Celebrating the Growth and Leadership of Global Intersex Movements!

This Intersex Awareness Day, we are so proud to share our 7th grant cycle of Astraea’s Intersex Human Rights Fund (IHRF)! This year, we are celebrating growth and leadership – both of the incredible global intersex movement, and of the Fund and the number of organizations we are able to support—while reflecting on what has been an incredibly challenging year for intersex communities worldwide.

This Intersex Awareness Day, we are so proud to share our 7th grant cycle of Astraea’s Intersex Human Rights Fund (IHRF)! The first of its kind, the Intersex Human Rights Fund supports organizations, projects and campaigns led by intersex activists and organizers working to ensure the human rights, bodily autonomy, physical integrity and self-determination of intersex people worldwide. This year, we are celebrating growth and leadership – both of the incredible global intersex movement, and of the Fund and the number of organizations we are able to support—while reflecting on what has been an incredibly challenging year for intersex communities worldwide.

The Fund’s seventh round of grantmaking totaled $507,000 in grants to 53 groups, including 7 new and 46 renewals in 41 countries. This cycle, for the first time, we are supporting groups in Ecuador, Peru, Philippines, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Bangladesh, as well as our first Roma group in Serbia. With our goal to fund more sustainably, we were able to make our first 2-year-grants to 6 leading organizations in Asia (Campaign for Change in Nepal and the regional network Intersex Asia), Africa (Intersex Persons Society of Kenya and Intersex South Africa) and Latin America (Associação Brasileira de Intersexos in Brazil and Mulabi in Costa Rica).

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to affect intersex communities’ ability to organize, expand national, regional, and global advocacy efforts, as well as to build community with one another. Pandemic related restrictions on movement and gathering have strangled efforts to gather in-person, something that has historically been critical for often isolated and under-resourced grassroots intersex groups. In many cases, the pandemic has forced intersex groups—especially those in the Global South—to shift their work and funding to focus entirely on the humanitarian needs of their community members, particularly given the economic instability that many intersex people already faced as a result of stigma, systemic neglect, violence, harm and discrimination.

Yet, intersex communities are working day in and day out towards ensuring the human rights, and bodily autonomy, and ultimately the dignity and celebration of their people and communities. Here are just a few examples of the incredible, intersectional movement building, advocacy efforts, and campaigns our grantee partners are leading:

  • Roma Women of Vojvodina (Novi Bečej, Serbia) is a non-governmental and non-profit association founded in 2007 to improve the Roma population’s social development and to reduce inequality for Roma people in all aspects of society. The group’s intersex project aims to educate Roma youth about the intersex population, reduce prejudices and stereotypes of Roma youth about intersex persons, and begin the process of stopping the isolation of intersex persons.
  • Bangladesh Intersex Forum (BIF) (Barishal, Bangladesh) is the first organization in Bangladesh led by intersex people. BIF works to create awareness of intersex issues and support intersex people’s livelihood and human rights through capacity building, grassroots organizing, advocacy, research, and strategic litigation. More specifically, the organization empowers intersex people with the resources, support, and information they need to break the cycle of trauma that is a result of “correctional” surgeries. Since its inception in December 2020, the group has collected intersex stories from the grassroots to publish in a popular national newspaper, and has begun working to economically empower intersex people by providing them with financial resources and skills training.
  • Tzk’at (Sacatepéquez, Guatemala) is an indigenous feminist network set up by a Mayan lesbian. They bring the experience of ancestral healing processes and communities—they are healers, midwives, spiritual leaders and more and have both ancestral and Western knowledge of medicine and health practices. The network’s main objective is to contribute an ancestral and feminist approach to the emotional, physical and spiritual recovery of indigenous women and “cuerpos plurales”/intersex people. Tzk’at promotes an indigenous understanding of intersex embodiment and the network is currently building an intersex-led project entitled “Dialogues in Defense of Life, Territory Plural-Intersex Bodies—from Iximulew Guatemala,” which creates space for dialogues on embodiment/corporalities and intersex realities with community partners.

Please join us in celebrating all our incredible 2021 Intersex Human Rights Fund (IHRF) grantee partners building towards more just futures for intersex people, and for us all!

This Intersex Awareness Day, we are excited to have collaborated with intersex activist, illustrator, graphic designer, editor, prop maker, and set dresser Otto Etraud / Toto Duarte to create the vibrant and powerful illustration you see above titled, “Intersex People Deserve Bodily Autonomy.” Currently residing and working in one of the Alimapu hills, Valparaíso, Southern Pacific Hemisphere, Toto has managed-participated in printed art, illustration, and publishing fairs and festivals, as well as exhibited and published their own work across Chile and South America. To learn more about Toto and their work, please visit their website.

Intersex Human Rights Fund Grantee Partners*

*Note: We do not publicize a number of our courageous grantee partners because of security threats they face in their local contexts, so organizations may be missing from this list.

Asociación Peruana de Personas Intersexuales
Peru

Associacao Brasileira de Intersexos (ABRAI)
Brazil

Bangladesh Intersex Forum
Bangladesh

Bilitis
Bulgaria

Brújula Intersexual
Mexico

Campaign for Change
Nepal

Círculo Violeta
Puerto Rico

Colectivo Intertulias
Ecuador

Collectif Intersexes et Allié.e.s-OII France
France

Egalite Intersex Ukraine
Ukraine

Fundacja Interakcja
Poland

Groupe Intersexe Désirs / Inter-Désirs
Democratic Republic of the Congo

iCon UK
United Kingdom

InterAction Suisse
Switzerland

Intersex Advocate Trust Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe

Intersex Turkey
Turkey

Intersex and Faith
United States

Intersex Asia
Taiwan

Intersex Community of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe

Intersex Greece
Greece

Intersex Human Rights Australia
Australia

Intersex Iceland
Iceland

Intersex Peer Support Australia
Australia

Intersex People’s Human Rights – ISIO Finland
Finland

Intersex Persons Society of Kenya
Kenya

Intersex Philippines
Philippines

Intersex Society of Zambia
Zambia

Intersex South Africa
South Africa

Intersex-Nigeria
Nigeria

Intersexesiste
Italy

intersexioni
Italy

IntersexualesChile
Chile

intersexUK
United Kingdom

ITANZ
New Zealand

IVIM OII Germany
Germany

Ivy Foundation
Malawi

Jinsiangu
Kenya

Mulabi
Costa Rica

OII Chinese
Taiwan

OII Europe
Germany

Potencia intersex
Argentina

Rainbow Identity Association
Botswana

Rede Jacob – Apoio a Familia e Pessoa Intersexo
Brazil

Roma Women of Vojvodina
Serbia

SIPD
Uganda

kolekTIRV (ex-Trans Aid)
Croatia

Trans Smart Trust
Zimbabwe

TZK’AT
Guatemala

VIMÖ
Austria

Vivir y Ser Intersex
Mexico

XY Spectrum
Serbia

#QueersMakingHistory and the Collective Power of Our Movements

While LGBT History Month has primarily focused on highlighting exemplary ‘LGBT role models,’ we believe that collective power and organizing, not efforts by individual leaders alone, have brought about the radical transformations our movements have been witnessing in the past few decades.

October is LGBT History Month! Originally conceived in the United States in 1994 (and since adopted by other countries who have selected different months), this month has evolved to become a time dedicated to recognizing pivotal moments in the histories of LGBTQI+ people and movements across the world. Encompassing a number of historically relevant days like International Lesbian Day and Spirit Day, the month of October is positioned to remind both the LGBTQI+ and wider communities of important roles LGBTQI+ people have played in creating and changing the social, cultural, legal, and political realms that we live in today and which so many of us may take for granted. 

While LGBT History Month is meant to celebrate queer people’s accomplishments, it has also become increasingly clear that the commercialization of LGBTQI+ communities’ identities under current systems of capitalism has come to dominate the narrative and conceals some of the critical organizing work, priorities, and visibility of our movements. Much has been written about the development of “Pink Capitalism”, the deliberate incorporation of the LGBTQI+ community and movement into a capitalist market economy. The commodification of social justice efforts along with the rise of the LGBTQI+ “influencer-activist-leader” and political engagement on social media have also begun to create oppressive individualist cultures and elitism within social justice spaces. Yet at the same time, violence against LGBTQI+ communities has also escalated due to the rise of anti-gender ideologies, transphobia, and terfism particularly for those who exist at the intersections of race, class, ability, sexuality, age and gender. Furthermore, the global COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated injustice and inequalities, particularly for oppressed communities. 

At Astraea, we understand that for many communities, there have been incredible individuals who have instilled hope and systemic change for LGBTQI communities within their respective regions as well as globally. While LGBT History Month has primarily focused on highlighting exemplary ‘LGBT role models,’ we believe that collective power and organizing, not efforts by individual leaders alone, have brought about the radical transformations our movements have been witnessing in the past few decades. Appointing specific individuals as leaders of a particular LGBTQI movement, when that movement has actually been nurtured by hundreds or thousands of people who have vastly diverse needs and priorities, takes away from the collective solutions and care work that local organizers are incubating and implementing every day without public recognition.

It is also vital for us to consider how compromised digital security and threats of physical harm and destruction can affect entities who are marginalized within the larger LGBTQI community itself. As a result, many groups need to organize anonymously due to their country or region’s prevailing efforts towards criminalization of non-normative genders and sexualities as well as attacks on civic space. The impact of such grassroots collectives operating largely underground has often gone unrecognized despite their critical contributions to their communities in contrast to groups operating visibly and with greater recognition in relatively safer environments. The contributions of groups who do not get their share of limelight due to security concerns are immense – they often are the first to build intentional communities, create safer spaces, and bring about shifts in culture and behavior. They serve as vital components of a strong movement infrastructure, and funders and advocates need to identify ways to uplift their legacies.

LGBTQI history is tied to so many of our current struggles to upend the deeply entrenched legacies of colonization and genocide that continue to harm our lands and our planet. Since Astraea’s inception in 1977, we have witnessed the ways that individual leadership in a movement can obscure the invisibilized contributions of generations of frontline activists, which can in turn, compromise our collective liberation. As a result, we have always funded and resourced grassroots groups rather than individuals alone. Given this context, as part of our #QueersMakingHistory social media series this October, we have chosen to uplift LGBTQI individuals with limited means from the Global South, all of whom have demonstrated the true power of working together through forming coalitions and alliances. This LGBT History Month, we seek to uplift the emancipatory impact of ‘leader-full’ movements where everyone is considered a leader in their own right and is empowered with the required tools to become effective organizers. And most importantly, we know that when we move collectively, we are truly powerful.

#QueersMakingHistory Highlights:

Jeanne Córdova: Jeanne is a Chicana second-wave feminist lesbian activist and proud butch who has been instrumental in shaping U.S. based gay and lesbian rights movements for many decades. Jeanne has been Astraea’s friend for a number of years. Before she passed away in early 2016, she proclaimed, “It is wonderful to have had a life’s cause: freedom and dignity for lesbians,” and announced that her estate would donate $2 million to Astraea to carry out just that goal.

Hiker Chiu: Hiker is a senior Asian intersex activist who has been a pioneer of the intersex human rights movement in the Asian region. S/he founded OII-Chinese in 2008 which is an intersex human rights advocacy organization and is a platform for Chinese-speaking intersex people to receive information, awareness, connection and peer support. Currently, Hiker serves as a Advisory Board member of the Intersex Human Rights Fund at Astraea.

Kohl Journal: Kohl is a progressive, feminist journal on gender and sexuality focused on the Middle East, South West Asia, and North Africa regions.. This radical journal exists to ensure that MENA regions and communities play a central role in redefining their own intersections and challenges when it comes to feminist and sexuality research.

Lilit Martirosyan: Lilit is an Armenian transgender activist who has been committed to equal rights the LGBTQI+ community. Despite unfavourable conditions, she managed to set up the Right Side Human Rights Defender NGO in January 2016 which has become a safe space for the Armenian trans community and sex workers.

A. Revathi: A. Revathi is a prominent trans woman activist, writer, theatre actor, performance artist and transcestor who championed the rights of sexual and gender minorities in India for many decades.

Tatiana Cordero Velásquez: Tatiana Cordero Velásquez was an Ecuadorian scholar of gender studies and activist who has been part of the feminist collectives that worked to ensure the inclusion and proliferation of women’s and LGBTQ rights in Latin American movements. She has also been a national and international consultant and counselor of women’s funds for more than a decade (Mama Cash, GFW, Astraea, UAF-LA) and of Human Rights Watch for the LGBTI initiative.

Liberty Matthyse: Born and brought up in the rural area of Darling, South Africa, Liberty is a South African non-binary trans woman who has constantly fought against the social, economic and political marginalisation of her communities. Liberty has been the Executive Director of Gender DynamiX since 2018. Based in Cape Town, Gender DynamiX advances access to human rights and social justice for trans and gender-diverse persons through avenues such as health, education and legal advocacy.

Joy’s October 2021 Reflection: On joining Astraea, our feminist history, and our lasting LGBTQI legacy

In the next few months, I hope that I will have the opportunity to hear and learn from you about Astraea, our shared histories and our hopes for the future. My personal history is bound up with Astraea’s and I know that yours is too.

I am thrilled to join Astraea as its new Executive Director! My first few weeks have been a whirlwind, but the best part has been beginning the journey of getting to know Astraea and our community more deeply. I feel like an archaeologist—excavating our treasures, gathering stories, and learning about what makes Astraea tick and what makes us unique. I am also unearthing the complex layers of this iconic 44-year-old institution and gaining a deeper understanding of how our personal and community histories are inextricable from the ideas, struggles and politics of our times.

I first heard about Astraea in 2010 during a chance encounter with an Astraea board member. My girlfriend (now wife) and I sat down to brunch with Eleanor Palacios and learned about a scrappy and courageous foundation created by a cross-class, multi-racial group of lesbian and queer Women of Color activists to resource progressive grassroots feminist organizing around the world that centers LGBTQI people and People of Color. I felt like I could see myself in Astraea’s work, that it acknowledged the contradictions of living with multiple identities, that it saw those of us who are made to feel invisible, and that art, storytelling, and movement building were integral to feeling less alone.

