Astraea Condemns Violence and Calls for Comprehensive Change

We at Astraea are deeply saddened by the recent LGBTI youth suicides and condemn the current wave of homophobic motivated violence. Amid the outpouring of public support that is desperately needed, we know these events are symptoms of much larger problems that reverberate far beyond these individual tragedies. From the recent bombing of the Pride parade in Serbia, to a U.S. election cycle that is increasingly marred by anti-gay rhetoric, this culture of hate is inexcusable and reprehensible. But, there is a groundswell of people who are working for something different. Youth teetering on the edge need immediate support and we have young leaders speaking out and taking bold actions. Together, youth and adults can make the systemic changes in society and in our institutions that can make suicide and violence unthinkable.

Every day, Astraea grantee partners around the world are working for safe, affirming and even liberating societies for all people.  Youth-led LGBTI organizations from New York to Nigeria are taking real risks to challenge the status quo and push forward for solutions that address all facets of their lives. We want to share with you two examples that we hope will inspire you to speak out and take action as well.

Astraea Grantee Partners have been speaking out:

FIERCE (New York, NY) is dedicated to building power through leadership development, artistic and cultural activism, political education and campaign development for transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, two spirit, queer and questioning (TLGBTSQQ) youth of color in New York City.  Astraea has endorsed FIERCE’s campaign to officially designate October as LGBTQ Youth Empowerment Month in New York City. Sign the petition here.

Excerpt from the FIERCE statement, which can be viewed here.

“These recent incidents highlight serious issues that countless LGBTQ youth face everyday. We know that for every one story heard on the news, there are dozens more that go unreported to police, unnoticed by school officials, and ignored by the media. At the same time over these past few weeks, we’ve also experienced the resiliency and strength of our community as we’ve organized and turned out to vigils and community actions and mourned our losses together. We’ve created and received messages of hope from LGBTQ community members, allies, public officials and even celebrities. Together, we’ve raised the nation’s awareness to issues that impact us, but we must keep pushing–now is the time to take action and demand changes that address the full scope of issues impacting LGBTQ youth. We need solutions that go beyond messages of hope. We need concrete changes that positively impact the daily lives of LGBTQ youth, particularly youth of color whose voices and needs go unheard far too often. We need our government officials to pass policy changes that ensure safes spaces in our schools and jobs, increase funding for LGBTQ youth services and prioritize creating more safe spaces for LGBTQ youth to congregate and organize together in order to take leadership in our efforts for safety and respect.”

Gender JUST (Chicago, IL) is a multiracial and multigenerational youth-led organization working to support all LGBT youth in Chicago.

Excerpt from the Gender JUST statement, which can be viewed here.

“While youth violence is a very serious issue in our schools, the real bullies we face in our schools take the form of systemic violence perpetrated by the school system itself: a sex education that ignores queer youth and a curriculum that denies our history, a militarized school district with cops in our schools, a process of privatization which displaces us, increasing class sizes which undermine our education and safety.  The national calls to end the violence against queer youth completely ignore the most violent nature of our educational experience.  Our greatest concern is that there is a resounding demand for increased violence as a reaction, in the form of Hate Crime penalties which bolster the Prison-Industrial-Complex and Anti-bullying measures which open the door to zero-tolerance polices and reinforce the school-to-prison pipeline.  At Gender JUST, we call for a transformative and restorative response that seeks solutions to the underlying issues, takes into account the circumstances surrounding violence, and works to change the very culture of our schools and communities.  Gender JUST had a momentous victory towards this end in early 2010: through grassroots youth-led organizing, Gender JUST developed a Grievance Procedure based on the principles of Restorative Justice for Chicago Public Schools.


Affinity Turns Ten, Honors Astraea (Windy City Times)

Affinity is a South Side grassroots non-for-profit serving Chicago’s Black lesbian and bisexual women. The group strives to provide visibility, empowerment and leadership for Black lesbians, and meet the community’s needs. It provides economic empowerment workshops, social justice and health justice initiatives, advocacy work and social networking events.

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by Amy Wooten

As Affinity glides through its tenth year, the organization raises the bar.

Affinity is a South Side grassroots non-for-profit serving Chicago’s Black lesbian and bisexual women. The group strives to provide visibility, empowerment and leadership for Black lesbians, and meet the community’s needs. It provides economic empowerment workshops, social justice and health justice initiatives, advocacy work and social networking events. Looking ahead, Affinity board members plan to fine-tune their focus to better serve their community.

