J. Bob Alotta on countering the gaslighting of America

“We have a very real opportunity, to create this country, in its own image, for all of us, for the first time.”

Note: this opinion column, written by J. Bob Alotta, originally appeared in the digital pages of The Huffington Post in February 2017

What does it mean to stand in righteous community? During the first month of this new administration, it has meant standing with signs that read “you are welcome here,” marching alongside strangers while calling in unison “show me what democracy looks like,” and together responding, “this is what democracy looks like.” It’s getting and staying woke to the reality that democracy ― and it’s promise of governing by “we, the people,” is a practice. It is a practice taking the form of marching, chanting, voting, litigating, bearing witness, showing up, staying woke, and insisting that representative government be neither passive in its actual representation, nor aggressive in its undermining of the equality it is meant to unrelentingly instill and impart. It is a practice that doesn’t allow us to choose some of our rights, over all of our rights. And it is a practice that will succeed and thrive if it stands steadfast in the radical notion of love.

As a collective, we are resisting, not for spite or hate of this current administration; but instead because we choose to know better, to do better, to be better and love better than the barrage of policies coming down trying to divide us and deny our collective humanity.

The sweeping changes in conduct and content, policy and practice, all with considerable implication for our daily lives, is overwhelming. Each Executive Order, the onslaught of tweets aimed at targets as wide as our entire judiciary, or as oddly specific as Nordstrom, the constant calling out of any media critique as fake – requires us to be ever mindful of this purposeful chaos. The scrutiny required to discern the accuracy of this information, and the voracity with which “common sense” has been gaslighted and become untethered, requires daily vigilance.

And yet not only must we persist, we do. We are. All kinds of people are showing up in record number and taking a public stand on so many issues at once. People are asking how we are going to beat this, to get “our country back,” to win.

First, I don’t think we are going to get our country back. Just like I rebuke making it great again. I do think, we have a very real opportunity, to create this country, in its own image, for all of us, for the first time.  We have an opportunity to move from rhetoric to reality – to heal some of the very real ills that have been plaguing the United States since its inception because of the contradictions upon which it was built.

We are a country that was built on the backs and bloodshed of Native people and enslaved Africans. While our history books continue to erase this reality by minimizing the brutal effects of democracy-built-on-slavery, we know better. Standing in this truth and owning it, means loving truth however horrific, however contradictory.  Denying our national truths have only served to foster perpetual systemic oppression and violence.  We must not only heal as a nation but design a future and governance that needn’t strip any of us of our humanity or equality in order to continually veil us from the truth.  What will make it possible?  It will not be any policy that requires the ugliness of race hatred, an extreme wealth gap, turning corporations into people, or legalizing some of our bodies while criminalizing others.

The only thing that will allow us to make this critical course correction as a nation is: Love.  Love as resistance. Love as actionable honesty. In order for us to succeed, we must be able to stand together in our differences, learn from each other, build trust, and synchronize strategies. Practicing these components of love, is the only way we will ensure the best outcome for this democratic experiment we call America.

We would not march in the streets and at airports or have walkouts from schools if we weren’t stepping out with love and belief in the tenets of democracy. Resistance is an act of love. The willingness to place our bodies in line with our values to stand against oppression by any means necessary—whether taking water cannons to the face to protect all of our right to clean water; or suffering the bruises of batons and tear gas to protect our right to exist black and free, or love who we love, or have autonomy over our own body, or ensure our children can access a free and excellent education regardless of their zip code— we do so to truly enact our greatest participatory democratic possibility.  This love resistance posture is the alignment of our collective hope.

Activist, author and all-around badass Angela Davis once said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept.”  Some of us have had to fight for our rights for quite a long time.  Some of us are just being called to action.  But whatever day you come into your consciousness, it is a good day.

We do not need a more urgent moment than now for an unabashed and radical form of love like the display we saw at the Women’s March or countless protests over the past few weeks all over the globe —this persistent vigilance and unrelenting belief in the formation of a better and more reflective union is how we will continue to resist, organize and stand in our truth. This is our moment to seize; this is our uprising of love.

Save the Date for Astraea’s 40th Gala in NYC!

This is what forty years of lesbian feminist activism looks like!

This is what forty years of lesbian feminist activism looks like! On Monday, November 13, 2017, we will celebrate Astraea’s big 4-0 with an evening of art, cinema, music, food, and righteous community in New York City!

Mark November 13th in your calendars today.

Stay tuned for information on 40th Anniversary tickets sales in the weeks ahead.

PS – Host committee memberships and sponsorships for Astraea’s 40th are available. For more information, contact Astraea’s Director of Development, Barbara Jean Davis, at bdavis@astraeafoundation.org or 646.862.6586.

What Will Be Different: A Conversation on LGBTQ Activism in a Changing America

Join us on April 30, 2017, for a powerful free forum on how LGBTQ activism will respond to an era of sweeping political change, moderated by Astraea Executive Director J. Bob Alotta.

Despite celebrated and hard-won advances in equality, the deeply diverse LGBTQ community has always been targeted by bias and hate. In recent months that antagonism has flared, along with other forms of intolerance.

Now, as people who openly disparage LGBTQ rights fill key posts within the U.S. Government, and an old, anti-Other sentiment gains new legitimacy, what are the challenges and goals of LGBTQ activism today? What is the historical context for this battle, and what guides those at its front lines? How do we organize across communities to build a future where our differences are prized and human justice is available to all, regardless of gender identity or gender preference?

Join us for a conversation with Apphia Kumar, Chair, SALGA-NYC; Bashar Makhay, Founder, Tarab NYC; Cara Page, Executive Director, Audre Lorde Project; and Mustafa Sullivan, Executive Director, Fierce. Moderated by J. Bob Alotta, Executive Director, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.
Pre-talk performance by Angel Nafis, Author, BlackGirl Mansion.
Held at The Park Avenue Christian Church, one of the most progressive communities of faith in New York City.
Presented by the Astraea Foundation, The Park Avenue Christian Church, and The Tate Group.
Curated by Brian Tate.

 

This International Women’s Day, we rise up!

International Women’s Day is a moment to recognize and remember the efforts of our community members, organizers, and cultural workers who’ve fought and continue to fight for our right to not simply exist but thrive in all our beauty, dignity, and autonomy.

Left to right: Berta Cáceres, Marsha P. Johnson, and Audre Lorde

Today, Astraea celebrates the formidable efforts of women around the world who are rising up in incredible numbers to combat the growing tides of misogyny, xenophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and white supremacy. International Women’s Day is a moment to recognize and remember the efforts of our community members, organizers, and cultural workers who’ve fought and continue to fight for our right to not simply exist but thrive in all our beauty, dignity, and autonomy.

We honor all the ways you may be activated today: striking, wearing red in solidarity with A Day Without Women, phoning elected officials, taking to the streets, or supporting your favorite Lesbian Foundation for Justice (!) because must use all available tools to resist and rise up.

iwd

Left to right: Colectiva Mujer y Salud, Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group, and BreakOUT!

Lifting up the visions of lesbian, queer, and trans women, Astraea grantee partners are building the world in which they want to live:

  • Colectiva Mujer y Salud produced the first-ever document to exclusively address the priorities and demands of lesbian, bisexual, and queer women in the Dominican Republic. Titled “The LesBiAgenda,” the text was created through a national process that included rural and small cities.
  • Thanks to the advocacy of Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), the Supreme Court of Georgia found Levan Kochlashvili guilty of the murder of Sabi Beriani, a transgender woman, in December 2016. WISG has been accompanying Sabi’s mother to court since the murder two years ago and has been working to raise visibility of the growing violent backlash against trans women in Georgia.
  • In response to growing anti-trans violence in the United States, BreakOUT! issued a call to action to create sanctuary for young trans women and gender non-conforming people of color in New Orleans. They are also developing new strategies for community safety.