More than a decade later, this work is as critical and as urgent as ever. We are grappling with multiple pandemics and crises that have underscored the vast inequalities and injustices in our world. Our movements are still at the forefront of resistance to political agendas of nationalism, populism, and religious fundamentalisms that use people’s bodies and sexualities as sites of state, religious, and economic control. We are still fighting isolation, contradiction and invisibility, but doing so with different technologies, changing conceptions of the world and evolving senses of possibilities.

As we celebrate LGBTQ History Month and Intersex Awareness Day this October, we uplift the contributions of #QueersMakingHistory. Astraea is one of the world’s first queer women’s funds, conceived and nurtured by founding mothers, all history-makers in their own right. More than four decades later, Astraea is still the scrappy and courageous foundation of which our foremothers dreamed—we are still resourcing global movements organizing for social justice and challenging the status quo; and stepping into our power to advocate for more and better resources for our communities.

Yet, with you, our community, we are constantly growing, learning, and evolving. It is important to interrogate who is missing, what harm was done and what still hurts. Yet, to quote Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “[i]f history is to enlarge our understanding of human experience, it must include stories that dismay as well as inspire.” We must grapple with the thorny issues of our pasts that affect how we are in the present. We must learn from our ancestors to understand how we got here so that we can imagine where we can go.

In the next few months, I hope that I will have the opportunity to hear and learn from you about Astraea, our shared histories and our hopes for the future. My personal history is bound up with Astraea’s and I know that yours is too. Celebrations, challenges, and chance encounters all make up the fabric of our interwoven and intersectional lives, and I can’t wait to learn about yours. I invite you to be part of Astraea’s journey together as we co-create our liberatory futures.

All my best to you and yours,
Joy

Bi Visibility Day 2021: Dreaming beyond the binary

On Bi Visibility Day and everyday, we advocate for the visibility and inclusion of bi people within the LGBTQI+ community, and challenge traditional, binary conceptions of bisexuality.

Started in 1999 by Wendy Curry, Michael Page, and Gigi Raven Wilbur – three U.S. based bisexual activists – Bisexual Visibility Day is celebrated annually on September 23. Originally intended to visibilize the long neglected bisexual community, Bi Visibility Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the biphobia and erasure that bisexual folks tend to experience within both LGBTQI+ and heterosexual communities, and to celebrate the richness of bi communities.

Bisexuality has often been misunderstood! In a binary world that seeks to classify people within fixed categories, people who are attracted to more than one gender have found themselves without a community to call home. Historical definitions of bisexuality have been confined within the binaries of absolute heterosexuality and homosexuality, which has led to the false belief that bisexuality limits sexual and romantic attraction to only those who adhere to cisgender ‘male’ or ‘female’ gender identities. This perception of bisexuality is harmful because it erases so many in the bisexual community whose desire, love, and attraction falls outside rigid gender norms. 

Another misconception of bi people is that the way they express their sexuality is a ‘phase,’ rather than a recognition that their sexuality may be fluid and evolve over time, and that they may have relationships with people of several different genders over their lifetime. As a result, bisexual folks are often judged based on what their relationships outwardly appear to be, rather than who they are as a whole. Such degrading stereotypes have regularly forced bisexual folks to hide their sexuality, or to defend it to their queer counterparts in order to gain legitimacy within larger LGBTQI+ circles. Bisexual folks are often erased and/or alienated from LGBTQI+ communities, and made to feel as if they are not ‘queer enough.’ 

On Bi Visibility Day and everyday, we advocate for the visibility and inclusion of bi people within the LGBTQI+ community, and challenge traditional, binary conceptions of bisexuality. This day is also a self-reflective time for bisexual people to celebrate themselves, their communities, and their freedom to love and express their sexualities without limits. We must reach beyond the gender binary, envisioning a world in which we see desire, attraction, and gender itself as expansive and ever-fluid. Ultimately, this is what Bisexual Visibility Day is really about: ensuring bisexual communities flourish, and forever dreaming beyond the binary.

This Bi Visibility Day, we are honored to have collaborated with artist Ashley Lukashevsky to create the expansive illustration you see above titled ‘Bisexuality is Not a Binary!’ She is an illustrator and visual artist born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. They create art that utilizes illustration and visual art as tools to strengthen social movements for racial justice, immigrant justice, climate justice, mental health and LGBTQIA+ liberation. As Ashley shared on an Instagram post during last year’s Bi Visibility Week,Whether your attraction to more than one gender is sexual or romantic, you are welcome in the bi community. Bi women are valid, bi men are valid, bi non-binary folks are valid, bi GNC cuties are valid— let’s end the gatekeeping of queerness once and for all.” She believes that in order to tear down harmful systems, we need to be able to envision a world without them. At Astraea, we are committed to supporting artists and their work, recognizing that art is an essential tool for social transformation.

Welcoming Joy Chia as Astraea’s New Executive Director!

We are delighted to announce that Joy Chia will join Astraea as our new Executive Director on September 20, 2021! Joy joins Astraea at a time when we are experiencing critical growth, investing in and upgrading our infrastructure to meet the growing needs of the organization and our movements, and strengthening our organizational culture to ensure our feminist, anti-racist, international values are being put into practice across all aspects of Astraea’s work.

We are delighted to announce that Joy Chia will join Astraea as our new Executive Director on September 20, 2021! When we relaunched our search process in February 2021, we sought a fierce feminist, intersectional, and radical leader. Joy embodies all of these qualities and more. She brings to Astraea an uncompromising commitment to advancing gender, racial, economic, and environmental justice and an expansive vision rooted in the politics of global solidarity. We are so proud and excited that she will be stewarding the Astraea team and leading the organization through its next chapter!

Joy joins Astraea at a time when we are experiencing critical growth, investing in and upgrading our infrastructure to meet the growing needs of the organization and our movements, and strengthening our organizational culture to ensure our feminist, anti-racist, international values are being put into practice across all aspects of Astraea’s work. As Astraea enters our 45th year in 2022 – and continues to work towards its mission of fueling local and global movements that shift power to LGBTQI people – Joy will lead the organization through a strategic planning process alongside the entire Astraea team, as well as our brilliant grantee partners, supporters, and allies. 

Joy’s commitment to social justice is rooted in her own life experiences, radical politics, and vision for the collective liberation of our movements. Joy joins Astraea from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), where she has most recently been the Women’s Rights Program’s Team Manager. She led the program’s work on the “Power of the Collective”, which prioritizes strengthening feminist activism, community mobilization and leadership, so that all women and gender non-conforming people have voice, power, and agency in all aspects of economic, social and political life. Previously Joy led OSF’s LGBTQI work in East Asia as a Program Officer, supporting groups working to advance human rights and equality for LGBTQI people across the region.

Getting to know Astraea Executive Director, Joy Chia: A Q&A

  • What excites you about joining Astraea as the next ED, especially at this time?

This is really an opportunity of a lifetime, and I am not quite sure it has really sunk in that I will be joining Astraea as the next Executive Director! I’m so privileged and humbled to be at Astraea’s helm at this moment of the organization’s evolution, and to work together with the Astraea community to chart out the next part of our journey. 

