Meet our grantee partner, BreakOUT

BreakOUT members and staff share more about the organization’s work in New Orleans and about what it’s meant to receive support from Astraea.

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.

Learn more about BreakOUT.

Join us to support organizations like BreakOUT who are leading transformative movements for social change in their communities in the U.S. and around the world!


Video transcript:

[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.

Resistance, resilience, and remembrance…

This week is a chance to witness the work that trans* activists are doing across the country.

You really gotta fight to hold onto who you are.
– Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Former executive director, TGI Justice Project


November 20, 2015 marks the seventeenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day initially created to memorialize Rita Hester, an American trans* woman of color who was slain in her apartment in 1998. Since then, communities have gathered on November 20th for vigils to mourn, honor, and celebrate those lost to anti-trans* violence across the world.

Sadly, Rita’s fate has become an all too common reality. According to a TVT Project report, nearly 271 trans* individuals have been murdered in the past year alone, at least 29 of whom were based in the United States.

However, resiliency is often borne from such tragedy. 2015 has been a year of definitive strides for trans* and gender non-conforming communities across the world. In the last year and a half, Denmark, Malta, Colombia and Ireland joined Argentina in passing historic gender recognition laws, allowing people to self-determine their legal names and gender markers without rights-violating medical requirements. We are inspired by Astraea grantee partners who are highlighting the resilience and resistance of their communities, from Missouri GSA Network’s #LiftingUpLila campaign to Iranti-Org’s establishment of Africa Trans Visibility Day.

This Transgender Day of Remembrance allows us all an opportunity to celebrate and listen intently to trans* communities. Astraea stands in solidarity with trans* folks and recommits ourselves to supporting struggles for gender, racial and economic justice for all.

Several Astraea grantee partners are hosting Transgender Day of Remembrance events. This week is a chance to witness the work that trans* activists are doing across the country, give a gift to a trans*-led grantee partner in honor of our trans* heroes, or spread the word.

Black Transmen, Inc.
5th Annual Black-OUT Vigil
November 20 | 12 am-12 pm
Dallas and Online
Trans March of Resilience
November 20 | 11 am
Louis Armstrong Park
701 North Rampart Street, New Orleans, LA
Casa Ruby
November 19 | 8:30 pm
American University, MGC Building 2-3
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
El/La Para Trans Latinas
November 20 | 6-8:30 pm
LGBT Community Center
1800 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Grants Made to our U.S. Anti-Criminalization Grantee Partners

We are excited to announce a new set of grants made to 10 innovative organizations across the country through our U.S. Fund, under the thematic focus of Anti-Criminalization and Freedom from Violence.

Streetwise and Safe's Teeshirt on Police Accountability
“Know Your Rights” t-shirt developed by Streetwise and Safe youth.
We awarded $220,000 to 10 groups working on campaigns and policies that increase safety and end multiple forms of violence within LGBTQI communities across a range of issues. These include efforts around interpersonal and hate violence, domestic, family, and intimate-partner violence, as well as institutional violence. Many of the organizations funded under this thematic focus tackle institutional violence, such as policies that criminalize gender expression, sex work, and many other aspects of LGBTQI people’s lives, dignity, and livelihoods. We are deeply encouraged to see the diverse interventions this set of grantee partners is making in anti-criminalization efforts locally and nationally in the areas of immigration, prison abolition, sex work organizing, and homelessness. By bringing together these groups into a cohort, we expect to see fruitful collaborations among them in policy advocacy efforts specifically related to police accountability at the city and state level.

New Orleans, LA

Community United Against Violence – CUAV
San Francisco, CA

El-La Para Translatinas
San Francisco, CA

Freedom Inc.
Madison, WI

Gender Just
Chicago, IL

Gender Justice LA
Los Angeles, CA

Providence Youth Student Movement – PrYSM
Providence, RI

Queers for Economic Justice
New York, NY

Streetwise and Safe
New York, NY

Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project – TGIJP
San Francisco, CA


Invoking the rich cultural tradition of resistance in the South, BreakOUT! builds the power of LGBTQ youth to create a safer and more just New Orleans.

Invoking the rich cultural tradition of resistance in the South, BreakOUT! builds the power of LGBTQ youth to create a safer and more just New Orleans. Youth members produced a film “We Deserve Better” to highlight their experiences with criminalization and their demands to end discriminatory policing practices. As part of their broader “We Deserve Better” campaign, BreakOUT! secured groundbreaking language in the Proposed Consent Decree between the New Orleans Police Department and the Department of Justice that is the most extensive in the country to date and specifically prohibits profiling of LGBTQ people based on gender identity and sexual orientation. BreakOUT! has also maintained correspondence with those inside the notoriously violent Orleans Parish Prison. They recently published a report, We Deserve Better: A Report on Policing in New Orleans By and For Queer and Trans Youth of Color, in order to identify and move forward needed reforms. BreakOUT! continues to fight against laws that profile and criminalize their community members, and to build nationally with allies as part of the Get Yr Rights National Network.

Check out our 2018 International Trans Day of Visibility video featuring an interview with BreakOUT’s former Executive Director, Wes Ware: