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.

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. A great deal of her career has been spent promoting values-based leadership in order to create safe and welcoming environments where the richness of the information that resides within all communities can emerge and be appreciated and included in the planning or change processes. She has worked with such groups as Mental Health Consumer Concerns and Progressive Research & Planning for Action, and has won numerous awards for her community work and her work supporting those with experiences of alcohol and substance abuse, including the California Legislature Assembly Certificate of Recognition for Front Line Work, and Certificates of Recognition and Appreciation from Congresswoman Barbara Lee and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

Crawford now lives in Vallejo, California and does work focusing on cannabis justice via the organization Senior-Cann, a cannabis education and healthy living membership for seniors that seeks to break the stigma associated with medical cannabis and aging.

Q&A with Brenda Joyce Crawford

You’ve been on the frontlines of social justice movements for decades. What first inspired you to get into social justice work? What keeps you doing the work?

I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and my folks were sharecroppers. My earliest recollection of racism was when I was seven years old. I remember hearing this White man speak to my Grandfather like he was a child and my grandfather being extremely deference to this man. I did not understand what was happening, but I will never forget the shame and anger in my poppa’s eyes as he walked away. I think in my childlike understanding of what was happening, I thought, “When I grow up I am going to protect people from ‘mean people’.” This childhood memory has led to my spending many years fighting against Racism, Sexism, homophobia and classism. All of these isms are illness of the spirits that separates us all from our humanity and health. So it has always been important to me promote and work to achieve social justice as ways of achieving health and wholeness in our lives and spirits. What keeps me going is the support of my community and my unwavering commitment to Justice and trying to eliminate barriers that separate us.

How have movements changed since you first started organizing?

The movement is more diverse today and people are more open about their sexual orientation. When I first came out in 1963, many people were closeted and lived in fear of being outed and maybe being the victim of violence. Sadly, today we seem to be going backward under the current administration. However, I still believe we need to continue to have conversations on race and class in the LGBT communities. Without these conversations, we will remain racially polarized where eighteen Black Trans women can be murdered in this country, practically going unnoticed by many mainstream LGBT communities and organizations. In the early days, grassroots organizing was the way in which LGBT communities built communities and developed strategies to achieve civil rights. There seems to be a move toward seeking support from corporations to provide resources to support our struggles, which does not always serve us and leaves out the most marginalized and disenfranchised members of our community.

In Los Angeles in 2003, you organized to bring Black lesbian elders to the National Black Lesbian Conference. Why did it feel so critically important to have elders in that space?

Because before the formation of the National Organization on Black Lesbian Aging (NOBLA), our voices were not heard, honored or even sought to contribute to LGBT aging conversations. I along with my sisters were aging and services were being developed without our input. Very little research was being conducted to discover the health risks and develop healthy aging strategies for Black Lesbians. Many of us when we age become frightened because of the extreme social isolation and homophobia in many Black Aging and Older Adult service organizations. I wanted to bring older Black Lesbians together, first to show women from all around the country that we are not alone, and next to get information on what our needs were as we age so that culturally appropriate services could be developed. I also wanted to expose many younger Black Lesbians to Black Lesbian Elders as a way of creating intergenerational conversations and relationships. It was important that younger women see and experience that we are all stronger together. I wanted to highlight and illustrate how ageism in the Black Lesbian communities hurts us all young and old.

That gathering was one of the highlights of my life.

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

I am grateful, honored and humbled. I continue to do the work at 73 because unfortunately, there is still work to be done. My hope is that by continuing to work for full inclusion and equality now that I am older and my work includes the wisdom that aging brings, can be more effective and have a greater impact on my community. Thank you all for this recognition. I really appreciate being selected.

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. She is simply “Mama” to many in her community. Her personal story and activism for Transgender civil rights intersects LGBT struggles for justice and equality from the 1960’s to today. At the center of her activism is her fierce advocacy for her girls, Trans women of color who have survived police brutality and incarceration in men’s jails and prisons.