I’m very excited to learn deeply about Astraea as an organization—and the people that make up the community that stands with us. I’m excited for the difficult but productive work of putting our values and principles into practice—in both how we as Astraea work with and fund our community partners, but also how we engage with each other as human beings and advocates. What does it really mean to work at the intersections of gender, sexuality, disability, class, race and other aspects of our complex lives? How can we channel resources in ways that are context-appropriate, efficient, and accountable? 

I look forward to exploring these questions in the fellowship of others who share my values and aspirations, both within Astraea and also with other public and private foundations. I often call myself a donor organizer — I’ll like to see us organizing other funders to increase resources to LGBTQI organizations, to align resources in collaborative ways that reflect feminist values, and to broaden support for organizations in fields that are under-resourced and less visible. 

  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

If I could have any super-power, I would want the power of teleportation. I love being with people where they are comfortable and experiencing the world from where they sit—but I wish that I didn’t have to be on planes for so long to get to places and people I love! 

  • What do you love to do in your ‘downtime’? 

My wife and I have a young energetic daughter who keeps us on our toes—so I rarely feel as if I get downtime! It’s been fun (re)learning how to play. We spend a lot of time reading children’s books (one of our family favorites is “It’s okay to be different” by Todd Parr) and watching kid movies which actually have a lot of lessons for grown-ups. (See, Everything’s not awesome from Lego Movie, the 2nd Part). 

  • Can you share a favorite quote with us by someone who truly inspires you? 

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Shirley Chisholm is unbossed and unbought, and a big inspiration to me in 2021. 

  • What do you believe is the role of LGBTQI feminist philanthropy?

It’s important that your question articulates our work as LGBTQI, feminist, and philanthropic, as I see all of these aspects shaping the possibilities and responsibilities of our work. To me, feminism is about power – who has it, who does not, who is making decisions and about what? As funders, we wield one of most important manifestations of power which, as Kimberle Crenshaw described, is “the power to categorize” and “the power to cause that categorization to have social and material consequences.” This comes with great responsibility – and I believe that global LGBTQI feminist philanthropy has transformative potential, and that this potential must be harnessed towards building and shifting power to advance the ability of all people to exercise their rights and freedoms.  

LGBTQI feminist philanthropy is a central pillar in the kind of infrastructure that is fundamental to support experienced, innovative, and well-resourced organizations, communities, networks, and activists to seize opportunities when they present themselves to create the worlds we want to see. We have a critical and transformational role not only in our global feminist and LGBTQI funding ecosystems, but also in cross-movement coalition-building towards the articulation of alternative feminist futures. 

Astraea is Taking a Breather!

Astraea is taking our annual mid-year organizational pause, and we’ll be recharging our batteries from July 2-9, 2021. This will also be a time for us to examine our own practices as we work to be an anti-racist organization and vision the Astraea we know is possible—one that is truly anti-racist, intersectional, feminist, queer, and international.

Astraea is taking our annual mid-year organizational pause, and we’ll be recharging our batteries from July 2-9, 2021. During this time, Astraea staff will not be working, and we will resume our regular hours on July 12, 2021.

This annual break uplifts our intention to create the spaciousness necessary for staff to meaningfully rest and prioritize our well-being. This is especially critical as we all continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic – which is particularly present for many of our team members and our grantee partners in the Global South and East – as well as the ongoing impacts of anti-Black racism, police brutality, and the delegitimization of trans people’s lives and experiences. 

Collective care, healing, mutual aid, joy, and rest are essential to the liberation of our people and our movements. The pause period is an opportunity for Astraea staff to take a true break and reflect on how we can step more into “being” as opposed to “doing.” This time allows us to step away from our desks and our screens, and prioritize and nourish ourselves and our loved ones for the long road ahead, because we are in it for the long haul, and we want rest, presence and joy to be woven into the fabric of our fight for collective liberation.

The pause is also a time for us to examine our own practices as we work to be an anti-racist organization and vision the Astraea we know is possible—one that is truly anti-racist, intersectional, feminist, queer, and international. As a queer feminist fund, we owe everything to Black, Indigenous, Women of Color, trans, non-binary, intersex, and Global South feminists who built the intersectional vision of liberation that is at the very core of our mission. Ultimately, we hope that this pause will enable us to show up at Astraea, in philanthropy, for our innovative and resilient grantee partners, and in our communities in even more powerful ways.

While we’re out, we encourage you to check out some of the content on our Collective Care Blog and Website, that you may have missed!

Wishing you all rest, rejuvenation, and resilience where possible.

Meet the Newest Astraeans!

We are delighted to introduce you to Astraea’s ten newest staff members! Each of our new staff members brings a burst of fresh energy to Astraea, adds critical capacity, and contributes their well-honed skills and experiences in philanthropy, grassroots movement building, gender justice, and organizational transformation.

Over the last year, we at Astraea have been working to expand our organizational infrastructure to meet our growing needs as an organization and continue to best serve our movements. This has meant everything from reorganizing our systems and structures, to ensuring our practices and policies always put our people and their wellbeing first! As one critical piece of this work, we have been expanding our teams to bring in even more brilliant LBTQI global, feminist expertise, as well as to ensure our staff members have the support, capacity, and spaciousness they need to keep fueling our movements and building their power!

Today, we’re delighted to introduce you to Astraea’s ten newest staff members! This includes our much-awaited new VP of Programs and longtime Astraea comrade, Rebecca Fox, who will officially start in her role on August 1st, and Astraea’s first-ever Director of People and Culture, Raven Maldonado. Each of our new staff members brings a burst of fresh energy to Astraea, adds critical capacity, and contributes their well-honed skills and experiences in philanthropy, grassroots movement building, gender justice, and organizational transformation. In July, we’ll also be sharing the highly anticipated news of who will be stewarding Astraea as our next permanent Executive Director, so stay tuned!

—-

Welcome:

Lariza Romero Fonseca (she/her) who joins our team from Mexico City, Mexico as Program Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Rebecca Fox (she/her), our new VP, Programs based in Brooklyn, NY.

Senda Ben Jebara (she/her), based in Montreal, Canada and who is Astraea’s Program Officer for Europe, Central Asia, and Middle East/Southwest Asia.

Simone Jones (she/her), as an Administrative Assistant based in New York City.

Raven Maldonado (she/her), Astraea’s first-ever Director of People and Culture, and is based in New York City.

Elisabeth McCarren (she/her) who lives on Long Island, NY and joins us as an Administrative Assistant.

Kayla McMillen (she/they) who joins us as an Administrative Assistant in New York City.

Poppy Pruidze (they/them), our Grants Management Associate, based in Brooklyn, NY.

Kevin Romero (he/him), our Development Associate, Operations from Queens, NY.

Patrice Smith Sterling (she/her), Astraea’s new Senior Grants Manager based in the Bronx, NY.

Photo & Biographical details forthcoming

Astraea’s Principles for Pride: Reclaiming our Radical Roots!

Our Pride – true to its roots – is a rebellion and an uprising of actions towards queer and trans liberation. It seeks to transform, rather than to assimilate. Astraea’s vision for Pride is based in all we have learned from our global LGBTQI communities and movements over the past four decades. 

Our Pride – true to its roots – is a rebellion and an uprising of actions towards queer and trans liberation. It seeks to transform, rather than to assimilate. It looks towards Afro-futurism and queer and trans radical traditions that imagine liberation as a future where we all belong. Astraea’s vision for Pride is based in all we have learned from our global LGBTQI communities and movements over the past four decades. 

