Celebrating our 2020 Intersex Grantee Partners!

This Intersex Awareness Day, it is with great pride and excitement we share Astraea’s 6th annual cycle of Intersex Human Rights Fund (IHRF) grantee partners!

This Intersex Awareness Day, it is with great pride and excitement we share Astraea’s 6th annual cycle of Intersex Human Rights Fund (IHRF) grantee partners! On this day, we recognize the work of the incredible intersex activists and organizations whose advocacy and self-determination have built a powerful global intersex movement and visibilized the lives and experiences of intersex people everywhere.

Astraea is proud to support many of these activists through our Intersex Human Rights Fund—the first of its kind—which accounts for almost three-quarters (73%) of all grants to intersex organizations in the world. This year, the IHRF granted $480,000 in grants to 53 groups in 41 countries, with 15 of these grants going to new grantee partners. This marks a 65% increase in funding from our 2019 cycle, reaffirming our commitment to supporting the growth and sustainability of intersex movements. It has been so exciting to continue to see the emergence of new intersex-led groups, some of which were formed as a direct result of the connections built through regional movement convenings in past years!

This year, as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, the IHRF provided an additional $2000 to all our renewal intersex grantee partners. The pandemic and associated restrictions on movement have heightened the exclusion and discrimination many intersex people already face in communities around the world, and has left many without jobs, unable to access the medical and mental health services they need, and isolated from their loved ones.

Still, intersex movements have continued to be tireless in their efforts to build community solidarity, advocate for their rights to bodily integrity, raise awareness of and fight for their human rights, and collaborate across movements, issues, and regions to make their voices heard!

Here are just a few examples of the powerful ways our intersex grantees show up for their communities:

  • Círculo Violeta (Mayagüez, Puerto Rico) has created a safe space for intersex, trans, and non-binary artists who have been otherwise invisibilized and marginalized, to gather, connect, and share their experiences with each other. They exist to create a living catalogue and archive of each of their artistic practices, and to come together to build collective narratives of intersex, trans, and non-binary artists within Puerto Rico and its diasporas.
  • Potencia Intersex (Córdoba, Argentina) came together during the Second Intersex Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The organization was born out of the need to educate Argentinian society about the lived realities of intersex people. Working alongside feminist and LGBTQI movements in the country, the group raises awareness of the human rights violations committed against them and mobilizes people to support the bodily integrity, autonomy, and self-determination of intersex people.
  • Intersex-Nigeria (Lagos, Nigeria) was formed in 2019 by intersex people, many of whom have lived through their own pain, trauma, and stigmatization as a result of violence, non-consensual medical procedures and ongoing discrimination. The organization is the first intersex-led group in Nigeria and is working to advance public understanding of intersex people’s issues, visbilize intersex realities, and build community for intersex Nigerians. The group’s mission is to build a community space for intersex people, provide wellbeing support to intsersex Nigerians, and advocate for intersex rights.

While intersex activism has been growing around the world, intersex issues and communities remain immensely under-funded, receiving less than 2% of global foundation funding for LGBTQI people and/or women and girls. Despite this, intersex activists are continuing to tirelessly advocate against the pathologization of intersex bodies and to address issues of violence, social exclusion, and lack of access to quality health care and education. The global intersex movement is calling for protections from human rights violations experienced by intersex children, adolescents and adults across the world.

Join us in recognizing the brilliant and powerful activism of our Intersex Human Rights Fund grantee partners around the world!

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.

Associação Brasileira de Intersexos (ABRAI)

Bilitis Resource Center Bulgaria

Brújula Intersexual

Campaign for Change

Círculo Violeta
Puerto Rico

Collectif Intersexes et Allié-e-s -OII France (CIA-OII France)

Comité Visibilité Intersexe

DeGeneration Confederation

Egalite Intersex Ukraine

iCon UK
United Kingdom

Kazakhstan, Belarus, Russia

Interaction – Association Suisse pour les Intersexes

Intersex Advocate Trust Zimbabwe

Intersex Anatolia/ Intersex Turkey/ Intersex Shalala

Intersex and Faith
United States

The Intersex and Family Support Network

Intersex Asia Network

Intersex Chile

Intersex Community of Zimbabwe

Intersex Danmark


Intersex Greece

Intersex Human Rights Australia


Intersex Ísland -félag intersex fólks á Íslandi

Intersex Justice Project
United States


Intersex Peer Support Australia

Intersex People’s Human Rights – ISIO Finland

Intersex Persons Society of Kenya – IPSK

Intersex Society of Zambia (ISSZ)

Intersex South Africa – ISSA
South Africa

Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (ITANZ)
New Zealand

United Kingdom

Ivy Foundation


Magda Rakita

Mulabi – Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos
Costa Rica

Organisation Intersex International Europe (OII Europe)

Organisation Intersex International Germany/IVIM (OII Deutschland)

Organization Intersex International-Chinese (Oii-Chinese)

OII Sverige

Potencia Intersex

Rainbow Identity Association

Support Initiative for People with atypical sex Development (SIPD)

Trans Aid

Trans Smart Trust

Tzk’at – Red de Sanadoras Ancestrales del Feminismo Comunitario

Verein Intersexuelle Menschen Österreich (VIMÖ)

Vivir y Ser Intersex

XY Spectrum

Mourning the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

We have indeed lost a giant, a feminist icon, and a visionary jurist.

The recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) is a devastating loss for the people of the United States. Astraea recognizes her formidable legacy as a lawyer for the ACLU and a Supreme Court Justice. Throughout her career, RBG championed and staunchly defended reproductive freedom, women’s rights, and the rights of women and LGBTQI people, recognizing the right of employees to work without fear of discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. She helped pave the way for generations of activists and legal advocates. 

We have indeed lost a giant, a feminist icon, and a visionary jurist. As we mourn the loss of such an important figure in history, we are reminded that the fight for justice – for women, for LGBTQI people, for Black, Brown, migrant, and Indigenous people – is far from over. While her legal work was instrumental in protecting the rights of so many, we know that centering  Indigenous people’s rights and the fight for racial justice must be at the forefront of our activism. This moment then calls on us both to celebrate her life, work, and legacy and to fight harder than ever for justice and dignity for all.  

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s abolitionist sentiment she noted, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice” adding, “if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.” RBG would want us to get back to work! Today and always, we stand behind our 42 year mission to fuel local and global movements that shift power to the LBTQI grassroots. As we in the U.S. move forward from this loss, we must support and look to movement leaders and activists on the ground – from Black Lives Matter to the climate justice movement led by Indigenous activists  –  advocating for equality for all, and continuing RBG’s legacy with a vision for a truly liberated future – one where we not only belong, but thrive.

Below are some resources on understanding RBG and her triumphs, imperfections, and lasting legacy.

Astraea’s next Executive Director(s) search begins!

A letter from Astraea’s board co-chairs about the launch of Astraea’s Executive Director/Co-Director search process.


Dear friends,

We hope this finds you and your community well.

As many of you know, Astraea has been undergoing an executive leadership transition process over the last nine months. Today, we are delighted to share that we are officially launching our search for Astraea’s next Executive Director or Co-Directors

With the confluence of global health, political, and economic disruptions unfolding amid tectonic shifts in philanthropy and LGBTQI movements, the need for bold queer feminist funding has never been greater. 

This is an exceptional opportunity for a strategic and visionary leader(s) to build on four decades of innovative grantmaking and philanthropic advocacy to fuel the organizing of powerful grassroots movements and realize a world where all people can actively and enthusiastically belong.

In January, Astraea staff and board came together for a two-day retreat in New York City with the goal of envisioning our future leadership, and laying out the values, skills, and expertise we want to see. It was also an opportunity for staff and board to build authentic relationships and alignment around our core values. We dreamed small and big, thought creatively and critically and, at the end of the two days, consolidated and shared our vision with Astraea’s newly established Search Committee. 

The staff and board search team is working with McCormack+Kristel search consultants to identify a new Executive Director or Co-Directors for Astraea. We are looking for fierce feminist leaders with an uncompromising commitment to advancing gender, racial, economic, and environmental justice, who are rooted in the politics of global solidarity, and comfortable articulating and advancing a radical vision. Our ideal candidate(s) will be innovative and adaptive and, ideally, have lived experience in the Global South and/or East. Please find the full job description and application details here.

We anticipate that our executive search process will continue for the next few months, as we work to find leadership that truly aligns with our values and principles. Throughout this time, we will endeavor to keep you all updated as regularly as possible. We look forward to sharing more and hope that we can lean into you, our community, to help us find powerful feminist leadership for Astraea’s next chapter!

As we know, Astraea’s charge to support the LBTQI frontlines around the globe is more crucial than ever. 

In ongoing solidarity,

Iimay Ho and Eboné Bishop, Board Co-chairs
on behalf of the Astraea Board of Directors


Announcing Our 2019 Acey Awardees!

Astraea owes its existence and vision to the incredible, bold legacy and work of the lesbian, queer, and trans elders who paved the way for us. Today, we are delighted to uplift that legacy by announcing the awardees of the 2nd Acey Social Justice Feminist Award. 

Astraea owes its existence and vision to the incredible, bold legacy and work of the lesbian, queer, and trans elders who paved the way for us. Today, we are delighted to uplift that legacy by announcing the awardees of the 2nd Acey Social Justice Feminist Award

The Acey Social Justice Feminist Award was launched in 2017 as a way for Astraea to honor the lesbian, queer, and trans elders over the age of 62 whose activism and contributions to their communities paved the way for way for new generations of organizers working across the U.S. and without whom we would not be here today. 