Astraea is proud of our four decade history of gender justice activism that supports the leadership of women, trans folks, youth, and people of color. Our lives depend on activists who are linking LGBTQI and women’s rights movements together, rising up, and resisting violence and discrimination that specifically affects lesbian, queer, and trans women. Today and all year round, we strive to find hard to reach groups in often-isolated areas and resource them to fight for justice in their own local contexts.

This International Women’s Day, we welcome you to join the uprising! Connect with the activists behind our movements through our Facebook feed, view and share our video on what 40 years of queer organizing looks like, or donate to the Uprising of Love Fund to support activists working against increased discrimination in the United States.

Denise Kleis and Mary Beth Salerno

Denise Kleis, a human resources executive, and Mary Beth Salerno, a veteran of corporate philanthropy, met in the early years of the women’s movement and have been together since 1979. Denise and Mary Beth believe strongly in Astraea’s mission and have supported the foundation since the late eighties. “I first heard about Astraea from one of its founders, and at that time, there weren’t many other organizations focusing exclusively on lesbian issues,” Mary Beth explained. “We thought that pooling our modest resources with others through Astraea was a terrific way to support issues that we cared a lot about; and we knew that if people like us didn’t support this work, how could we expect others to support it?”

Like many donors, Denise and Mary Beth place confidence in Astraea’s knowledge of the issues and longstanding relationships with organizations on the ground. Over the years, they felt fortunate to be able to increase their giving. There is so much “excellent work being done by creative, dedicated people who are coming up with innovative ways to help their communities,” said Denise. “We give to Astraea because of its expertise and leadership in the field of social justice grantmaking, which allows us to support global LGBTI social justice in a way that we just couldn’t accomplish on our own.”

Both women believe there are many different ways to be an Astraea supporter, one of which is to spread the word to others who might not be familiar with Astraea’s work. On a few occasions when they have celebrated an important birthday or anniversary, Denise and Mary Beth have suggested that their friends and family support Astraea in lieu of giving gifts. They share the conviction with the people in their lives that giving back to the worldwide community is important, since it is only by working together that we will be able to bring to life the vision of a more just world.

When discussing a vision for the future, this dynamic and dedicated couple echoes each other. They envision a world in which there is significantly more equality for LGBTI communities across the globe, less poverty and more tolerance of difference. Mary Beth and Denise believe in Astraea’s ability to make the necessary inroads, helping to transform their vision into reality.

Michael Seltzer and Ralph Tachuk

Michael Seltzer and Ralph Tachuk—together more than 28 years—have a great understanding of the hard work social justice requires. Michael, a pioneer in nonprofit management and philanthropy, and Ralph, with his own years of experience working with social change organizations, were drawn together because of their shared vision of a world where, as Ralph put it, “social justice is a reality, not just for this group or that group but for everyone.” Their long-term commitment to social justice for all has meant that they have supported Astraea for more than 20 years. Their hope? That they can encourage other gay men to “see our common bonds with lesbians of all colors and understand that our struggles are linked entirely.”

Arlene Bronstein

Arlene Bronstein is a 60-year-old lung-cancer survivor and retired law firm records manager. Somjen Frazer is a 27-year-old research and evaluation consultant for progressive non-profits and half of the comedy duo Mustache Clowns. What do they have in common? Astraea, for one. Both are expressing their strong commitment to LGBTI arts and activism around the globe by making a contribution every month. For decades, Arlene, Somjen and donors like them have been integral parts of Astraea’s success.

“I’m a quiet donor,” Arlene said. Though modest about her impact, Arlene has been a monthly sustainer for nearly three decades. It adds up. Over the years, Arlene has given more than $20,000.