Miss Major is formerly the long-time executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), which advocates for Trans women of color in and outside of prison. She is the recipient of countless awards, proclamations, certificates, and public accolades for more than 50 years of a legendary and pioneering career in social justice and activism. Most notably, she is also the subject of a new award-winning documentary feature film currently showing around the country and in foreign film markets – “MAJOR!”

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. Her consulting work includes and is centered on integration of values and principles of equity and social justice. She has decades of experience in organizational leadership and administrative oversight, including as one of the founding mothers and former executive director of Asian & Pacific Islander Women & Family Safety Center (now merged as API Chaya), former Administrator/Senior Research Coordinator for Center for Women’s Welfare, former Community Programs Manager at International Community Health Services, and former executive director of Asian Pacific AIDS Council. She has also formerly served as a member of such organizations as the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum’s (NAPAWF’s) governing board and the Washington State Task Force on Human Trafficking. Norma was an awardee of the 2011 Tony Lee Social Justice Award, a 2011 co-honoree of a City of Seattle proclamation for organizing towards social justice in response to human trafficking and intimate partner violence, was the 2015 recipient of the University of Washington, School of Social Work Martin Luther King Community Service Award, a recent nominee for the University of Washington’s Distinguished Teaching award, and was recognized as one of 50 U.S. Asian Pacific American “Sheroes” by NAPAWF.

Norma is adjunct faculty at the University of Washington School of Social Work and has taught courses on social justice and racial equity, InterGroup Dialogue, organizational development, community and coalition building, policy development and advocacy, community organizing, human development, direct social work practice, and community collaborative program evaluation and participatory action research. Additionally, Norma has been a counselor for many years and currently has a small private practice as a mental health therapist and organizational healer. Norma also provides conflict mediation from a framework of equity and social justice. She is one of the co-founders at The Well on Beacon in Seattle, a culturally diverse and responsive, multi-service, holistic wellness clinic.

Born and raised in the Seattle and surrounding area, Norma is a grandmother of 5 and mother of 2 mixed race single moms. She is a survivor of domestic violence and child sexual assault. She identifies as Filipinx, disabled, queer, pansexual, has cis-gender privilege, and goes by she or they pronouns. At age 62, Norma lives in a small studio apartment in a suburb of Seattle. She enjoys cooking and eating in her disproportionately large kitchen, playing with grandchildren, hanging out with her daughters and her partner of 17 years, Tania. She has been working on a book for many years on internalized oppression, ironically the reason the book is taking so many years to write.


Q&A with Norma Timbang

Most of your activist work has been centered in the Pacific Northwest. Why does it feel critically important to you to do social justice work in that region?

I’m connected now to a few LGBTQ policy advocacy and movement building organizations and get event and project announcements quite frequently. When I look at who is involved in some of the projects, I still see a lack of diversity. I’ve also engaged with LGBTQ organizations and am concerned by the lack of understanding of how to operationalize equity and inclusion. Unfortunately, this often leads to struggles in collectives and organizations, e.g., breakdown in relationships, trust is lost, resentment grows, several members choose to exit (sometimes all or majority the BIPOC members), etc. Sadly, this is painful and sometimes results in white LGBTQ leadership sustaining their status as leaders in our communities, while still holding limited understanding of equity and inclusion. In our region, I see the culture of – “Let’s not and say we did” (phrase coined by a black activist in our community) – contributing to the continued white dominance in our movement. Ultimately, this divides our communities and leaves BIPOC LGBTQ folx with disproportionately less resources and capacity for sustainability.

We still get left out. I’ve been connecting with LGBTQ elder projects and I still find sometimes that I am the only person of color in the room when planning events or conferences. When I try to bring in other BIPOC folx, there is resistance on their part because of past experiences of exclusion and racism in LGBTQ projects. In the PNW, elder LGBTQ housing and service development is an overwhelming concern. We don’t have enough opportunities to dig into the needs at the intersection of race and LGBTQ identities and culture. As a part-time teacher at a school that brings in students from all over the country, I hear that this area is sometimes thought of as having a culture of being “nice” but not having the capacity to be open and deeply engage in conversations about race, class, gender, queerness, immigration, etc., or to explore possibilities for alliance or accountability.