Please join us in congratulating this year’s four awardees: Julia Bennett, Brenda Joyce Crawford, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and Norma Timbang. 

Julia Bennett is a healer based in Brooklyn, New York who has provided critical healing support to marginalized People of Color communities in New York City for over 30 years. Brenda Joyce Crawford is an unapologetic butch woman who has been in the thick of social justice work for over five decades; today she lives in Vallejo, California and her activism is based around cannabis justice for seniors. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a veteran of the historic “Stonewall Rebellion” and a survivor of Attica State Prison, a former sex worker, an elder, and a community leader and human rights activist. Norma Timbang is a lifelong queer activist whose work is well-known across the Pacific Northwest, where she is from. She has been deeply involved in domestic violence and intimate partner violence work, feminist anti-violence work, and disability justice movements. 

The Acey Award recognizes lesbian and trans women of color over the age of 62 who have made under-recognized contributions to our movements, and often have unmet financial needs as they age. The Award was created in honor of Astraea’s Executive Director Emerita, Katherine Acey, who led Astraea for 23 years and is herself a fierce advocate for queer, lesbian, and trans elders, particularly those who are less visible than others.

“This award is an opportunity for us to say to these incredible activist elders: We see you. We love you. We deeply appreciate what you’ve done and what you continue to do,” Acey said.

Join us in celebrating the powerful, lifelong activism of our awardees!

In Solidarity,

Namita Chad
Associate Director of Programs

Meet the 2019 Acey Awardees

Julia Bennett

Julia Bennett is a Board certified licensed acupuncturist trained in both Chinese and Japanese acupuncture. Her long standing passion is community health and the health concerns of women, women who have tested positive for HIV and AIDS, maternity, infant, and reproductive justice for all bodies. [Read more]

Brenda Joyce Crawford

Brenda Joyce Crawford has been in the thick of social justice work for over five decades. She’s an unapologetic butch woman who comes from a blue collar working class background in the U.S. South. [Read more]

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

Miss Major is a veteran of the historic “Stonewall Rebellion” and a survivor of Attica State Prison, a former sex worker, an elder, and a community leader and human rights activist. [Read more]

Norma Timbang

Norma Timbang provides private consulting and facilitation toward transformative and transitional processes for human and health services, policy advocacy, grassroots, academic, community, and social justice organizations. [Read more]

A conversation with Katherine Acey and Namita Chad

A conversation on the Acey Social Justice Feminist Award with Astraea’s very own Katherine Acey, Executive Director Emeritus, and Namita Chad, Associate Director of Programs.

A conversation on the Acey Social Justice Feminist Award with Astraea’s very own Katherine Acey, Executive Director Emeritus, and Namita Chad, Associate Director of Programs

Namita Chad (NC): Katherine, to start with, can you tell us what the Acey Social Justice Feminist Award is?

Katherine Acey (KA): The Acey Social Justice Feminist Award was launched in 2017 and honors lesbian, queer and trans women of color in the United States who are at least 62 years, and who have made significant contributions to our movements, which have often gone unrecognized.

NC: And how did the award come to be?

KA: So Astraea had been looking for a way to support the LGBTQ elders in communities across the United States who face distinct financial barriers, and we decided on this award as a way to uplift the contributions of some of those individuals, and raise awareness about their struggles. 

We wanted to recognize that so many of them have been activists within and across our movements, but have not always been as visible as others. Several have worked as activists throughout their lives, often in low-paying jobs with not a lot of benefits. So the idea was to identify those people, and also to make a monetary award in recognition of their contribution that could be used in any way; they could buy a new computer with it or take a vacation, or whatever. It was really to give them an opportunity to take care of themselves for a moment.

So the award is really a way to amplify these individuals and recognize the pathways they have created for others who have come after them. Something I’ve really been struck by both times we’ve had the award, is that there are always a couple of nominees I haven’t heard of myself. It just reaffirms the fact that so many activists are out there tirelessly, but their work isn’t seen.

KA: Namita, as someone who has been at Astraea for a long time and knows the movements well, what do you think is the importance of this award?

NC: For me, the award is so important because it recognizes the work and legacy of our lesbian, queer, and trans elders, who have really paved the way for new generations of organizers and activists working across the country.

It’s also really connected to what Astraea was born to do, which is to recognize the leadership of lesbian and trans women of color, who have been leaders in all kinds of movements over generations – feminist and queer movements, responses to the AIDS crisis, fighting to end wars abroad, fighting to end intimate partner violence, domestic violence, state violence, incarceration. These are people who have been insisting on radical inclusion for a long time now, and creating radical openings for people whose voices have not been heard.

I really hope that with this award comes more visibility for the brilliant and bold leadership of these elders. And I hope that with that visibility, that younger activists will gain more access to their stories and experiences and can engage with and learn from them.

