October Grantee News

Published on Oct 24, 2013

This month we bring news from grantee partners celebrating hard-fought gains in immigration rights in California, the passage of landmark legal protections against stop-and-frisk in New York, and paving the way for LBT feminist movement-building in Latin American and the Caribbean.

USA- California- San Francisco
CUAVCommunity United Against Violence gather at City Hall

California Grantees Win Immigration Rights

Years of policy advocacy, coalition-building, base-building, and direct action by Community United Against Violence (CUAV), California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA), Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC), and other groups culminated in several hard-fought victories for immigration rights recently. On October 8th, Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco signed an ordinance limiting the controversial Secure Communities program (S-Comm). S-Comm is a program created by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that links local law enforcement and federal immigration records, greatly increasing the threat of deportation to anyone arrested by local police. Dylan Cooke, Development Director at CUAV, called the ordinance, “one of the most progressive anti-S-Comm laws in the country.”

The legislation leaves a small group of people still at risk for deportation under S-Comm—so-called carve-outs—until the bill’s carve-outs sunset in three years. According to Cooke, “This means that in three years, San Francisco will be completely free of S-Comm deportations. This is an historic victory.”

For CUAV, an organization working to end violence against LGBTQ communities, the legislative gains are significant since the majority of its members are immigrants. Some members of CUAV, CIYJA, and IYC are LGBTQI migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. and fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These grantees report that high rates of homelessness and other factors make LGBTQI immigrants especially vulnerable to deportation under S-Comm.

The passage of the anti-S-Comm ordinance follows other statewide legislative wins for California grantees fighting for immigration reform: in late September, the California Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights was signed, extending basic labor protections to domestic workers. Shortly thereafter, Assembly Bill 60 was passed, requiring the California Department of Motor Vehicle to issue driver’s licenses to people who are undocumented.

Also notable was Governor Jerry Brown’s October 5th signing of the Trust Act, which prohibits local law enforcement agencies from detaining people for deportation if arrested for a minor or non-violent crime and are otherwise eligible to be released from custody. This summer, CIYJA and IYC traveled across California to raise awareness about harmful deportation policy and build public support for the TRUST Act.

While carve-outs in the Trust Act leave a larger group at risk of deportation than the anti-S-Comm ordinance in San Francisco, Cooke said the Trust Act, “sets the stage for future work to more completely protect our communities from the dangers of S-Comm.”

CRP RallyChris Bilal, youth activist with Streetwise & Safe, speaks at CPR rally

Community Safety Act Passes

Astraea congratulates grantee partners past and present, as well as other member organizations within Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), for their dedicated advocacy this summer, which pushed the New York City Council to pass the Community Safety Act. Overriding Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s staunch opposition, the City Council passed two bills to protect communities from the New York Police Department’s harmful stop-and-frisk policy. The first bill establishes an independent Office of the Inspector General to monitor and review NYPD policies and practices. The second bill bans, for the first time, NYPD profiling on the basis of age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability, and housing status. Additionally, under this bill individuals can bring claims of discrimination against the NYPD.

This landmark success is in no small part due to two decades of coalition-organizing efforts led by LGBTQI communities of color. From former Astraea grantee partner Audre Lorde Project co-founding the Coalition Against Police Brutality in the 1990s to current grantee partner Streetwise and Safe’s role on CPR’s steering committee, people of color-led LGBTQI groups have been at the forefront of coalition-building to address police accountability. Astraea commends CPR’s campaign, coordinated by Joo-Hyun Kang (a former Director of Programs at Astraea), for its indispensable work fighting to protect a multitude of communities from discriminatory NYPD practices, including LGBTQI, immigrant, and homeless New Yorkers.

With these victories come new challenges, and CPR continues efforts to meet them. Earlier this month, Mayor Bloomberg’s administration filed an appeal attempting to halt implementation of Judge Shira Sheindlin’s court ruling that stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional. Astraea extends solidarity to CPR and other activists’ call to “stop the stay” and bring an end to stop-and-frisk abuses.

VenirAttendees at Volver al Sur. Photo by Lorena Espinoza Pena

Latin American and Caribbean LBT Feminist Movement Gains Ground

Lesbian, bisexual, and trans* (LBT) feminist movement-building in Latin America and the Caribbean has gained momentum over the last year with three historic gatherings. Most recently, the 1st Caribbean Women and Sexuality Conference took place this September in Curaçao. Organized by Astraea grantee partner United & Strong in collaboration with FundashonOrguyoKorsou/Curacao Pride Foundation (FOKO), the conference brought together 30 activists from 19 LBT organizations from Antigua, Belize, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Croix, Suriname, Saint Lucia, Trinidad, St. Vincent, Grenada and the Bahamas. While some countries in the Caribbean are perceived as “LGBT positive,” LGBTQI communities face persistent hardship from discriminatory employment and health care practices, physical harassment and threats, and life-threatening violence. The groundbreaking convening spurred strategy-sharing, capacity-building, and connection amongst LBT activists whose lives and work towards sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) rights remains largely invisible and often done in isolation.

Astraea Program Officer Mónica Enríquez-Enríquez reported, “It was remarkable to see how many activists shared the same struggles. Only a few raised their hands when asked who has offices. The majority had never written grant proposals, since it’s often done by gay male leaders in the organizations. With no safe spaces, in emergencies many take Human Rights defenders into their homes, putting themselves at risk. And for most, it was the first time at a women’s conference where they were celebrated and their experiences were front and center.”

The Caribbean Women and Sexuality Conference follows on the heels of two pioneering and parallel regional encuentros (or gatherings) that took place in Bolivia and Paraguay respectively in November 2012: the IX Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian Feminist Encuentro (Lesbian Feminist Encuentro) and LesBiTransInter encuentro Volver al Sur (Volver al Sur).

Originally organized in response to a need for autonomous lesbian space separate from Latin American and Caribbean feminist encuentros that had been in force since the early 1980s, the biennial Lesbian Feminist Encuentro celebrated its 17-year history in 2012, led for the first time ever by indigenous lesbians. It gathered 150 activists from Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Chile, and El Salvador, creating space for indigenous, young, afro-descendant, elders, and radical lesbians to build leadership, and grow and connect within the larger regional movement. The gathering culminated with a march in La Paz, Bolivia, in which activists chanted, “Long Live Caribbean and Latin-American lesbian feminists. They come together and connect with the Pacha mama (the earth). They make revolutions in the streets and in the sheets.”

A parallel convening took place in Paraguay the same month. Volver al Sur was developed in direct response to the 2010 Lesbian Feminist Encuentro. Organized by Astraea grantee partners Aireana, Mujeres al Borde, and Colectivo Sentimos Diverso, it was the first LGBTQI gathering in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and sought to facilitate the first intentional dialogue amongst lesbian, queer, trans, and intersex activists in the region. Volver al Sur brought together 250 activists from Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Brasil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, República Dominicana, Mexico and Colombia.

This encuentro aimed to disrupt gender binaries, centering arts and culture activism (“artivism”) and wellness and sustainability as tools for social change. One organizer told Astraea, “What brought us together was the desire to build critical, creative, pleasure-oriented, hetero-dissident feminisms, free from gender-based violence and exclusions.”

Held every two years and hosted by a different country each time, these encuentros have long been a site for many of our grantee partners to develop their leadership and grow within larger movements. They are critical spaces for regional activists to connect their work, develop political consciousness, and produce Latin American and Caribbean theory and thought. As conveners schedule the next round of encuentros for 2015, these important gatherings continue to build solidarity, break isolation, and move from vision to concrete action towards SOGI rights.