Our Pride…

1. Honors the visions of our queer ancestors and elders, and has roots in rebellion and uprisings led by Black and Brown LGBTQIA people. 

Led by Black and Latine queer and trans women like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and so many others (who were organizing for queer liberation even prior to Stonewall), we are reminded that Pride began as a riot. Queer historian M.E. O’Brien writes, “The riots were initiated and led by the most marginalized of New York City’s working-class queers: homeless youth, Black and Puerto Rican trans women, sex workers, and visibly gender-nonconforming people. The riots catalyzed the most radical elements of the queer counterculture, previously rather marginal, and an explosive organizing energy spread across the country.” We adamantly believe that Pride must continue to be led by and for the communities who continue to be most impacted by discrimination, violence, gendered oppression, and injustice in all forms. 

2. Is truly intersectional, inspired by the visions of Black, Brown, migrant, Indigenous, sex worker, disability justice, and Global South LBTQI feminist movements.

Rooted in the radical imaginations of trans and intersex people, bisexual and queer women, and non-binary people, pan, and asexual people, our Pride simultaneously lifts up our movements’ accomplishments and wins, and shines a spotlight on the many political, social, and cultural struggles still ongoing around the world. A liberatory Pride recognizes that all our struggles are interconnected and that LGBTQIA people are at the helm of multiple social movements. Therefore, our Pride is necessarily pro-climate, pro-abolition, pro-sex worker, pro-labor justice, pro-Indigenous sovereignty, pro-labor rights, pro-disability justice, pro-internationalism, and pro-Palestine. It is also anti-police, anti-prisons, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist, anti-occupation, anti-imperialist, and anti-white supremacist. 

3. Celebrates Black and trans joy at the center of our fight for queer liberation, and uplifts care and healing justice as critical to our communities’ ability to survive and thrive. 

Our Pride celebrates and centers Black and trans lives. Collective care is the heart of all we do and support. We acknowledge the historical and disproportionate impacts of violence, discrimination, and intergenerational trauma on our communities, and seek reparation for these harms. Healing justice means recognizing the importance of the survival practices which center the collective safety, joy, laughter, celebration, and wellbeing of our communities, and ensuring that our Pride encompasses them. We have learned from our grantee partners how these practices and traditions can be tools for building power, and how they can deepen and sustain the long and hard work of movement-building.

4. Is fiercely abolitionist; it rejects the policing, surveillance, and criminalization of our communities and uplifts care and the wellbeing of our communities.

Following the lead of Black and trans-led abolitionist movements, the political vision of our Pride prioritizes eliminating systems that imprison, criminalize, surveil, and police our people and our bodies. Our Pride demands lasting alternatives, based on our communities’ safety and wellbeing, and prioritizes investing in public housing, employment, education, access to food and healthcare, and community resourcing for our people.

Pride began as a rebellion against the police. Therefore our Pride necessarily excludes the police, law enforcement, and the use of violent surveillance technologies at any actions and uprisings. As Roxane Gay writesFor decades, the police have tormented our communities. They enforced laws about how we dressed, where we congregated and whom we had sex with. They beat us, blackmailed us and put us in jail.” 

5. Condemns the dehumanization of LGBTQI people, the depoliticization of our causes, and the homogenization of our identities and struggles.

Resistance, action, and political urgency to bring justice for all our people is at the forefront of our Pride. Our Pride does not lose sight of the many struggles our people continue to face and resist: an ongoing global pandemic, police brutality and systemic racism, anti-immigrant laws and sentiments, threats to indigenous land and ways of living, the rise of authoritarianism globally, rollbacks of trans rights and access to healthcare, the closing of civil society, climate collapse, and more. Pride has always been political, and we will fight to keep it that way. 

6. Proclaims LGBTQI peoples’ bodily autonomy, self-determination, and diverse gender expressions and sexualities.

Bodily autonomy – the ability to make decisions about our bodies and how we choose to live in them with dignity and pride, and without judgment – is critical to our collective liberation. Disability justice, kink, fat liberation, and Black and trans bodies arecentered and visibilized. Pride must continue to make visible kink, queer erotic desire, and queer love; the very things that queer communities have for so long been criminalized and vilified for. 

Our Pride must therefore ensure that people can live genuinely, authentically, freely and joyfully in their identities, their bodies, and their sexualities. We actively protest the systemic erasure and discrimination of our people and their bodies, and protect trans people and LGBTQI people of colors’ right to accessing gender affirming care, HIV treatments, and reproductive and sexual health.

Pride is incomplete if it does not amplify a diverse spectrum of gender expressions. Here, we are reminded of Emi Koyama’s words in the Transfeminist Manifesto: “Transfeminism believes that we construct our own gender identities based on what feels genuine, comfortable and sincere to us as we live and relate to others within given social and cultural constraint….instead of justifying our existence through reverse essentialism, transfeminism dismantles the essentialist assumption of the normativity of the sex/gender congruence.” 

7. Rejects rainbow capitalism –  we will NOT allow our movements and ourselves to be co-opted, complicit, or silent. 

As a public foundation that works to re-allocate money and resources to redistribute power to our people and our movements, we take a stand within philanthropy against the problematics of corporate Pride and work to ensure that resources are re-invested in grassroots, LGBTQI actions and uprisings.

Many modern day Pride marches and celebrations have been taken over by cis, capitalist, white institutions whose primary goal is to seek profit from our identities and struggles. We resoundingly reject this rainbow capitalism, the pinkwashing of our movements, and the co-option of liberatory movements for capital gain. Instead, our vision for Pride works to shed the shackles of capitalism that would profit off our bodies, through a return to the grassroots. 

8. Uplifts Pride actions that are truly radical, political, and liberatory, and are committed to the sovereignty of the Indigenous people on whose land they take place.

The original Pride marches combined radical politics, kink, and celebration. They provided visibility to LGBTQI communities and were an opportunity for queer communities to voice their demands and spotlight the needs and struggles of queer communities. In the 1980s, the culture around Pride began to shift, with less radical activists moving to the forefront, and many Pride actions dropping words like “freedom” and “liberation” from their names. Today, many state-sponsored Pride marches draw millions of people around the world, but do not center those in LGBTQI communities most impacted by discrimination.

We stand by our communities in the belief that Pride must return to its roots as a protest, and a call to action for justice and joy for our people. We are so proud of the ways our communities have worked to reclaim Pride actions over the last several years, and to fight for Pride actions that are free from policing, violence, transphobia, and intersexphobia. Just a few examples of these truly liberatory Pride actions include: The Queer Liberation March, Dyke Marches, the March for Black Trans Lives, Zagreb Pride, and Soweto Pride.

9. Recognizes that the struggle for queer liberation is ongoing, we stand with our movements not just in June, but 365 days of the year.

Our grantee partners work day in and day out to realize liberation, collective care, and healing for their people. It is therefore our commitment to them that we will always act on our responsibility as a feminist philanthropic institution to amplify, resource, and support the LBTQI organizations, movements, and communities who are not always heard or visibilized during Pride month, or at all. 