KA: And what do you feel is the political significance of the award?

NC: You know this award really highlights the political state we’re in today where LGBTQ elders but specifically lesbian, queer, and trans women of color elders are still so often disproportionately discriminated against – whether in terms of access to healthcare, housing, or support networks – and face lifelong barriers to financial security and resources. LGBTQ elders of color remain largely invisible within frameworks of most aging services, research, and public policy initiatives, and across organizations across the country, even LGBTQ and feminist organizations.

It’s a scary political moment in the US and globally, as we’re watching the right consolidate power. We’re seeing so many of the hard fought gains of the past from rights to services being dismantled and fought against. There’s so much we can learn from the contexts and struggles of the past, so the need for younger activists to be connected to elders and for there to be intergenerational strategy and dialogue, is so critical.

NC: Katherine, finally, what kind of impact do you think this award might have on the awardees?

You know, in the early days of Astraea, when our grants were very small, they didn’t necessarily sustain an organization. But the fact that a group of peers recognized that organization and its people, was affirming and helped keep them going.

So I would like to think these individuals would feel similarly. I hope it affirms and says, “We see you. We love you. We deeply appreciate what you’ve done and what you continue to do.”

Reverend Gale Jones

Intergenerational work is a natural part of me, when I think about who I am right now. From the time I was a very small girl, it was elders across gender who felt an urgent need to pour something into me. I remember sitting there with them and I was a little girl and I’m thinking, ‘Why am I here?’ But they would hold me in this rapt attention as if there was something they needed to give me.

2017 Acey Awardee, Reverend Gale Jones

At 65 years, Reverend Gale Jones has been working for decades on behalf of LGBT people of color in the New York area, particularly working to combat the AIDS crisis and to support homeless LGBTQ youth. Born in 1950, Reverend Gale attributes her social justice awakening to the teachings of Malcolm X in early adulthood. Several years later, by then a mother, she found her way into queer organizing and the Unity Fellowship faith community. As a woman, as a queer member of the clergy in West Babylon, New York and as a Yoruba Priest, Reverend Gale has always sought to draw the margins to the center of Christianity and to use faith to spark and sustain activism.

There’s a tremendous resilience and a tremendous commitment to taking care of each other in any way possible [among LGBT elders of color]. That gives me heart.

Katherine Acey, Astraea Executive Director Emerita

Watch a conversation between Reverend Gale Jones and Katherine Acey by clicking the video below.

Angela Bowen

For six decades, Acey Honoree Angela Bowen has pursued her passions – dance, activism, writing and teaching- influencing and inspiring untold numbers. She trained and taught at the legendary Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Roxbury from 14 to 22. Her talent and skills enabled her to dance professionally and establish the Bowen Peters School of Dance in inner city New Haven, Connecticut, which she ran with her husband for nearly two decades. Bowen learned what it meant to be a strong woman from her dance mentor and her mother. In the 1970s, she discovered Feminism, especially the work of poet warrior, Audre Lorde, convincing her to follow a new life path. Bowen became an out Black Lesbian feminist both nationally and internationally and was one of the first recipients of a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies at Clark University. Dr. Bowen is an Audre Lorde Scholar and has written and spoken about the connections between and across social justice movements. She retired from teaching in the department of Women’s Studies at California State University where she taught for 13 years. Dr. Bowen’s Dissertation: “Who Said it was Simple:  Audre Lorde’s Complex Connections to Three U.S. Liberation Movements, 1952-1992” is the first dissertation about Audre Lorde. The final chapter  “All These Liberations” is included in Lambda Award-winning The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love, and Legacy of Audre Lorde, a bio/anthology by Gloria I. Joseph.

The following interview on Angela Bowen’s life and legacy was fulfilled by her partner, the feminist filmmaker, Jennifer Abod. To learn more about Abod and her documentary, The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen, please visit Women Make Movies, Abod’s Facebook page or the documentary’s Facebook page.

Q&A with Jennifer Abod

How did you and Angela meet?

I first saw Angela in July 1979 in New Haven, Connecticut. She was a speaker at rally after a citywide candle-lit Take Back the Night march protesting violence against women.  

What inspired you, Jennifer, to make the film?

Audre Lorde always said, “Who would believe our stories unless we tell them.”

In the canon of documentary films, stories exploring the complexities of Black women’s lives are rarely told: Black feminists are seldom heard nor seen, and Black lesbians are practically invisible. This film is important to anyone who wants to know more about the history of dance and the emergence of the Black LGBTQ movement. Her story inspires anyone interested in trying to be their authentic self, and challenges us to recognize and appreciate how race, class, gender, age, and sexuality can inform decisions and strategies for survival.

How has Angela’s work changed over the years?

From inner cities streets of Boston, to star dancer, to founder of Connecticut’s beloved Bowen-Peters School of Dance, to Black lesbian feminist activist, to distinguished writer and professor, Angela Bowen has had many identities. In each one, she has encouraged and influenced all those around her to reach their fullest potential and embrace their true selves.