The agency even raised the bar for its annual Jazz n’ July event. Held at Park West, 322 W. Armitage, Affinity celebrated its anniversary of serving the Black lesbian and bisexual women’s community. Singer Terisa Griffin and comic Karen Williams entertained July 30, plus there was food, dancing and DJs.

““We are forcing ourselves to take another step forward,”” said board vice president Gaylon Topps Alcarez. ““Even by having it at Park West. It’’s just pushing ourselves a little bit more.””

Affinity is a social service agency that provides a wide range of programs for the Black lesbian and bisexual women community such as outreach, health initiatives, youth and social services, a drumming circle and singles nights. Singles groups serve as a way of decreasing isolation, while drumming circles and open mic nights act as a forum for Black lesbians’ self-expression. Drop-in discussions are available for young women and other groups, and Affinity is part of a coalition of women, healthcare providers and community leaders that address health needs in the community. Affinity is also committed to the advocacy of Black lesbians internationally, nationally and citywide. It takes a stance against violence, hate crimes and war, and promotes creativity and inclusiveness.

Over the course of a year, Affinity serves close to 1,000 constituents—–or women they serve on a consistent basis–—through its programming.

The first meeting was in November of 1994, according to co-founder and board president Chris Smith. Smith joined the steering committee, which started meeting January of 1995. The organization applied for its first grant in October of that year, and was awarded its first grant January 1996. Affinity was born out of discussions among Black gays and lesbians on the South Side about forming a community center to service their needs. “”They felt like the North Side was catered to white, gay males so they wanted to form their own thing,”” said Alcarez, who joined in June of 1997. The group did a needs assessment survey, and as the work progressed, the men “disappeared” from the table. “The mission became to provide a safe space for Black lesbian and bisexual women,” she continued.

“”Virtually nothing that existed here today was there then,”” Smith said.

Much has changed since Affinity was simply discussions held in the homes of the men and women who gave birth to the idea, such as co-founder and returning board member Lisa Marie Pickens. Affinity went from being a collective group of women to a legit non-profit agency. Smith said the group has made all the necessary changes to be a strong, responsible part of the community that people can depend on.

“”We went from a steering committee with this pie-in-the-sky idea to an organization that for its size, has developed really strong allies over the years,”” she said.

One thing that hasn’’t changed, said Pickens, is the need for the organization. ““I believe that the need existed then for an Affinity, and I think the need continues to be there for an organization like Affinity,”” said Pickens, who returned to Affinity after a break to help the organization set its new agenda around advocacy and building community partnerships, Smith said. The group is working on building coalitions within and outside the community to provide information to its constituents and gain access to healthcare issues. Although much of its current work focuses on networking opportunities, the organization wants to continue to increase its exposure and provide ways to combat isolation. Affinity also wants to continue its efforts in strengthening its constituents’ economic situations by providing information, as well as career and education workshops.

As she returns, Pickens said she would like to see the group she helped form be more geared towards advocacy. “I think there is absolutely a need for the voice of Black women to be involved in those types of discussions, so I think there’s always going to be a need for the types of services that Affinity provides,” she said, adding Affinity is “in the very best place” to push forward with its health initiatives and other goals.

Call ( 773 ) 324-0377. Or see .

Astraea Reaches Out to Chicago Lesbians (Windy City Times)

On June 16, Chicago’’s lesbian community welcomed Katherine Acey, executive director of Astraea, the country’’s largest lesbian-focused philanthropic organization.

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Astraea Reaches Out to Chicago Lesbians
by Marie-Jo Proulx

On June 16, 2005, Chicago’’s lesbian community welcomed Katherine Acey, executive director of Astraea, the country’’s largest lesbian-focused philanthropic organization. The house party, held in Kathy Valdiserri’’s North Side home, brought together more than 50 women to meet Acey and listen to her up-beat presentation. Jessica Halem, executive director of the Lesbian Community Cancer Project ( LCCP ) , and also chair of the event, introduced Acey.

Astraea was created by a small group of independent women in 1977 to support an array of organizations advocating for the awareness, protection, and promotion of LGBT and minority women’s rights. Today, under the name Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, it has a staff of 13, a demographically diverse board of directors, and dedicated volunteers all over the U.S. In 2004, through a system of four different panels, Astraea redistributed $1 million of the $2.5 million it raised to grantees in 24 states and 25 countries.