“At first, I liked that Astraea was the only charity devoted to lesbian issues, though that was not openly stated. Of course, it was also the connection to Margot Karle.” Margot and Arlene became immediate and life-long best friends in high school. Later, Margot became a lawyer and provided pro bono legal work for Astraea when it was founded, remaining an ardent supporter. After she passed away, Arlene began making contributions in her memory.

“Now there are other lesbian charities,” Arlene said, “but in my mind, Astraea still is the most diverse regarding the community it deals with. Astraea interprets ‘community’ in the widest possible sense.”

Arlene and donors like her have helped insure the growth and impact of Astraea, from a small regional foundation granting just $6,000 in the first year to an international force for change, distributing $2.2 million last year to LGBTI activists working for human rights worldwide.

Dr. Marjorie Hill

Dr. Marjorie Hill, health professional, public policy advocate, and current CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), can’t remember how she first heard about Astraea. “I also don’t remember the first time I met my cousin,” she explains. “Like family, Astraea has always been there.”

And Dr. Hill has always supported the work. The willingness of Astraea to be out—out about being lesbian and out about working for racial and economic justice—inspires her to support the Foundation. “I am an African American woman, and I’m a lesbian, and I’m very out about both of those things,” she says.

“But it’s not just that Astraea is out about being a lesbian-led organization; it’s a lesbian organization that does important, strategic work,” says Dr. Hill. Astraea funds the arts, and supports organizing in the U.S. and internationally—ultimately facilitating a global movement for the empowerment of LGBTI people. At Astraea’s 2006 Giving and Activism Retreat, she made connections with activists from around the world—from Bosnia, China, Uganda, and the U.S.—all Astraea donors and grantees, many of whom, like Dr. Hill, were meeting and strategizing together for the first time.

Dr. Hill knows intimately the work required to fundraise for women’s and lesbian issues. GMHC has grown from an emergency response to HIV/AIDS for white gay men, to an organization that today has a client base 65% people of color, and is the largest HIV/AIDS service provider for women. Though the focus of the work is HIV/AIDS, the underpinning is social justice—working to provide equal access to health care and quality providers, and to remove all racial, gender and class barriers that impinge on rights and quality of life. In May 2008, Dr. Hill became the first LGBTI person to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The ceremony honored the AIDS Walk, which primarily benefits the work of GMHC.

Dr. Hill remembers a favorite Astraea a T-Shirt. On the front: Lesbians Are Great Leaders, and the back: You Are Following One. As one of our Movement’s most accomplished activists, Dr. Hill is a leader worth following.

Theo Yang Copley

Theo is a member of Resource Generation’s CORE Advisory Committee, which seeks to build community for, and engage young people of color with wealth in, social justice philanthropy. Some of her interests include food justice and food sovereignty, the disability rights and harm reduction movements, and activist-led giving models. Theo is also interested in connections between emotional well-being and the practice of generosity.

“I’m excited about being a member of Astraea because of the amazing group of grantees I help support and the activist-led grantmaking process through which they are selected.

In the U.S., organizations such as Southerners on New Ground and The Audre Lorde Project are precisely the kinds of organizations I am looking to fund––organizations led by people of color with strategies targeting social and economic injustices that particularly affect the queer, people-of-color community.

I also really appreciate Astraea’s international grantmaking because I want to fund LGBTI community and support services internationally and trust Astraea’s knowledge and experience.”

2016 Astraea & FRIDA CSW Party

Join Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund to celebrate the brave and creative activism that shapes our world around the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Come to the Astraea office to meet and connect with Astraea and FRIDA’s grantee partners, allies and communities.

Thursday, March 17, 2016
7:00 pm – 9:30 pm, with a short program at 8 pm.

Please RSVP here!

Location:
Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice
116 East 16th Street, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10003
(near Union Square, 4/5/6 and N/R/Q subway lines)

**Please note that the event time has been changed to 7:00pm – 9:30 pm to encourage folks to support the earlier rally to demand justice for Bertha Caceres from 5-7:30 pm **