Angela was born in Boston in 1936. She was the sixth of seven children. She was an excellent student and athlete. She loved reading and was a champion track runner and speller. In 1950, when she was 14 years old, she began a love affair with dance that lasted until her early forties. Her mother brought her to dancing school because of the “D” she received in physical education, because of bad posture.

Her dance mentor, Elma Lewis, an alumna of Emerson College, and one of the first recipients of the MacArthur Fellows Grant (1981) opened her school in Roxbury, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, in 1950. Angela and her sisters were among her first students. Lewis recognized Angela’s natural talents and teaching abilities. She became Lewis’s right hand assistant and the school’s first Prima Ballerina. When she wanted to pursue dance professionally, Lewis didn’t want her to leave and Mrs. Bowen told her that dance was not a career just something to enjoy. Angela enrolled in Emerson College and majored in speech and fine arts. When her mother died, in her early twenties, she left college and moved to New York, where the “No Blacks on Broadway” rule reigned, forcing her to dance in Europe. She danced for 10 months with the historic all “Sepia,” Jazz Train in Italy and Germany.

Dance life on the road wasn’t for her. She chartered a new course and returned to Boston to marry the young man who had been pursuing her. Ken Peters, a drummer, helped establish her dance school, The Bowen Peters Cultural Arts Center, which ran for 19 years. (1963-1982).

With $300 dollars they purposely established their school in a storefront among the abandoned boarded up houses and empty lots in inner city New Haven. Bowen-Peters was a non-profit community arts organization that provided major cultural resources to the minority community. Angela was the school’s director and inspiration. She directed dance recitals and performances, managed teachers, created choreography, and brought choreographers and musicians to the school. She wrote programs and grants, and advocated for minority artists and arts programs in the city and the state.

Late one night, in her room, after her children and husband were asleep, she discovered the work of Audre Lorde; stirring a desire for another life:

I first met the poet and radical Black feminist Audre Lorde in the 1970s at 2 a.m. My family tucked in, I was reading the lesbian magazine Azalea and found myself laughing and thrilled by her writing. Not long after, I met her in the flesh at a feminist bookstore where she was reading her poetry, one-breasted and comfortable without a prosthesis.

Lorde gave Angela her card. That was the beginning of a special relationship between the two Black lesbian feminist activists, writers, and mothers.

Angela and the children joined me in Cambridge and together we moved in as a family. In the early 1980s and 90s, when there were few Black feminists, let alone lesbians speaking out, Angela appeared on local and national radio and television including Black Entertainment Television and WBZ, TV Boston. She spoke and wrote about revolutionary feminism, the relationship between sexism, racism, and homophobia, black lesbian and gay life, and lesbian parenting. She spoke at over 60 colleges, universities, high schools, and conferences, clubs and organizations, including The Girl Scouts of America. Angela wrote in her journal: “I am in the second phase of my life, writing and speaking; knowing that we exist and that all parts of us need to be honored. That is my passion right now.”

Dr. Bowen earned one of the first Women’s Studies Ph.D.’s in the country. She was the first Black woman and out lesbian hired in the 30-year history of the Women’s Studies Department at Cal State Long Beach. She taught in Women’s Studies and briefly in the English Department at Cal State Long Beach, and left after her battle for a course on the writings of Toni Morrison, which she did win. Angela and another colleague created the course U.S. Women of Color, which became a staple in the Women’s Studies Department. During her tenure as President of the Commission on the Status of Women she advocated for equal pay for women. She was the keynote speaker at the first LGBTQ graduation ceremony at CSULB.

What does it mean to see Angela honored by Astraea’s Acey Social Justice Feminist Award?

Angela appreciated the awards and commendations that she received over the decades of her life, but she never cared about being a star. But now, at 81 and living with Alzheimer’s, I am hoping the Acey Award will bring attention to Bowen’s life and work. Angela Bowen was a trailblazer and change agent. She claimed all parts of her selves – A Black lesbian feminist artist, activist, organizer, mother, mentor, writer, professor, and intellectual. Her influence lives in her dance and academic students and in anyone who has heard her speak or read her words. She encourages us to “follow our dreams, but not for ourselves alone,” urges us to “move the line forward,” and reminds us that we “don’t have to do it all at once,” nor “do just one thing.”


