A conversation with J. Bob Alotta and outgoing Director of Programs Cara Page

J.Bob Alotta chats with outgoing Director of Programs, Cara Page about healing justice, holistic security, and what’s next for philanthropy.

Astraea has always had the immense pleasure of bringing so many incredible, inspiring, fierce leaders from within our own movements into our team. Cara Page, outgoing Director of Programs, joined us in October 2017 to steward our International & US grantmaking and programs toward our shared vision for racial, gender, and economic justice. At the end of March 2019, Cara will shift out of her full-time role at Astraea to make time for political projects which continue to build on these visions of justice. Cara will continue on as an advisory strategist on healing justice with Astraea.

Executive Director J. Bob Alotta sat down with Cara to reflect on her time at Astraea and hear more about what’s next.

  1. Bob: Cara, we’re obviously very sad to see you go, but we’re really excited about what’s next for you and what you’ve got in the works. Can you share more about what is critical about this shift at this time?

    Cara: There is a heightened call to action to respond to increased surveillance, policing and safety. It has taken about a decade to arrive at this level of visibility and I could say it’s based on increased fascism and natural disasters around the world, but I think it’s also a direct response to the increasing resiliency and visibility of movement building strategies centering physical, emotional, digital security and well-being.  

    That’s what I find this moment to be about, and I feel committed to engaging with this work in a different way to meet this moment. I’m rolling off to do work in multiple spheres to build long-term infrastructure for safety and wellness as integral to our movement strategies; and Philanthropy is certainly a powerful sphere in there.

  2. Bob: Thinking about those multiple spheres, what are some of the projects you’re taking on as you transition out of your full time role at Astraea, and what it is about your work at Astraea that led you to delve deeper into those projects?

    Cara: Astraea is a feminist foundation that centers gender and racial justice, and has been funding healing justice, safety, and security, since its beginnings. I came in at a particular moment of picking up that lineage; there were resourcing requests from our grantee partners saying that they’d always seen Astraea as offering avenues to fund healing justice, safety, mental wellness, recovery, and transformational work, even if it wasn’t always called that. My time here has been a lot about advising our philanthropic partners to think about where movements are inviting us to bend, adapt and explore how they are responding to generational trauma from violence and oppression, and how healing is central to their collective survival and liberation.

    In my role as the Director of Programs I’ve brought expertise as a U.S based organizer, and Astraea’s given me an opportunity to learn about global perspectives on this work and the way holistic security and healing justice are moving and shifting in a global landscape in response to closing civil societies, to natural disasters and to heightened surveillance and policing of our communities. My work has moved into mapping sites of resilience and strategies that respond to state violence and trauma from systemic oppression.

  3. Bob: We are grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with you and benefited from your wisdom and experiences as a Black, Queer Feminist organizer and cultural memory worker. What are some of the things you are reflecting on about your time at Astraea, and what are the learnings you are taking with you into this next phase?

    Cara: I am deeply committed to the transformative roles that philanthropy can hold. Astraea is positioned to do transformative work that centers feminist principles and ideology that are integral to safety, spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing. This is the time for philanthropy to answer the call from movements about how we are resourcing and looking towards the future to build long-term infrastructure that sustains our land, our communities and our collective wellbeing.

    We have to ask how are we sustaining land, healing, safety, and wellness as an integral part of our liberation. These are not separate and Astraea has taught me how to engage with philanthropy to ask these questions.

  4. Bob: Finally Cara, what are your hopes and wishes for Astraea?

    Cara: In the heightened movements for migrant and racial justice, we know it is our grantee partners that are building transformation and power! My hope and wish for Astraea is that we keep pushing the edge and keep moving ahead and forward of ourselves to imagine what it is we would like to fund and build with movements. We need to push these conversations and really commit to long-term infrastructure that goes beyond this current moment. We’ve really got to imagine our future into being!

  5. Bob: We as Astraea have certainly gained a lot from being in partnership with you. Apart from your skills and experiences, it has been a reminder that this work – the work of our communities – is not linear, and does not take just one form. Astraea has always been composed of the people and activists who make up our communities, and for our part, we’ve always tried to be as embedded in our communities as possible. And so, the work we have done together, and the work you are going on to do, exists in concentric circles, and it is in working both together and alongside each other in these ways that we are going to continue shift power in and for our movements.

If you are a bold, badass changemaker who wants to help us keep building power for our communities, we want to welcome you to join the Astraea team! We’re hiring for some really cool positions and consultancies at the moment, and we’re also always looking for more volunteers. 

Join us!