You’re known as the coordinator and “grandmother” of the first National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) conference. Why did it feel critical at that time to organize API communities, and specifically queer and trans API communities? Why does it still feel critical?

We are still invisible. As I got older I realized my work could be more about being behind the scenes, working towards practices and principles for leadership building and organizational capacity building. I saw a new generation of folx moving forward with change-making goals and generating important critical thinking regarding the diversity of cultures in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. I feel like I can be of some support in making the space for this to not just be a moment in time, but to rise up the perspectives of the API LGBTQ communities and to enhance national networking. The good connections we make, the relationships we build, acceptance and visibility of diverse cultural contexts, are essential to base building, relevant practices, and policy advocacy.

One of the most challenging API community struggles has been to increase our collective understanding of anti-blackness. I’ve witnessed API internalization of white dominant perspectives of what it means to be black or what it means to be LGBTQ. At the same time, we still need to be visibly diverse and consistently address stereotypes of us. I’ve heard staff reviewing applications for individual fellowships imply that the API applicants don’t need funding, believing the dominant and untrue stereotype that we are all financially well off. I still hear people from white dominant LGBTQ communities assume that API’s are immigrants, or the conflation of Taiwan and Hong Kong as – “aren’t they all just Chinese?”, or from our own communities – the assumption that being “gay” is a thing that white people do.

How do you feel about being considered a mother/grandmother of the movement? What advice do you have for younger generations of queer and trans movement leaders?

I feel very privileged to be considered in this way. I used to feel weird when folx referred to me as “Aunty Norma” – but now I have settled into it and am happy to receive respect wherever I can get it. I feel like my role is to support new leadership and to grow tighter intergenerational bonds. I don’t feel like I am in a place to offer advice but that we all learn together and there are definitely folx younger than myself who know so much more than me about how to move the needle towards liberation. The strength in our movement is reliant on our shared knowledge, but also on the strength of our relationships, and on our compassion for each other.

Sometimes what I see is that some folx from oppressed experiences in the movement for social justice, equity, and inclusion, hold so much anger and resentment from that place of oppression and this often ends up not serving us well. My hope is that we learn more about how to receive each other with open hearts and minds and to not cut each other off based on assumptions or judgments. In doing mediation with some of our grassroots folx in the movement, I feel such hopefulness when I get to witness that they actually can listen to each other with empathy and work to heal the wounds that are ultimately created by this oppressive system. Collective trauma and historical trauma can be unearthed and be a place of connection and enhance our common analyses of how to resist these oppressive and divisive systems. There are certainly people we should not be working with, but we also risk losing progressive and active community members if we don’t take the time to listen and have deep compassion. I hope that people can take the time to be mindful and pay attention to their wellness, and support each other in their collective wellness, to respect and hold each other when times are rough, to continue to be visible and make our most radical and rebellious work a place of integrity and fire.

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

I hope it’s okay, but I’m going to have to share a little bit of my feelings of struggle here. I don’t see myself as a victim – I do see my narrative, however, as representative of many BIPOC, financially struggling, LGBTQ elders. Firstly, it’s so true that some of us as we grow older are not able to reach the kind of financial profile that many white and middle class LGBTQ folx can. I also feel like the majority of BIPOC LGBTQ folx don’t have the advantage of accumulated or intergenerational financial stability. I also end up using much of my earnings to make sure my adult children can pay their rent and take care of their children. Working part-time and picking up gigs here and there for extra income, is how I make ends meet. I’m not the person who usually gets chosen for the higher paying full-time jobs, maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s about not being white smart. I still have a substantial balance on school loans that I took out to pay for child care, etc., when I was finishing my bachelors degree as a single mom in the 90’s. For now, the Acey funds will help pay some medical bills and, honestly, help fill in the income gaps I sometimes experience.