Ali Marrero Calderon

Acey Award honoree Ali Marrero Calderon was born in Puerto Rico in 1948. She arrived in California in 1964 but went back to Puerto Rico in 1967. After high school, when she returned to California in 1969, she got involved with what was back then called the ‘Gay Revolution.’ In 1974, she had the privilege and honor to be a member of GENTE, one of the first lesbian of color organizations in this country. In the mid-eighties, she worked at SHANTI Project helping people living with HIV/AIDS and training volunteers to help people who were living with AIDS. She is currently working with the National Committee of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. This year in Tampa, Florida there will be a gathering of old lesbians, and she’s helping organize a day-long intensive for lesbians of color. She invites lesbians of color who are in their 60s to come to Tampa and bring their input. The goal is one day to have a huge lesbian of color gathering where we can hear our music speak, our words, do our drumming, and dance our dances again. Go to OLOC.org for more information and to register for the Gathering or the OLOC Intensive.

Q&A with Ali Marrero Calderon

Talk a little about about your work in the early days, particularly lesbian feminist organizing. What did you do in the San Francisco Pride days? How has the work changed over the years and taken you to where you are now with OLOC?

A lot of it started for me in the early ’70s when Pride was really tiny and the celebration was in Golden Gate Park. It was something about togetherness. It wasn’t even called “Gay Pride.” It wasn’t even called Pride yet. It was called the “Gay Revolution.”

I never called myself a lesbian before 1969. In Puerto Rico it was just a marimacha, which is a dyke.

What have been some of the big changes since then?

The acceptance of lesbian women, voicing their opinions in rooms and making change a possibility. We effected major change. In the mid ’70s, we were being harassed. I was picked up by police departments just for sitting at a bus stop and waiting, and then, because I had men’s underwear. We were sent into the tank and we were beat because you were wearing clothes that were not for yourself. You know how that changed? I worked with the Police Department at one point in the mid ’70s, training cadets to have sensitivity around Latinos and the Latino community, and gays and lesbians, and how not to beat them up, and how not to do those raids, how to understand the culture. That was such an important thing.

I also worked with mostly gay men in something called Butterflies and Oranges. Every weekend, we would get together. I had my motorcycle. I was one of the first Dykes on Bikes. Our group of lesbians provided security at gay events. When we did a march, it wasn’t the police who did the motorcycle patrolling––it was Dykes on Bikes. It gave us a sense of purpose. This is what we do. This is who we are. See us and hear us. These young men would come from all over the Bay Area and throw beer bottles and cans and beat up on gays in the Castro, which is a gay male district here in San Francisco. When we’d see a car throw something, we’d go, write down the license plate, and then we’d have this guy at the district attorney’s office send letters from the DA’s office to the registered owner. The DA was blaming Latino youth coming from the Mission into the Castro. They were really rich kids from Marim and the peninsula, taking their daddy’s cars, coming into the city. They thought they could get away with this.

And they didn’t; it stopped.

The work we were able to do at San Francisco Women’s Building landmark was just amazing. Everything was rented to women’s groups. We did events so that the building could stay open.

I was an employee there at Community United Against Violence, which is what came out of all those weekends of Butterflies and Oranges, of doing the work that we did. Community United Against Violence was born out of that.

I was also helping organize Pride–helping on the stages, speaking for lesbians and Latina rights off the main stage, helping set up the stages and do security for the parade. I left in ’72, and went back to Puerto Rico. When I came back, I joined a group called GENTE. GENTE was one of the first lesbian of color organizations. We were Filipina, Chinese, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Chicana, African-American, Native-American. We were the rainbow. To me, that was one of the biggest catapults for doing my work today. To organize something as big as a lesbian of color caucus for old lesbians, that’s my dream right now.

That’s what you’d like to organize in the future?

Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to do now even in OLOC, because we have a gathering every two years. We’re all aging. We’re all gonna get here, and so we need organizations that have a strong platform where lesbians of color who are aging as well can be heard, can use resources and can figure out how we can celebrate ourselves. We need to continue celebration, and to me that’s important, the celebration. The loss of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, where I worked for 15 years, was such a big loss for lesbians in this country. It’s like, as lesbian businesses close, where do we go?

I believe that we’re all in the struggle together, and I also believe that I deserve my own space that I can call “safe” space for me. It’s hard to go to conferences where we ask for a lesbian hospitality room and are denied and said, “Go to SAGE or go to queer hospitality.” And it’s like, “Okay, everybody else has a hospitality room, but when lesbians ask for one they said no, that we’re politically incorrect and we’re transphobic because we want our own space?”

You’ve been described as a lesbian elder in many ways and obviously it’s because of your vision for a lesbian space and lesbian identity, and specifically for lesbians of color. What is being a lesbian elder, or being seen as a lesbian elder mean to you?

Well that’s the thing. A lot of people don’t see me as an elder. I’m gonna be 69 in a couple of months, and I don’t ‘look my age.’

As an older lesbian of color, particularly, what would your vision be for new kinds of organizing now, feminist lesbian organizing?

Oh, what a vision. Because I’m a lesbian of color, I can only speak to what’s real for me and for a lot of us: to continue to speak out and to continue to do the work. OLOC is a fairly white organization. Right now I’m the only lesbian of color on the steering committee. I would like to bring on four more lesbians of color into leadership roles. I wanna be heard by all of my constituents. And I’m not talking just lesbians. I’m talking the young queer women, the women who don’t identify as lesbian.