Join us! Check out the work of our powerful grantee partners in our 2020 Annual Report, and on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. As you are able to, we encourage you to consider becoming a monthly donor to Astraea, ensuring that our grantee partners around the world are supported and celebrated 365 days a year.

Care and Connection as Resistance to State Violence and Surveillance

This year, we are commemorating International Sex Workers’ Day by sharing a personal essay from fellow sex worker organizers and close friends, Red Schulte and Alisha Walker. Told through personal narrative and reflecting on years of visits to Alisha that have been mediated by prison technologies, Red reveals the violent ways these technologies seek not only to disconnect sex workers from the outside world but how it’s also used to further punish them.

By Red Schulte and Alisha Walker
with contributions by Mihika Srivastava, Astraea Communications Program Officer
Image credit: Commissioned as a gift to the Support Ho(s)e Collective by Matilda Sabal, a pen pal and comrade of Alisha’s, this beautiful piece was created by Amira Lin

June 2, 2021

This year, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is commemorating International Sex Workers’ Day by sharing a personal essay from fellow sex worker organizers and close friends, Red Schulte and Alisha Walker. Red is a community organizer currently based in New York. They coordinate the Justice for Alisha Walker Defense Campaign and are a member of Survived & Punished NY, Hacking//Hustling, and the Support Ho(s)e Collective. Alisha is a 28 year old former sex working person originally from Akron, Ohio. She was criminalized for an act of self-defense when a regular client threatened her life and the life of a fellow worker in January 2014. 

Told through personal narrative and reflecting on years of visits to Alisha that have been mediated by prison technologies, Red reveals the violent ways these technologies seek not only to disconnect those on the inside from those on the outside but to further punish them. The piece illuminates how sex workers and political organizers (and most often, individuals at those intersections) are no strangers to attempted and successful stigmatization, infiltration, entrapment, criminalization, risk of arrest, jailing and/or incarceration, and the ways in which those experiences prepare them to creatively navigate these complex systems of surveillance as a form of resistance.

This piece is part of our ongoing political education and advocacy work to highlight the intersections of criminalization and surveillance, centering movement and organizers’ voices. This work began with our report, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures which launched in December of 2020. The report explores the ways in which queer, trans, Two-Spirit, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and sex worker communities in the U.S. are disproportionately impacted by criminalization and surveillance, and highlights the powerful community-centered technologies and interdependent networks of care and solidarity they are building to fight back.

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My entire friendship and comradeship with my fellow organizer Alisha Walker is mediated by prison technologies. Our knowing each other initially in this life was determined by state violence, and our friendship has been maintained in spite of it. The mutual care and love that we continue to foster and grow between us is routinely scrutinized, accessed, recorded, and used to further punish her while she’s incarcerated. We’ve been communicating and dis/connected, for over five years now. 

Alisha is an artist, inside organizer, criminalized survivor and former sex worker currently incarcerated at a state prison in central Illinois. She was sentenced to fifteen years for an act of self-defense, saving herself and a fellow sex worker from a violent attack on their lives while working. Alisha and I have used every available outlet for sanctioned communication: ConnectNetwork, JPay, Western Union, Securus Tech, GTL Network, the United States Postal Service, FreePrints, Amazon, etc. Each of these methods falls short, intentionally, of allowing for unfettered, authentic connection because of the prison gaze

Communication Technologies, Weaponized 

Prison technology is state violence. The same modes of sanctioned communication to “connect” people outside to those inside also exist to alienate, exploit, and disconnect. This dual communication experience is meted out through prohibitive costs, intentional obsolescence, scrutiny, surveillance, and censorship. 

I can never really shake the first time Alisha described the full body cavity search before our first video visit. That thought hadn’t actually occurred to me, that they’d force the same visitation protocols for a remote visit, but then again (like Mariame Kaba reminds us) prisons are sexual violence. The digital obstacles to video visiting are immense. Lost connections equal lost time and visits altogether—once I blew a fuse at my apartment, lost power, and had to use a personal hotspot to stay connected to Alisha; it shot my phone bill through the roof. Pixelated versions of ourselves greet one another each video visit. My beautiful friend is transfigured into small, disparate squares that jarringly jump on my computer screen. My partner and I were once almost banned from video visiting because of the t-shirts we were wearing: me something sleeveless and him an undershirt; the prison gaze creeps into your home. 

“They’re not just surveilling my body, but images and words and relationships too,” says Alisha. She has frequently alerted us to correctional officers’ name-dropping outside loved ones and comrades’ social media names and profiles, and mentioning things that they could only know if they were watching our online posts and clicking through to find out more about our other online personas. Another way this played out was as Alisha was building networks of care and social support inside: “They [the correctional officers] were watching my (and of course everyone’s) relationships inside to use against me, and when you get punished they find what hurts you most, they find the thing you need most and take it away.” 

Alisha has frequently noted the stressful impact of the rigid and ever-shifting policies the prison enacts against phone use, making it harder for those inside to reliably communicate and organize with loved ones. “Rigid policies since the pandemic began have shifted from no calls, to 15-20 minute enforced call times at various times during lockdown, to housing unit specific call days or times, to “odd and even” call days or nights, and of course everything is subject to the mood of the correctional officers on duty.” 

Alisha says, “Most of my mail gets sent back or is heavily censored or disappears due to retaliation from the correctional officers. Mostly we don’t have the kinds of pens, sharpened pencils and paper we need to correspond available when we shop [commissary]. Mail is so important to us, and it’s a terrible feeling to get your mail and see it torn open every time or to wonder how much mail is actually being kept from you.” 

Sex workers’ resilience in navigating systems of surveillance

Alisha and I are no strangers to creative modes of communication catalyzed by state surveillance. Outside political organizing and sex work can come with their respective experiences of attempted and successful stigmatization, infiltration, entrapment, criminalization, risk of arrest, jailing and/or incarceration. I learned early when I was becoming radicalized about the history of informants, watch lists, and raids on dissenters, community leaders, and movement people. I experience(d) first hand overt and covert attempts by state agents to disrupt and destroy movements and campaigns I was organizing amongst. Community organizers engaged in work that challenges or opposes state violence and unaffiliated radicals are accustomed to being vigilant about communication, actions, and identities because of the level of state surveillance. From these experiences I’ve developed gut checks, careful vetting of what I share, and with whom, and shared security culture with trusted comrades. I’ve translated much of learned personal and work safety protocols I use while organizing from those passed to me through sex working community. 

“I can’t speak freely, I’ve been locked up for 5 years, I’m forced to learn new ways to speak, I guess I’m institutionalized…” For Alisha, who is currently incarcerated, her relationships are not only mediated through technologies, but her communication has also been institutionalized, meaning that she has been forced to learn new ways of speaking and behaving in order to avoid retaliation and further punishment from correctional officers, prison counselors, and the administration in general. “I have a voice, but it’s not always my own voice,” Alisha says. 

Because of these overlapping shared lessons, experiences, and strategies for mitigating all the harms and dangers they can bring with them, Alisha and I were fire-tested and (un/fortunately) better prepared to creatively code our language and gut check when communicating and trust building—radical community organizers, formerly incarcerated activists, and sex working people taught us. That being said, the violent obstacles, frustrations, and impediments were (are) still many.