I am also so very grateful and am feeling a strong sense of honor and humility to be recognized among several amazing people who have done such outstanding work in our communities. This kind of acknowledgement helps to inspire me to keep on keeping on, to know I am not alone, and to thrive from a place of community support. It’s been a long road and so many paths to go…

Today’s landmark SCOTUS hearings on LGBT rights

Today, as many of us go about our Tuesdays, the United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in three LGBT cases for the first time since President Trump nominated two justices to the court, including Justice Kavanaugh.

Photo credit: Elainiel Baldwin and Southerners on New Ground (SONG)

Today, the United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in three LGBT cases for the first time since the President nominated two justices to the court, including Justice Kavanaugh. The specific question at stake in all three cases is whether it should be legal to fire employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, this is also symptomatic of a much larger, well-funded global attack on LGBTQI and women’s rights more widely.

These cases—Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC—all concern protection from discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the Zarda and Bostock cases, Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock—two gay men—were fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. In Harris Funeral Homes, Aimee Stephens—a trans woman—was fired two weeks after telling her boss she is a woman. Her boss has claimed that he would be violating “God’s Commands” by allowing Stephens “to deny [her] sex while acting as a representative of [the] organization.”

The Supreme Court’s decisions on these cases will not be released until well into 2020, but they are critical regardless of their outcomes. For one, the very existence of the Harris Funeral Homes case validates right wing groups’ desire to reject and erase the existence of trans people altogether. In briefs filed ahead of oral arguments, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)—the group representing Thomas Rost of Harris Funeral Homes—did not recognize Aimee Stephens as a woman, and in fact specifically avoided using her correct pronouns. The ADF is at the forefront of the conservative legal battle to use religious exemptions to roll-back women’s and LGBTQI rights.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Harris Funeral Homes, it will also indicate that the law allows employers to fire an individual in the United States simply for being trans. As Chase Strangio—Deputy Director for Transgender Justice at the ACLU and part of the counsel in the Harris Funeral Homes case—said on Twitter, “the consequences of a ruling against the LGBTQ employees will be far reaching,” and will begin the unraveling of decades of sex discrimination advances.

Right wing groups including the ADF are also using well-honed strategies of division, and they frequently use misleading rhetoric to intentionally pitt women’s rights activists against LGBTQI activists. In this case, the ADF has argued that should Stephens prevail, “equal opportunities and bodily privacy protections for women and girls will be lost.” This attempt to set women’s rights against trans, LGBQ, and intersex rights is both dangerous and false. Advancements in sex-based discrimination protections protect all, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. A decision against Stephens would suggest that anyone who does not conform to rigid, retrograde gender norms—regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation—is putting their employment on the line.

The very fact that three cases in 2019 ask whether it is lawful to fire someone simply for being LGBTQI, suggests that many believe LGBTQI people should not be entitled to the same protections against discrimination as their cisgender and/or heterosexual counterparts. This sentiment is not new. In the U.S. and in regions across the world, growing far-right anti-gender movements, which we wrote about recently, are strategically weaponizing conservative rhetoric that would have people believe that we are the enemy.

These ‘gender ideology’ movements are part of a growing, well-coordinated, funded global movement which has been designed to control our communities by restricting the rights and bodily autonomy of LGBTQI communities, women, and people of color. Their intent is to “depict efforts to expand rights for women and LGBTQI people as radical, dangerous impositions designed to eliminate all sex differences.”

The current Administration’s own ‘gender ideology’ agenda is evidenced through its growing list of efforts to rollback rights and protections for women and LGBTQI communities by proposing a ‘legal’ definition of sex based on gender assigned at birth, thereby disregarding individuals’ gender identities and expressions; banning transgender people from serving in the military; and restricting federal funding for health clinics that provide abortion referrals, just to name a few. These relentless attacks denying protection to women and LGBTQI communities are intentional and highly strategic. They are also creating the conditions for increased violence and hate against LGBTQI, Black, Brown, and migrant communities. This year alone, 19 trans women of color have been murdered around the country as trans rights continue to be stripped away in multiple policy areas.