What would be your message to them? What would you want to tell them?

Live up to who you are. Be who you are. It’s not a bad thing to be a lesbian. If somebody told me, “Go to this college and talk about gender identity,” I’d go, “Okay.” My gender is female, and I identify as a lesbian. It’s like, I’m androgynous. I’m a gender-bender. I’m all those things because I’m called “sir”. I’ve been kicked out of many a women’s bathroom. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been there done that so you don’t have to. It’s okay to be a dyke. It’s okay to use all those old words. It’s okay to be you, and not to give up the struggle, especially for young lesbians who are questioning, “Am I queer? Am I trans? Am I lesbian?”

What are some of the key challenges you find in your communities?

Living is a big challenge today for a lot of old lesbians of color. I think that two of the biggest challenges are housing and health. Those two things are so major as we age. Not all of us have kids. Not all of us have parents still living. Not all of us are married and have partners. Not all of us have a community, but I would love to see a community of lesbians housed.  

We’re doing a Lesbian of Color Day the first day of our OLOC gathering in Tampa and I’d like to see how many lesbians of color will come to this and spend the day. I wanna talk about who we are, where we’re going, where we’re from, what we wanna see happen in our lives. What is it that we need to see happen? Because not only as lesbians are we becoming more marginalized, but as old women. Forget the lesbian part, as old women, we are totally marginalized. You have one over here in this house, and one over there in that medical facility. We need something just for us so we can say “This is a lesbian-run community of the future.”

What does it mean for you to be honored or to be aligned with Astraea as an Acey Social Justice Feminist Award nominee?

It’s important because Astraea’s always been lesbian to me. I’m honored because the work that Astraea has done and helped, how many organizations that you all have helped to continue, and the way you’ve enabled us to continue organizing, to continue with the work that we all have to do. Very few organizations like Astraea exist and honor and recognize lesbians.

Eleanor Palacios

Eleanor Palacios, now retired, lives in San Francisco where she continues her activism by volunteering for The Chicana Latina Foundation, OpenHouse, and Puente de la Costa Sur. The Chicana Latina Foundation is an organization whose mission is to empower Chicanas/Latinas through personal, educational, and professional advancement. OpenHouse provides housing, services, and community programs for LGBT seniors. Puente is a resource center on the South Coast that provides services for the farmworkers and their families. In 2003, Eleanor joined the Board of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, transferring over as an employee, to Events Manager, three years later. She continued her position at NCLR until 2013. In 2002 when the San Francisco LGBT Center opened its doors, Eleanor quickly volunteered once a week at the reception desk. It was at this time that she saw a need for more LGBT Latinos to get involved in this new Community Center. She along with 3 friends founded the Latino Forum, a space for LGBT Latinos to meet and gather, plan social events, and be a part of this new Center. The Latino Forum continued for 3 years, with special celebrations promoting Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos. Also in February of 2002 under the name of Lady Iguana Productions, Eleanor produced and created, Riquisimo, an all-Latina lesbian review of comedy, music, spoken word, art, and dance performance. She also served on the board of Astraea between 2009 – 2011. From 1992 until now, Eleanor has also worked part time for Olivia Travel.

Q&A with Eleanor Palacios

Your activism has spanned the decades. Can you tell us about your work with the San Francisco LGBT center, and what it meant to create a space for Latinas and Latinos specifically?

My first involvement with the Center began when it first broke ground. I was one of the Founders, one qualified by donating a certain amount. The Community was quite excited about having a new Center. Since I lived a couple of blocks away I knew that I would volunteer and I did. One evening a week I was at the front desk, answering questions or referring people to the various programs available. After about 6 months it became apparent that not too many Latinos were coming into the Center. It took a few of us to start doing some outreach, we put the word out and soon we had people showing up to our monthly Latino Forum. The Center provided the space and encouraged our participation. At the height of the Forum we had close to 100 people showing up. It was wonderful to have a space where we could discuss our issues.

You have been described as a “madrina”, a godmother to young Latina women who were coming out. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means for you and why mentorship is such a critical part of your work? Did you have mentors as a young lesbian activist?

I did not have mentors when I was younger so I think that is one reason why I think it is so important to provide mentorship as I look back and wish I had. Today I have a lot of young friends, some 10, 15 and 20 years difference. I love the fact that we can have these intergenerational relationships. I learn a lot from these young women and I know they learn from me.

What are some of the specific challenges you see facing Latina lesbians and queer women today?

I think the biggest challenge today is surviving our current political state. It is hard enough being a woman in today’s world, you then add the factor of being a woman of color and lesbian, it just means you have to work that much harder, be more tenacious and be ready to resist.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Astraea Acey Social Justice Feminist Award honoree?