As the Astraea Foundation’s report, Technologies for Liberation: Toward Abolitionist Futures, finds, “Platform moderation, or the policing of a platform’s content, is a critical site where the criminalization of sex work intersects with threats to internet autonomy. The 2018 congressional bills FOSTA-SESTA further police sex work online and exacerbate existing platform policies and practices that censor online sex work and suppress digital organizing efforts, such as shadowbanning, content moderation, and deplatforming.” 

As sex workers, we are accustomed to our relationships being mediated by (surveillance) technologies, but that certainly does not engender a complacency with this violence. Whether the relationships be monetary or exchange-driven (i.e. between worker and client), social (in public or virtual space), marketing (between worker and potential clientele), romantic, or one of banking (between worker and financial institution), each of them is monitored and poised to be terminated by an algorithm, a new online content policy, a processing discrepancy, stigma fueled by rescue industry narratives and violent, discriminatory legislation, moral and social “policing,” and good old fashioned bodily harm, trauma, and incarceration. 

Imagining community care, technology support, and resourcing

When people are released from jails, detention centers, psychiatric wards, and prisons, there are immediate, extensive material, communal, and emotional needs that must be met. Some of the most basic immediate needs involve accessing and using technology—including: hardware, systems, and support. Not everyone on this side has access to computers, cell phones, social media platforms, government and organizational websites, knowledge of search engines (to name a few), but our chance of access are exponentially higher than those who are currently incarcerated, and still higher yet than those people newly discharged from the state’s cages. As such, we take our respective levels of access for granted, and do not fully realize the extent to which technology support must be amongst the basic necessities of those coming back into community, back home, or charting a new course/building a new place for themselves after incarceration.

Alisha and I have been organizing together with the Support Ho(s)e collective for almost five years now. Support Ho(s)e is a small collective of current and former sex workers and trusted accomplices seeking to build radical community for sex working people in Chicago and NYC. During this time we’ve both also become more involved with another sex work focused collective, Hacking//Hustling, which has given Alisha and I the space and resources to try and imagine what comprehensive “tech support” could look like post-incarceration. Together with Support Ho(s)e, we’ve co-created a compensated opportunity to experiment and explore direct tech resourcing by piloting the Formerly Incarcerated Worker Support Program, funded by Hacking//Hustling and envisioned by mine and Alisha’s experiences with dis/connected tech while she’s been inside.   

Upon Alisha’s release, this will be the first trial of the Hacking//Hustling Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program, naming Alisha as the first recipient. This program would span three to five months depending on the tailored needs of Alisha and her support crew. We intend to approach the program with the flexibility and understanding of post-release catch-up and also with an eye toward Disability Justice focused crip time. Post-release catch-up can mean a lot of things depending on how much time the state stole from someone—filling technology gaps, re-meeting friends and family, navigating a different sort of surveillance, taking time to explore adjustment and creating one’s own schedule, in brief, all that comes with absorbing the changes (or lack thereof) in the world on this side of the Wall. 

The Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program works with comrades, and organizations that can help us acquire free/funded technology-focused training, computers and phones, college level or vocational school courses, ensuring that at all times the majority of the funding goes directly to the recipient, helping them re-establish financial independence. The program will be in direct collaboration with the needs of those it supports. After an initial trial period, Alisha can do an exit interview and/or remain on as part of the core collective team to become a mentor themselves. 

The need for sustained support post-release cannot be overstated. Time and time again, when people are finally released from prison or jail stints, they have virtually no financial, technological, housing, or sustained community support. Basic needs, skill sharing and financial support must be made available to those folx establishing themselves after the violence of incarceration. We must also resource and build sustainable support programs that equip those of us on the outside (especially those who have been impacted by incarceration) to show up for those navigating life within and beyond prison/jail/detention. 

The Astraea Foundation’s report finds that work and programs such as the Hacking//Hustling Formerly Incarcerated Workers Support Program are critical to helping communities learn more about the dangers of carceral technologies and creating interdependent networks of care and solidarity that disrupt the state’s reliance on punishment and policing. Yet, this work is resource intensive and at present movements, organizers, and movement technologists face significant financial barriers to implementing and maintaining digital safety strategies and community-owned and centered technologies.

Community-centered harm reduction technologies have always been an answer. The mutual aid, creativity, and the creation of networks of interdependent care and solidarity in the face of criminalization, censorship, surveillance, and punishment has long been a way of life and organizing for marginalized groups such as queer, trans, undocumented, rural, migrant, Two-Spirit, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and sex workers, survivors of gender violence (including online doxxing), and currently and formerly incarcerated people. These are the communities that have created community safety in the face of constant threats and danger, who have been forced into technological creativity. 

We invite you to listen and learn from these community members and unapologetic resource makers. Imagine a world where technology isn’t synonymous with violence and exploitation, and the prevention thereof. Invest in this work. Dream alongside us, and support our people to build the abolitionist technologies and community-centered networks and systems we need to live fully liberated lives free from surveillance and state violence. 

Learn More:

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Q&A with Sandy Nathan

We sat down with our Interim Executive Director, Sandy Nathan to discuss what her journey with Astraea has been like, how the organization has always been about shifting power to grassroots LGBTQIA movements and the legacy she is leaving behind for Astraea’s next leader.

  • Sandy, you have led Astraea through so much – a global pandemic, racial justice uprisings and internal transitions. What did this mean for you and Astraea and how did you shift your leadership to respond accordingly?

I was hired as Astraea’s Interim Executive Director by the Board of Directors in August 2019 for an initial nine month period. On average, it takes a board that period of time to recruit a new Executive Director. As Astraea’s Interim ED, I saw my role as helping the Board assess the actual state of the organization after the departure of its last ED so that there was a clear and shared vision of what the organization needed in its next permanent leader. 

As an Interim ED, my approach was always to assess organizational strengths and challenges, make recommendations to address those challenges, and steady the ship until a new permanent leader was recruited. As a seasoned executive leader with prior positions in government, national nonprofits and philanthropy, I consider myself adept as both an operational and strategic leader. Mind you, all my prior experiences had been in very traditional and patriarchal institutions and organizations. As a Black feminist, I have had very deep and personal experiences socially and politically in feminist settings and in and around social justice movements, but I had never worked directly in an explicitly lesbian feminist organization. So, the very first major shift was realizing that I no longer needed to compartmentalize myself in terms of my race and sexual identity, and for the first time in my professional life, be a truly integrated leader for Astraea. This was by no means an easy transition for me, as the actual state of the culture, systems and ways of being in the organization challenged my conventional sensibilities. But in reflecting on all the core values Astraea espoused – justice, integrity, liberation, intersectional feminism, collective care, and transformation – they deeply aligned with my personal values. This was the primary factor that made all the subsequent shifts even easier.

When the global pandemic hit, it was a major disruption as we were in the midst of engaging in meaningful work to build more alignment between the board and staff, addressing internal issues and building staff morale. What the pandemic accomplished for me and Astraea, however, was understanding how important it was to shift from an organizational change process to one of organizational transformation. The pandemic felt apocalyptic to me, everything that was normal was suddenly gone. Last year truly changed everything, including my prior theories, notions and approaches to leadership, which upon reflection, centered the needs of the organization rather than a focus on listening to staff needs and centering their care and well-being as the highest organizational priority. 