While these cases have only begun to attract mainstream media attention over the last couple of weeks, they are being cited as the single most important set of explicitly LGBT cases to reach the Supreme Court because they encompass both sexual orientation and gender identity, and so potentially impact the livelihoods of all LGBTQI people and women in the United States. That they have even made it to the Supreme Court is evidence of the growing tide of discrimination against women and LGBTQI people. These rulings directly address discrimination based on sex and will also have implications for sex-based discrimination protections for all women more generally, who regularly face workplace discriminations.

Over forty years ago, Astraea’s founding mothers understood that the struggle for women’s rights was and is intimately linked to the struggle for LGBTQI rights. Then and now, these struggles and the threats against them have been global in nature, and activists around the world continue to resist far-right gender ideology movements as a matter of survival. These are not just battles taking place “over there,” but here in our own backyards, in the United States legal system and in our ongoing culture wars.

What we have learned from movements in other countries is to push back against these anti-gender, right-wing forces, women’s rights and LGBTQI rights movements must come together. Our struggles are inherently connected, and connection and solidarity will fortify us to combat the attacks on all our bodies, lives, and freedoms. Astraea has always prioritized shifting power and resources to grassroots feminist, LGBTQI movements working in solidarity all over the world, understanding that it is through resourcing and working at the very junctions that abnegate power, freedom, and rights, that we can support movements to bring about the most meaningful, and lasting change. After all, there is no freedom for some at the expense of others.

In Solidarity,

Sandy Nathan
Interim Executive Director


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Welcoming our new Interim Executive Director, Sandy Nathan

Astraea is delighted to welcome Sandy Nathan as our new Interim Executive Director. We asked her a few questions about her vision for Astraea during the next 9-12 months and beyond.

ABOUT

Sandra Nathan is excited to be joining Astraea as Interim Executive Director for the next 9-12 months, leading the organization through a transition period. During this period, Sandy will work with the Board and staff laying the groundwork for the next permanent Executive Director.

Sandra comes to Astraea with extensive executive leadership experience in philanthropy, government, and the nonprofit sector. She currently serves as Principal and CEO for Apodictic Consultants, providing strategic consulting and transitional leadership to philanthropic institutions, nonprofits and government with an equity and social justice lens. Most recently, she served as the Interim Executive Director for Philanthropy Southwest, providing transitional and strategic leadership, enabling the organization to successfully position itself for new leadership and growth, and deepen its commitment to equity. 

Prior to starting her consultancy, Sandra served as Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Services and Community Investment for the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA) in Tucson. There she was chief strategist for the foundation’s grantmaking, community investment opportunities and led the organization’s use of diverse capital streams. She also oversaw the work of CFSA’s affiliated partner organizations, including the African American Initiative, the Alliance (LGBTQ) Fund, the Latino Giving Circle, and the Santa Cruz Community Foundation.

Prior to that, Sandra was the Vice President of Grants and Loans at the Marin Community Foundation, where she oversaw grantmaking for the Buck Trust, an endowment of over $900 million. She oversaw grantmaking in excess of $20 million annually, all in support of MCF’s strategic initiatives, community grants, and loans. 

Sandra’s background also includes executive leadership in nonprofits at the national and local levels. She served as Executive Vice President for the National Council on Aging in Washington, DC; as Regional Director for AARP in Dallas, Texas; and Washington Director for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

Sandra has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of San Diego, a Master of Arts in Public Administration from National University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Theology and Christian Education. She also holds a certificate in Nonprofit Management from the Harvard Business School. 

With a passion for board service, Sandra serves on the Board of Directors of Northern California Grantmakers, UC Berkeley Pacific School of Religion, the Tohono Chul Park Foundation, Equality Arizona, and provides pro bono consultant support to Tucson Senior Pride.


QUESTION & ANSWER

How did you come to know about Astraea?