I felt honored and thrilled that I was considered and especially that it is in Katherine’s name.

Julia Bennett

Julia Bennett is a Board certified licensed acupuncturist trained in both Chinese and Japanese acupuncture. Her long standing passion is community health and the health concerns of women, women who have tested positive for HIV and AIDS, maternity, infant, and reproductive justice for all bodies.

Currently, Julia partners with a group of diverse revolutionary practitioners who have built an alternative community health clinic in Brooklyn, NY with the goal of making health care a safe, informed, accessible, and affordable choice.

Julia ardently believes that the health challenges of our humanity must address wellness as a birthright and continues to be in partnership with movements that are committed to bringing justice to the disparities in our health care systems. Julia stands as a committed vessel for the manifestation of this work for the greatest good and well being of all.

Q&A with Julia Bennett

You have a long history of providing critical healing support to some of the most marginalized POC in New York City. Why do you see healing work as an important part of social justice movement work? What role do healers play in movement work?

Having been and continue to be in spaces that allow me to view the sundry angles of social justice and activist movements, what I continue to witness is the high incidence of burnout. With all of the lofty visions, tremendous strides, passionate and compassionate hard work, what cannot be ignored is the impact of burnout on the physical, psycho-social and emotional body of both those on the line and the efficacy of the movements themselves. For this reason alone, healing justice is a must. Alma John reminded us of the value of “Each one teach one.” If I may add to that, that in our giving to others may we heal ourselves so that the vibrancy of our commitment to transformation and parity in the world be reflected in the presentation of our personal wellness. Strong partnerships and healthy alliances allow sustainability in any movement and healers should be arm in arm with movement work every step of the way.

How have the communities you’ve worked with and the political environment they’re working in changed over the course of your healing practice?

Many things come to mind with this question. I think about the deeper ways the politics of movements have grown but also the superficial ways in which social justice movements have appeared to have affected change. My grandmother always pops up here and I just have to tell this story, again. I grew up in Jim Crow South in the 1950’s. Long story short, I remember my grandmother’s fear every time one of her younger sons left the house, who were teenagers when I was 5 for so. I remember her admonishing them to make sure they crossed the street if they were passing a white man, make sure they did not look anyone white in the eye, and ultimately not to look or heaven forbid touch a white woman. What has changed as a result of the politics of the civil rights movement and the Black Power movement, of which I have history, is that it appears Black folks are more liberated, have more freedoms and rights, and have gained access to the American dream. What is disturbing is that I hear Black mothers in my community giving that same speech to their sons with the same terror in their voices here in 2019. I don’t question the authenticity of movements and what drives our social justice movements, but I do question how the intersection of politics, government, and privilege can challenge movements. In the early 1990’s at the height of the AIDS pandemic, I ran a support group for lesbians who were HIV+ and/or had full blown AIDS. Since that time the funding for HIV/AIDS in POC communities have not been as prominent as the virus continues to plant itself. This is political. Perhaps, things have shifted in ways I am not able to comprehend or perhaps, the more things change the more they remain the same. I trust the former will be my conclusion.

Do you see yourself as a lesbian elder, and if so, what does that mean to you? What is your vision for feminist organizing?

I am a cis woman, nearly 70 years, and identify as lesbian, a woman who loves women. As an out lesbian in the 1970’s, though the shoulders I stood on then had already dug deep roots to nurture, direct, and protect me, they were still perilous times. We had to be vigilant in our commitment to walk a dignified and just life and movement building and forming allied relationships were intensely important. What being an elder lesbian activist healer means to me is that I am charged with staying the course to eliminate as much harm, disparity, injustice, and patriarchal oppression for all people through the lens of the feminine. I believe that female energy can uplift the vibratory rate on the planet where deep healing can occur and my vision for feminist organizing is to speak to that in all I do. Educate our young, middle, and elder populations to recognize oppression, speak out and take action in their own right, agitate the systems that continue to get in the way of all human beings living powerfully in a world where we all belong, and modeling and committing to extending as much goodness as I can muster.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Astraea Acey Social Justice Feminist Award?

I am humbled beyond words to be nominated for the Astraea Acey Social Justice Feminist Award. Astraea has been the Goddess of female empowerment throughout my journey here in NYC as an out lesbian. I remember as a member of SalsaSoul how proud we felt when any woman of color was recognized by The Astraea Foundation. It was and is the epitome of recognition. That Astraea has chosen to hold this space for me feels surreal and I am honored. More than that, I value all the ways Astraea continues to unpack and challenge oppression and open new gateways for the varied LGBTQ movements to thrive.</ br> Thank you ALL for your tireless, devoted, and brilliant work for years, and years. You are the bar that all social justice organizations would be proud to reach. May you, Astraea and your powerful herstory continue to gain all the momentum that thrusts you and your work deeper into the wide world. Thank you.