This year, Affinity Community Services, Beyondmedia, LCCP, and the Literary Exchange were Chicago’s local recipients. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) , Disabled Queers In Action ( DQIA ) , Paris Press, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ( GLSEN ) were among the many national organizations who obtained Astraea funding. Notable international grantees include Jamaica’s J-FLAG and Thailand’s Youth AIDS Prevention Project. European, Middle Eastern, and South American groups also benefit from Astraea’s financial support.

In a recent trip to India, Acey met up with the women of CREA, a grantee-partner in Delhi that relies entirely on private donations. “”It’’s an institute that really covers the history, the policies, sexuality across the board. In terms of the work being done there, I think that in some ways, India is ahead of us. Both in theoretical framework and on the ground,”” she said, clearly impressed.

Asked to name a couple of organizations of which she is especially proud, Acey, who has been at the helm of Astraea for the past 18 years, first mentioned the Appalachian Women’’s Alliance. The Virginia-based grassroots coalition is made up of low-income and working women organized in “circles” to counter homophobia, economic injustice, and violence against women. “The fact that all the circles ( young women, African American, lesbian ) exist under one umbrella organization and that they are integrating their work is major, especially for a part of the U.S. where there is a lot of poverty,” Acey pointed out. In last year’’s presidential elections, the Appalachian Women’s Alliance sprang into action and got the highest voter turnout for the region. They received a $5,000 grant to continue its outreach to women in isolated areas.

Another source of Acey’s admiration is Patlatonalli, Mexico’s oldest human-rights group advocating for Guadalajara’’s LGBT community. With the recent publication of “Tengo Una Tia Que No Es Monjita” ( I Have an Aunt Who Is Not a Dear Little Nun ) , an illustrated children’’s book about a young girl who has a lesbian aunt, Patlatonalli is striving to educate Mexicans about LGBT issues and relationships. “”They have worked so hard for so many years within the schools and university system. You can go to the library in Guadalajara and you cannot find anything on lesbians or queer folks. So it’’s a huge success to put out this book,”” Acey said. The $10,000 Astraea grant will help Patlatonalli develop a project called All Families Are Sacred.

Astraea prefers the term “member” to “donor” because of the spirit of involvement it implies. “”We really think of the people who give money as having a stake in the organization and in the groups we are supporting,” Acey explained. “Overall in this country, the average for giving is around 2.5, 2.3 percent of income. Also, we know from reports that are taken every year that the people who give the highest percentage of their income are the poorest. And a lot of that goes to religious institutions,” she added.

Acey sees part of Astraea’s mission as educating the overlapping women communities about philanthropy. According to her, it is only by creating momentum and supporting movement building that significant social change can be affected. In the current conservative climate where government funding for social programs and services is under constant threat, Acey said it was her guess that left-leaning people who can give do try to contribute more. But citing the issue of same-sex marriage, she illustrated the gigantic resources gap between the right and the left. While conservatives raised $205 million to fund their campaign against equal marriage, the LGBT community and its allies only managed $21 million. The numbers served as an eloquent closing argument.

After Acey’s talk, UIC scholar and activist Beth Ritchie along with her partner Cathy Cohen announced a leadership circle challenge, promising to match any additional donation of up to $1,000 made on the night. The initiative proved an attractive incentive as many women took out their checkbook and filled out more donor cards on their way out.

For more information on Astraea, see

Affinity Community Services

Affinity is a social justice organization that works with and on behalf of Black LGBTQ communities, queer youth, and allies.

Affinity is a social justice organization that works with and on behalf of Black LGBTQ communities, queer youth, and allies to identify needs, create safe spaces, develop leaders, and bridge communities through collective analysis and action for social justice, freedom, and human rights. Affinity works in three intersecting areas: access to wellness, community engagement, and leadership development. Their Building Bridges initiative brings the gifts of Black LGBTQ Americans into the immigration reform movement and builds long-term solidarity with other communities of color in Chicago. They aim to increase the knowledge of constituents and allies about public policy, increase participation in advocacy and community organizing, and increase multi-identity collaborations in Chicago.

This organization is supported through the Funding Queerly Giving Circle, which is housed at Astraea.