I’ve known about the Astraea Foundation for many years, and have always had tremendous pride in the foundation’s lesbian/feminist roots and focus. But it wasn’t until I became more active in social justice, gender and LGBTQI issues and along with that, a career shift into philanthropy, that I fully understood how Astraea has evolved into an innovative funder for LGBTQI activism around the globe. As a leader and a seasoned grantmaker, I love that Astraea has remained true to its DNA as a funder of feminist and LGBTQI issues, and goes about its work in partnership with movement leaders domestically and abroad, who are committed to shifting power.

What inspires you about leading Astraea through this transition period?

What inspires me about leading Astraea through this transition is a strong alignment between the work of the foundation and my core values. This is a role in which I can bring my full self to the table. I am also inspired in that I have absolute clarity that we are living in a time of profound social change, and that I have the lived experience, passion and heart to lead the organization into a new and desired future as it prepares itself for a new, permanent leader. Astraea has grown exponentially in the past few years, thanks to leadership, dedication and hard work. Astraea is now poised for that next level of growth.  In order to reach that level some internal transformation now needs to occur. What I am bringing to my role as an Interim is experience ensuring there is a solid foundation strategically and operationally for new leadership. At the center of my leadership style is also an understanding that organizations cannot be transformed or transformative unless heart is at the center of what they do. To me that means also ensuring there is a vibrant and healthy organizational culture, and a solid infrastructure so that the mission and goals of the organization are achievable for a new leader. Stepping into an interim leadership role really requires a certain level of selflessness, and the capacity to not look for outward recognition as a leader. I am here for the good of the organization.  So for the next nine months, I am excited to bring heart centered leadership, and a commitment to serve and support the board and staff so that collectively, we can bring our best selves to the exciting future ahead for Astraea. 

What secret feminist super-power should we know about?

If I told you, I’d be giving up one of my best trade secrets.

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

During my downtime, I love doing yoga, reading, cooking and spending quality time with my family and friends.

A favorite person, quote or mantra that you’d like to share?

One of my favorite quotes is “My silence will not protect me.” ( Audre Lorde)

Fighting for Freedom in Puerto Rico

In May 2019, we co-hosted a “Freedom from Violence and Criminalization Convening” for U.S. and Puerto Rico-based grantee partners along with Borealis Philanthropy in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We interviewed some of Astraea’s grantee partners in attendance about what it meant for a convening on freedom from violence and criminalization to take place in Puerto Rico.

Photo: The Freedom from Violence and Criminalization organizers and attendees; Credit: Amarilis Torres Carrasquillo

By Brenda Salas Neves (Senior Program Officer) and Mihika Srivastava (Communications Program Associate)

Over the last few months, the strength and power of the Puerto Rican movement has gained momentum. In July, widespread protests and massive mobilizations against government corruption, disinvestment in public goods caused by the debt crisis, and the state’s inadequate response to hurricane recovery efforts, led to the resignation of Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosello. We at Astraea continue to be in awe and inspired by the resistance and resilience of the communities and organizers in Puerto Rico.  

In May 2019, we co-hosted a “Freedom from Violence and Criminalization Gathering” for U.S. and Puerto Rico-based grantee partners along with Borealis Philanthropy in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The decision to host this convening in Puerto Rico was intentional because we felt it important to recognize movement work on the islands, and to deepen our collective understanding of the work that is happening beyond the U.S. that resists and transforms state violence and hyper-criminalization of our people. Organizing and movement work in Puerto Rico today is building on a long history of resistance, and is deeply rooted in cultural and political traditions against colonization and militarism.

From transformative justice and budget advocacy sessions to breakout sessions led by organizers, the convening offered a generative space for participants to continue building connections and deepening their visions for what safety and justice looks like in communities of color in the U.S and in Puerto Rico. Through cultural programming organized by our Puerto Rican grantee partner Circuito Queer, participants learned about the political, social, and cultural situation on the archipelago, and witnessed some of the incredible cultural tools that Puerto Rican organizers are utilizing to build power. We received opening blessings from a local Taino elder, Kukuya, grounding participants in local healing traditions. Holistic wellness was woven throughout the programming, from sessions led by facilitators, Erica Woodland and Monique Meadow, to healing offerings such as massage, cuping, tarot reading, and acupuncture by local healers and practitioners. These were critical for organizers who often experience burnout and trauma as a result of ongoing state violence and oppression.

