Astraea’s blog, Collective Care Blog: Building the Power & Resilience of LBTQI Movements Now & for the Long Haul, is Astraea’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a feminist LBTQI funder, we believe it is our responsibility to shed light on the ways our communities are particularly impacted by the crisis, share insights around the criticality of healing justice and collective care, as well as the ways in which we’re digging deep to keep shifting power to the grassroots in meaningful and sustainable ways.
“These times are both: painful and pivotal. They are taxing times with the double pandemics of coronavirus and long-standing violence against Black people absorbing people in differing degrees of anxiety, isolation, fear, disgust, devastation, and a dynamic, pulsing display of determination.” – Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Black activist, writer, and Zen priest
Black communities are living through two public health crises simultaneously. One – COVID-19 – began in late 2019 and the other – racism – has been ongoing for over 400 years. Both have disproportionate and devastating impacts on Black and Brown communities. With uprisings for the Black Lives Matter movement in their fourth week in the United States, the words of Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, “these times are both: painful and pivotal” are poignant. They remind us that these uprisings have the power to create change, and simultaneously that dismantling systemic racism will not happen overnight, and Black people continue to face ongoing violence.
In our statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we amplified and encouraged folks to support our U.S. based grantees who have been on the frontlines working to simultaneously advance racial and gender justice, while also responding to the needs of their communities as a result of COVID-19, a crisis that has disproportionately impacted Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous communities. For this blog post, we spoke to Program Officer Courtney Okeke to delve a little deeper into some of the work our grantees have been doing to support their communities over the last few months, and highlight why it is critical we support that work, not just now but always, if we want to ensure our movements’ sustainability and resilience.
While the recent demonstrations are unprecedented in many ways, they are the result of decades of Black-led organizing towards anti-racism, abolition, and healing justice. Similarly, while Black and Brown communities have rapidly mobilized to support their communities through COVID-19 over the last few months, their strategies come from years of community-centered collective care work that has been building towards an abolitionist vision for the future. As Astraea, we are incredibly proud to fund and support many of these Black-led LBTQI organizations fighting to radically reimagine our societies as safe for us all.
How have our grantees been impacted by COVID-19?
All our grantees have been impacted by COVID-19 in some way, and have had to adapt their strategies to meet this moment, be that expanding mutual aid or expanding their organizing to support community needs, all the while complying with shutdowns across the country. As Program Officer Courtney Okeke shared, “Our grantees are Black, migrant, trans, and gender non-conforming (GNC) led and work across the very communities who are being most affected by the racial, healthcare, and economic injustices being exacerbated right now – HIV+ people, incarcerated people, sex worker communities, those who are unhoused, those who are migrants, those dealing with domestic violence, those who don’t have access to healthcare and reproductive health services, and more.”
Coalition building is critical for our movements because it brings groups together across issues, identities, and geographies, ultimately supporting them to create social change. The deepening of coalitions has been a key strategy groups have been using to coalesce around shared visions for their communities.
Many of our grantees are part of the Movement for Black Lives – including Law for Black Lives, BYP100, MediaJustice, Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, and others – which has been a critical platform for Black-led groups of all sizes to really build together towards the larger Black Lives Matter agenda.
Groups that have not been part of established platforms or coalitions in the past are also coming together to work with others who have similar goals. One such partnership is the work that grantees Black and Pink and TGIJP are doing together to support queer and trans Black people in prisons who are at extremely high risk of being infected by COVID-19. Additionally, with TGIJP leading, the groups have been working to specifically support Black trans people coming out of prison to ensure they have community support and resources during this period of social isolation, especially given that being criminalized, leaving the prison system, and reentering society already presents a number of challenges. This work of course remains incredibly necessary through the current protests and uprisings.
Fighting for access to healthcare and reproductive rights
The U.S. South – and particularly Black communities in the region – has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of unequal access to healthcare and ill-equipped healthcare facilities. This is on top of growing attacks on abortion and trans people’s ability to access healthcare, just to name a few.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Astraea grantees SisterSong and SPARK were working to advance reproductive justice and were often first responders for Black queer and trans communities in terms of connecting people to birthing support, doulas, and healthcare support in general. The two organizations also regularly work to create culture change, advance knowledge around reproductive justice, and build networks to improve policies and systems that negatively impact the reproductive lives and bodily autonomy of their communities. With COVID-19, the cracks in the existing healthcare system have deepened and the work of SisterSong, SPARK, and others like them has taken on even more urgency and had to expand to be able to meet their communities’ needs.
Additionally, SisterSong and SPARK have also been working in partnership with various other groups – faith-based groups, smaller rural organizations, as well as the Southeastern Alliance for Reproductive Equity (SARE), a regional partnership working to align reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations serving diverse communities in the Southeast. The work and collaboration of these coalitions has doubled down during this period, given that individual groups’ capacity is stretched but the need for their advocacy is more critical than ever.
Prioritizing Healing Justice
COVID-19 and the recent uprisings have highlighted the need for Black and Brown communities to be able to access healing justice tools and practices as essential to their survival and health. Astraea grantee National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN) has been working both to increases their communities’ access to healers across the country, as well as to create spaces to ensure that healers themselves have access to the support systems and tools they need to be able to sustain their work. Throughout the uprisings, NQTTCN has also been using its own platforms to amplify the work of Black mental health and healing justice practitioners.
Moving beyond this ‘moment of crisis’
In Intersections of Justice in the Time of Coronavirus Cara Page & Eesha Pandit write, “As we increasingly hear the word “crisis,” which evokes panic and a fear-based response, this is an opportunity to be clear and intentional about exactly what the crisis is. In fact, though we are indeed facing a public health crisis in the form of a virus, many of our communities live in crisis and economic disparities constantly. These crises, such as lack of access to dignified and quality health care and housing, a living wage, electricity, running water and freedom from state, communal, and interpersonal violence, are created and sustained by institutions and social structures that are working as intended.”
Black queer and trans communities in the United States live in a constant state of crisis and economic disparities as a result of ongoing state-led violence and discrimination. The grassroots, community-centered collective care work of Black-led organizations is not at all new, but as crises further marginalize these communities, the urgent need to resource it and sustain it only grows.
Ultimately however, as Cara and Eesha write, it’s about moving beyond the panic and fear of just this moment. We have to recognize that the work of Black-led organizations is an absolutely critical, galvanizing force for seeding transformative change, and we have to resource it. If we want to see that change, that transformation, and those abolitionist visions come to life, we must fund the work of Black activists, and support them to build power not just now, but forever.
Donate to Astraea now and support the incredible Black queer and trans-led organizing working to secure a more just future for us all.
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