In addition to the pandemic, the racial justice uprisings that so dramatically spotlighted all the inequities and deeply rooted systems of oppression and white supremacy, simply made focusing on all the ways that I as a Black, queer, feminist leader needed to step up in that moment even more compelling. And of course, I had to deal with my own pain and anguish even as I constantly thought about all the ways that Astraea’s staff needed to be held through those moments.

  • You joined Astraea at a specific moment of leadership transition, can you chat about what transition leadership has allowed you to do that would not have been possible for a permanent leader?

Astraea was my third transitional leadership position. As a transitional leader I make three explicit commitments to the board: 1) that I will always be transparent, 2) that I will speak truth to power and not shrink back from having difficult conversations; and the most important one is 3) that I will not apply for the permanent position. With transitional leadership you have a very finite period of time in which to be impactful and make needed changes, so you must be laser focused on setting priorities, having clear expectations from the board and adhering to those. And if you are not in your integrity and decide you will throw your hat in the ring as the permanent Executive Director, there is a tendency to see yourself as constantly auditioning for the permanent role rather than being the most effective interim leader you can be. As I referenced earlier, I saw it as my role to stabilize the organization, refine fiscal and human resources systems and make key hires to build out the leadership team, and most importantly to identify the critical next steps that a new permanent leader needed to come in and prioritize. All this required taking on a critical view of the organization while at the same time, seeing all of its possibilities.

In many ways Astraea was not prepared for a new permanent leader and bringing in a transitional leader was a great strategic decision by the board. Taking the needed space to listen to staff and build authentic relationships with them and the board, conduct a robust organizational assessment and identify needed changes without the demands of heavy-duty fundraising and being externally focused really enabled me to concentrate on the needs of the organization at that time.

  • Your leadership has exemplified what it means to build policies and procedures that center care. When you joined many of us were burned out and collectively feeling exhausted. What are some of the ways you centered care and healing in your transitional leadership and why was that important for the next leader?

One of the real sources of pride for me in leading Astraea was how we were shifting the field of philanthropy by focusing on healing justice. I must recognize Cara Page as another Black queer feminist leader at Astraea who developed this incredible framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and bring collective practices to change the consequences of oppression. When I say that Astraea was leading the field – we were doing that with conference presentations, publications and in other tangible ways. What really struck me, however, was how we were not living the values of healing justice internally. The state of mind and bodies for many staff people at Astraea really underscored for me how important it was to center care. I made self- and collective care organizational priorities because of the extent of burn-out and exhaustion at Astraea. The average staff person was managing multiple roles and functions within the organization and it was simply not sustainable as the fall-out from that exhaustion impacted both individuals and the culture. I worked for months with the management team to develop work plans that focused on the most essential priorities. It was a challenging task because as smart and capable as the management team was, they hadn’t been supported in cultivating a practice of priority-setting but rather to take on more and more work.

The pandemic honed our focus on self and collective care as an absolute imperative. When I saw how challenging it was to adhere to policy changes in response to the pandemic such as a 20-hour work week, I instituted an organizational pause for two weeks and encourage staff to take the time to rest, journal and reflect on all the ways in which they needed to show up differently for themselves, their loved ones and the work they were so passionately dedicated to at Astraea. I only wish I could have made the pause for 30 days, because that is widely recognized as the baseline period in which it takes to shift behaviors. But the organizational pause was highly effective in that it was at least a sanctioned period to step away from work, rest and heal. I am extremely grateful to Reverend angel Kyodo Williams who guided us spiritually into that pause and enabled us to reflect collectively after it ended so that we could all understand that self-care was a radical practice we needed to embody moving forward.

As we continue to deal externally with state-sanctioned violence and oppression not just in the U.S. but across the globe, it is critical for Astraea’s next leader to now lead an organization that is finally institutionalizing healing justice practices internally through self and collective care. This will be required if we are to continue to do our work effectively and best serve grassroots LGBTQI movements.

  • What have been some of your highlights over the past two years?

The major highlights for me over the past two years have been the depth of relationships I have had a chance to cultivate with Astraea’s staff, board members and our external stakeholders. Astraea’s staff, past and current, are some of the most creative, thoughtful and passionate folks I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The board of directors are all amazingly dedicated to Astraea and bring a true commitment to providing governance and strategic leadership in all the needed ways. I have been excited to see how they have enjoyed board/staff retreats, strategy sessions and joint learning opportunities. They care deeply about the organization and its staff and as is typical in many organizations, that alignment is not always apparent. And our institutional partners and donors have been wonderful to get to know. Their support to Astraea has enabled the organization to weather this transition as well as it can.

  • You have spoken about how Astraea has been a political “home” for you that is able to hold your identities as a black lesbian unicorn in philanthropy – can you tell us more about this and how this is part of Astraea’s vision to shift the nature of philanthropy?

I was in a conversation recently with someone from Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and we were discussing the numerous challenges that BIPOC and LGBTQI individuals encounter working in the field. We do have to often shield our multiple identities and with every foundation and its culture, it is a calculation about what part of yourself you must leave at the door. As a very young feminist in the 80’s, I had heard about Astraea as this unique lesbian feminist foundation founded for and by a group of multiracial, cross-class women who came together to raise resources to fund their community. From its inception, Astraea was redefining philanthropy and “democratizing” it before we were using those words. You did not have to be a millionaire to give to Astraea, and it attracted other lesbians from all economic levels because it was in response to the lack of recognition there was at that time of our issues. Astraea was always about reimagining philanthropy and shifting power. So, for me to step into this role as a black feminist queer leader and be that touch stone and link back to our founding mothers has been truly transformational for me.

I also want to add that seeing the pain and suffering of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities as a result of the pandemic and the racial uprisings last year had a deep personal impact on me. As difficult as that time was, I cannot imagine what it would have meant to be anyplace other than Astraea, where my feelings and concerns were supported and uplifted.

  • What legacy are you leaving for the next leader of Astraea?

The first legacy that I hope to leave for Astraea’s next leader is to lead this organization with love, compassion and understanding that Astraea cannot be what the world needs it to be without continuing to center its staff at the heart of every key decision. She will have to be a people-centered and trusted leader because I feel that is what staff have become accustomed to. We are as strong as we are today because we have had to practice resilience. We have had to dig deep to bounce back from the obstacles of the past and we are recovering in the face of continued external challenges. At Astraea, we have come to know the difference between urgency and importance, and we have finally come to understand that there are no adverse consequences if we take some risks for us to create a solid and sustainable future. Most importantly to me as a transitional leader, is knowing with absolute confidence that we collectively have created a stronger Astraea than we were two years ago, thus we are now better able to serve our movements.

  • Do you have closing words for Astraea and the new leadership?

My closing words for Astraea are that I never imagined it possible to fall in love with an organization and its people, but that has been my experience. There has been something so unique to me about leading Astraea at this time that simply required giving of myself as a leader in ways I never had to step into. And each time I realized that we were creating momentum and shifting things internally, it was because we had developed relationships of trust and open communication. It was not always an easy journey and there were certainly disappointments along the way, however Astraea is an amazing organization and I know that the best is yet to come. I know without a doubt that I will continue to stay connected to Astraea and all the people within its ecosystem that I have come to care about deeply.

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