We interviewed some of Astraea’s grantee partners in attendance like MediaJustice (California), Law for Black Lives (National), Familia TQLM (California), and CIRQ (Puerto Rico) about what it meant for a convening on freedom from violence and criminalization to take place in Puerto Rico.

Astraea: Celiany, as a Puerto Rican activist who organized much of the local cultural programming for this convening, why was it important for you to connect some of the work here?

Celiany Rivera, CIRQ: A lot of what we’ve been doing at this convening is coordinating the cultural schedule as well as connecting the convening organizers with local Puerto Rican queer and trans healers. For us, it’s been an opportunity to showcase and share the queer and Black-centered art that is happening in Puerto Rico in a de-colonial context. We’ve tried to customize the experience of the participants so that they can get a sense of what some of the struggles are locally. 

One of the events we coordinated that was very special to me was a dinner for participants with 21 activists who work locally on LGBTQ, racial justice, and healing justice issues. Plena Combativa was one of the groups that joined us, and is a Puerto Rican queer women-centred protest music group who performed at the end of the evening. I think this gave folks a perspective of who the people, colors, and flavors are that compose the activism and art happening in Puerto Rico. It was also an opportunity for local organizers who don’t always get to meet outside of organizing spaces to connect without an agenda and just build relationships.

Astraea: Steven and Marbre, what did you know about the Puerto Rican organizing arena before you got here?

Steven Renderos, MediaJustice: I was familiar with the work that the diaspora had done in the U.S. around Puerto Rican independence, but not so much with the work here in Puerto Rico itself. This is actually my first time visiting the island, but I think what I was aware of is that some of the issues that we work on today around surveillance were things that activists here have been dealing with since the Puerto Rican student movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and some of the organizing around those struggles has definitely influenced how we have developed some of our own work around high tech surveillance.

Marbe Stahly-Butts, Law for Black Lives: I had only been here once before on a business trip. I think what became clear to me was that a lot of the forces that we’re fighting against whether in New York City or in the South are at the extreme here in Puerto Rico, especially fights against capitalism and extraction. So I knew the broad strokes of what was happening; for example, the incredible organizing responses to the man made climate disasters that have been happening here. I was also acutely aware of the ways that business interests in the US and abroad are using Puerto Rico as a place to profit in the wake of these disasters.

Astraea: Umi, why did it feel particularly important for you to be at this convening strategizing around freedom from violence in Puerto Rico?

Umí Vera, Familia TQLM: For us it’s really important to connect with some of our coalition partners that are here that we’ve been building with, but also to connect with local community organizers here in Puerto Rico. It’s really important for us to get to share with one another about what our lessons learned in the work we’ve been doing, at both the local and national levels. I’ve been very influenced by a lot of Puerto Rican movement building and artists collectives on the mainland and I’ve heard a lot about the context of colonization on the island from some of our community members that are Puerto Rican, so I was excited to bear witness to that a little more, and see the work that they’ve been building out here. 

Astraea: Marbe, how do you feel like we and CIRQ as the convening organizers brought Puerto Rico into the space and how did that impact your experience?

Marbre: This was one of the most intentional openings around honoring the space we’re in, the land that we stand on, and the history that brought us here, as well as the connections that we all bring from our own lands, and it really set the tone for the convening.

I have been particularly struck by two things: one is the intentionality around language here and making sure that there isn’t a language that feels like it’s dominant language. Our struggles are international, multilingual ones, but we are so often in language silos. I was also struck by the fact that it felt like half the room were folks from Puerto Rico who work here. So often there’s only one person who speaks on behalf of thousands in a community but this felt far more intentional and holistic, where organizers from the mainland and Puerto Rico were equally involved, engaged, and invested.

