BreakOUT invokes the rich cultural tradition of resistance in the U.S. South to build the power of LGBTQ youth to create a safer and more just New Orleans.
In this video, BreakOUT members and staff share more about the organization’s work and about what it’s meant to receive support from Astraea.
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[Youth Organizer/Outreach Coordinator, Ja’ Leah Shavers]: BreakOUT is an organization that focuses on decriminalizing the LGBTQ youth that live in New Orleans and therefore across the nation. And we do that by focusing on leadership development programs that develop and teach LGBTQ youth to both accept all of our identities — we talk about intersectionality, and especially the fact that Black trans lives matter — along with the other lives and the other intersections that we all use to identify.
[Former Co-Director, Wes Ware]: We started in 2011. We had five founding members and one campaign called “We Deserve Better,” and it really started when the Department of Justice came to New Orleans to investigate the police department here.
[Former Co-Director, Shaena Johnson]: A lot was happening then in the city in 2011. We were on the verge of having a consent decree with the Department of Justice. People in the community were tired of police brutality and the negative way that law enforcement was interacting with community members, and so people wanted to do something about it and organized to do something about it.
[Ja’ Leah Shavers]: The community that we serve in BreakOUT consists of all LGBTQ youth–A, I, etc. youth — in New Orleans who don’t fit the mold of cis hetero life, as well as those that are people of color and specifically trans women of color because we realize that those are the… they are at the center of the violence and things that we face as far as the systems that are targeting LGBTQ youth.
[Member, Areli]: At the beginning I was, like one of the transgender [people] in trouble,and so BreakOUT gave me the help I was needing. I don’t feel embarrassed about who I am and I can say to anybody, “Yes, I’m transgender.” And I feel like, “Is anybody gonna love me or accept me, are they gonna accept me for who I am?” And I don’t have to hide who I am just because some people don’t like me or they like me and feel like… If I feel better with myself and about who I am, that’s all I need.
[Wes Ware]: It’s important to fund organizations like BreakOUT and other organizations in the South that are led by queer and trans youth of color. Issues in the South have an impact on the rest of the country. Often times the South is used as a testing ground for harsh policies that are then exported to other parts of the country.
[Shaena Johnson]: Being that Astraea is queer-led… it means a lot because it gives our members an opportunity to see folks in other parts of the country and different walks of life who are dedicated to furthering the work of those on the ground and also having taken an interest in youth, especially transgender youth in the South, it means a lot to members, and it shows them that their voice is being heard and that there is support.
[Ja’ Leah Shavers]: Without BreakOUT and the support of folks like Astraea, we would be losing a lot of opportunities and chances to reach queer and trans youth in New Orleans outside of the work that our members are doing on the ground every day.