing discrimination, and difficulty accessing welfare resources. Mya Laylani Vazquez, who joined ALP as a member and now coordinates the program, explains,“In TransJustice, we offer guidance to get through whatever issue they’re facing, while also engaging them in organizing.” TransJustice is still one of the only organizing projects by and for TGNC people of color. Its annual Trans March has grown exponentially. In coalition with the Astraea grantee partner Sylvia Rivera Law Project, TransJustice drafted curriculum and conducts TGNC cultural competency trainings for the agency that administers New York’s welfare system.

ALP also needed to find a way to support members in crisis without stopping the flow of campaigns. Whether a lesbian member experienced hate violence outside a club in Brooklyn or a trans woman lost her income after a discriminatory firing, 3rd Space Support was created to respond to needs as they arise. It makes legal counsel, therapy and health resources available to ALP members by recruiting professionals to provide pro-bono services. It holds interpreter trainings for LGBTSTGNC immigrants of color so they can secure translation work. It creates spaces that aren’t available anywhere else.3rd Space Support coordinator Becca Wisotsky said, “When we were developing the program, we held a focus group for queer immigrants of color. When it was over, they stayed for a while and talked.They said, ‘This was the first space where I didn’t have to worry about immigration status, gender identity or sexual orientation, and now I have a lead on a place to look for work.’ It’s powerful.”

Most import to the success of ALP’s programs is the fundamental way that they are linked together, both in the complex experiences and identities of members and in the sharing of strategies and information across issues. “It helps people be better organizers,” explains Co-Director Collette Carter. “For instance, in the TransJustice community school, immigrant rights are covered. In SOS, there are trainings about transphobia. At ALP, you can bring your whole self to the table in the multiple ways your identity can manifest.”

Co-Director Kris Hayashi emphasizes that ALP would not be the organization it is today without Astraea’s support, especially with recent cuts to state budgets. “Astraea has allowed ALP to grow, have vision, and be authentic about meeting our communities’ needs in ways that just haven’t been supported by other funding,” Kris said. Because of this flexibility, “ALP’s work never gets stagnant,” said Chelsea. “Things often start as experiments—you try it out and see how it works—and there’s always room for change and movement.”