Astraea: Steven, how has it affected your experience to be here on this colonized land where issues of freedom from violence and criminalization are felt in such a real way?

Steven: You know within MediaJustice we often talk about this concept of targeting universalism, this idea that if we hone in on solutions for the most affected we actually yield greater outcomes for the whole. So thinking about surveillance in the context of a colonized island and solutions around budget advocacy – an area that is becoming increasingly privatized on every level – has been especially poignant here. I think even having gone out in San Juan and met with some of the community groups and seen what their responses have been to some of the challenges that they’ve encountered has been helpful to think about our own tactics. There is a creativity here that emerges from a lack of resources that those of us in the more privileged sectors and geographies need to learn from. 

Brief Context on Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has been part of the U.S.’ colonial project for over 120 years now. Puerto Ricans have no representation in the federal government and are not allowed to vote unless they move to one of the 50 U.S. states. Many Puerto Ricans have been fighting for full independence from the United States, and particularly against the austerity measures which have destroyed the local economy. 

In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a deadly category 5 hurricane, hit the archipelago. Both the U.S. federal government and the government of Puerto Rico were slow in their response to the disaster. Nearly 5,000 people died and over 80% of Puerto Rican households were without electrical power for over 100 days. 

The Freedom from Violence and Criminalization Convening

The convening brought together 52 activists and organizers who are part of 30 organizations that Astraea and Borealis either collectively or respectively fund through Borealis’ “Communities Transforming Policing Fund” and Astraea’s “Freedom from Violence and Criminalization” cohort, within our U.S. Fund. 

These organizations work across the country and in Puerto Rico, their work spanning the effects of criminalization, policing, and state violence on LGBTQI people and People of Color, working towards police reform, dismantling the criminal justice system, visibilizing healing justice strategies, and much more.


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Our 2019 Healing Justice Funder Convening

On May 16, 2019 in New York, Astraea held a Healing Justice Funder Convening. We brought together 60 funders from 30 philanthropic institutions, alongside 15 organizers and healing practitioners, to strategize how we can bolster our movements by funding healing justice work.

On May 16, 2019 in New York, Astraea held a Healing Justice Funder Convening. We brought together 60 funders from 30 philanthropic institutions, alongside 15 organizers and healing practitioners, to strategize how we can bolster our movements by funding healing justice work. At a time when our communities are facing an onslaught of violence and oppression, including targeted attacks on people of color, immigrants, women and trans people, the convening was a critical opportunity for funders to discuss how healing justice can promote collective safety and build the power and resilience of movements. The convening followed the launch of Astraea’s new report, Healing Justice: Building Power, Transforming Movements.

As a public foundation, one of Astraea’s roles is to align philanthropic resources with the visions, needs, and priorities of movements. The convening honored the legacy and roots of healing justice work in the U.S. by centering the voices of organizers and practitioners from across the country. Throughout the convening, funders listened to organizers share how they can be most supportive of their struggles.

Organizers emphasized how locally-grounded and culturally-specific healing justice work is and must be. They shared how healing justice work helps build their capacities to live and thrive, as well as the power that enables them to win. They asked funders to listen, to give them space to experiment, and to trust. The convening aimed to embody healing justice throughout the day, with facilitation by healer Adaku Utah and massage, Reiki, acupressure and herbs from an amazing team of community-based practitioners.

It was a reflective, generative, and (unusually-for-philanthropy) honest space in which funders and activists exchanged ideas and worked towards a collective vision for healing justice. We’re excited to share some of the learning from the day with you:

  • If you’d like to learn more about the day’s conversations, our summary report shares the highlights.
  • Spot yourself in photos from the day here!
  • To get a feel for the convening and hear some brilliance from the speakers, watch our video above and panel recordings!

Our deepest gratitude to all the participants. We are honored to have brought together so many funders to deepen support for healing justice. We look forward to continuing to build, strategize, and vision together.