Reflections on Creating Change by mónica enríquez-enríquez
Together with our E.D. Bob Alotta and our Program Officer Namita Chad I attended this years Creating Change conference in Denver, Colorado. Being in this space allowed us to witness the power of our grantee partners as they lead a movement against the criminalization of queer, trans and gender non-conforming people of color, migrant, and undocumented communities in the U.S.
The devastating murder of Jessie Hernandez, as well as the movement moment we are living today, marked this Creating Change in distinct ways. On Monday, January 26, two officers from the Denver Police Department came to the spot where 17-year-old Jessie and her friends were reportedly in a stolen vehicle and used that as an excuse to fire at the car full of young people, empty an entire clip, and ultimately kill Jessie. Branching Seedz of Resistance, the youth-led group of our Denver grantee partner Colorado Anti-Violence Program, has been leading efforts to honor Jessies live, hold space for LGBTQ youth of color to mourn and heal, and demand accountability from the Denver Police Department.
Altar and Gathering for Jessie Hernandez at Creating Change, Denver 2015 (1) from Astraea Foundation on Vimeo.
During the opening plenary, our grantee partners and many other fierce QTPOC organizations and individuals took over the stage with signs and chants of black lives matter, trans lives matter, si se puede, we are tired, and Jessie presente. Trans Latinas took over the mic and demanded that we pay attention and stand against the deaths of trans women of color while holding a U.S. flag stained with red paint to symbolize blood. They demanded that LGBT foundations invest in trans-led projects and that LGBT organizations commit to hiring trans women of color. Branching Seedz of Resistance and other youth activists remained on stage and talked about the level of police violence in Denver, the criminalization of LGBT youth of color, and the importance of standing in solidarity with Jessies family and community. They managed to get the Denver mayor to cancel his scheduled speech at the opening plenary. #BlackLivesMatter creators Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi received an award and instead of giving a speech, gave a call to action and asked us to join in chanting Assata Shakurs quote, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The previous day, our grantee partners PrYSM, BreakOUT! and Streetwise and Safe, along with other LGBT POC organizations across the U.S. who are members of the Get Yr Rights Network held a daylong institute, From Stonewall to Stop and Frisk: Policing and Criminalization of LGBTQ Communities. They held a conversation with Millennial Activists United from Ferguson and spoke about the solidarity work happening across the U.S. and the urgency of this movement moment. These ideas resonated with the conversation held by the Audre Lorde Project, the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, FIERCE, Streetwise and Safe, and Southerners on New Ground at the Queer Left: Strategies Going Forward panel. These movement thought leaders asked that foundations stop asking for outcomes and deliverables so they can actually work together without having to compete for the limited funding available. They talked about the violence of co-optation that organizations and movements have experienced from funders and mainstream LGBT organizations that appropriate their ideas, programs and strategies. They spoke of the hope and possibilities we are standing on. The time to strategize is over; it is time to act and move forward, and to learn from mistakes as we go. The urgency of now invites us all to act.
During the State of the Movement Address, Millennial Activists United (MAU) and other Ferguson activists came up on stage and asked all black trans people in the audience to join them and to take the space they deserve. During their panel titled LGBT Ferguson, MAU and other Ferguson activists talked about the origins of the Ferguson uprising. They stated “we say BlackLivesMatter because we see how uncomfortable it makes people and because our lives depend on it.” They spoke about courage, resilience and sustaining the movement moment. They invited white allies to stand in solidarity with this movement and they asked us all to stand against the #AllLivesMatter hash tag because it misses the critique to white supremacy and erases the important conversation we all must have about black racism in the U.S.
That afternoon, immigrant rights grantee partners Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement and Southerners on New Ground organized a press conference to call for LGBTQI inclusion in an expanded Deferred Action program. The press conference included speakers from Colorado and across the country, and brought particular attention to the violence facing trans women in detention. It ended with an organizing call to #FreeNicoll, a fierce trans woman from Guatemala being held in a male detention facility in Arizona.
On Friday evening, around 100 people joined Astraea at a nearby restaurant for our gathering for grantee partners, friends and allies. A majority of our U.S. grantee partners were present and got to strengthen and build new and old connections. It was a beautiful room full of committed activists who have been leading important and essential conversations and actions all over the U.S. Looking around the room and throughout the conference, it was evident that Astraea is supporting the most risk-taking, brave, thoughtful, strategic, radical, change makers in the LGBTQ movement in the U.S. today. The actions and connections around this Creating Change conference reminded me of some of Gloria Anzaldua’s words “build bridges, cross them with grace, and claim these puentes our “home.” Si se puede, que asi sea, so be it, estamos listas, vámonos. Now let us shift.”