 

 

Note: Along with her continued consulting work with Astraea, Cara will be launching a new project called the Changing Frequencies Project; which includes co-curating and touring a digital timeline of the medical industrial complex in the U.S. that maps scientific racism, experimentation and policing of our communities.  Cara will also be training up and strategizing with organizers, bioethicists, researchers, health practitioners, & healers to strategize interventions on and hold institutions accountable for abusive historical and contemporary practices in the MIC as an extension of state control, and also imagine the ways we intervene to make sure these practises end.

Convening to Build Solidarity in a Disconnected Region: why it is important to convene and convene well

In September 2018, Angelika Arutyunova, a queer international feminist consultant from Uzbekistan, facilitated an Astraea and Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights convening for lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer activists from the Central Asia and Eastern Europe (CAEE) region. Here, Arutyunova shares reflections and insights from her experience at the convening.

In September 2018, Astraea and the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights teamed up to facilitate a regional digital solidarity convening for lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer activists from the Central Asia and Eastern Europe (CAEE) region. The convening brought together 20 incredible activists from eight countries in the idyllic mountains of Kyrgyzstan, and was an opportunity for activists who often work in isolation to take time out to exchange skills and digital advocacy strategies. Angelika Arutyunova, a queer international feminist consultant from Uzbekistan facilitated the convening. Here – reflecting on her own roots in the region and her background in social justice organizing, philanthropy, and LGBTIQ and women’s rights work – she provides insights on the importance of activist convenings and the power of organizing in an often forgotten region.

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Convening to Build Solidarity in a Disconnected Region:
why it is important to convene and convene well

By Angelika Arutyunova,
Independent Consultant

In September 2018, the Urgent Action Fund and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice asked me to facilitate a regional digital solidarity convening for trans and queer activists from my home region of Central Asia, Caucasus, Ukraine and Russia. The convening brought together 20 phenomenal activists from eight countries of the region in an incredibly beautiful mountain settings of Kyrgyzstan. The goal was to build solidarity among these activists, who often work in isolation due to current political context in the region, and offer a space and time for skills and experiences exchange. It was my true honour to facilitate that convening and put into practice my years of experience and firm beliefs of why convenings are very important, how to do them well, and again become a part of power of organizing in this forgotten region¹. I am offering these reflections after the convening that deeper affirmed my beliefs.

Convenings are really important and an affective strategy for community and solidarity building

Convenings are a place for convergence of new ideas and connections of activists and funders face to face that cannot be replaced. It would be very challenging to have a virtual convening or a social media exchange that would create a trustful space for participants to engage in a deep conversation. For convenings like the one we had in Kyrgyzstan, that aimed to build solidarity and trust, it took careful weaving of methodologies to build trust that led to some profound conversations like the one between genderfluid sex worker activist with a transgender sex-worker from a different country exchanging safety strategies for their work and how to engage police to be on their side instead of part of violence against them.

Another reason is actual safety. Several participants in this convening, and in many others I facilitated, cannot share online what they can share in person, once trust is built. Participants coming from high surveillance police states will only share what is really going on in a face to face conversation, which is absolutely invaluable for donors and activists alike being in that room. Even more importantly, for activists from such contexts, it is healing and contributes to sustainability to get out of very stressful and unsafe environment and to be around other activists from other context to be able to see a bigger picture, a landscape outside of their highly controlled window. In the Kyrgyzstan convening we saw that happen when several participants at first told organizers they will not share their stories due to safety concerns and yet with days passing and trust being further built they opened up and shared some deeply powerful details of harsh realities they face on a daily basis.  It took carefully crafted methodologies like drawing and describing our self-portraits², finding who is in our life boats³, grappling with our collective history of Russian colonialism, and digging deeper in our personal relationship with the language we share to build a space of trust and safety within the convening.

HOW convenings are led is even more important than just bringing people together

At the core of planning activist centered convenings is care and thoughtfulness, not the objectives of the convening. Following are the ingredients that make a convening successful:  

  1.     Participants centric: These are the convenings that engage participants in all stages of the convening. For the Kyrgyzstan convening, organizers sent out survey several weeks before the convening to all participants asking key questions around their needs, interests, focus, and depth of the convening they want to attend. We then used that information to build up the agenda. During the convening, we kept checking in with participants throughout the days to ensure we are still on the right track and moving in the right collective direction. This allowed the agenda to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the participants. Another key aspect in this category is expertise. Successful convenings center experiences of all participants, starting from a central premise that we are all experts, decentering the expertise of the organizers, facilitator or trainers. For the convening in Kyrgyzstan, we asked participants in the survey to identify which skills and expertise they have and would feel comfortable to share with other participants in the convening. We then created session slots around those skills and expertise, using world cafe methodology for all participants to learn from one another in deeper peer learning way. As facilitator I held a container for the overall convening, I stepped off the sessions that were led by activists themselves, trusting their expertise and leadership to hold the room.
  2.     Culturally and politically sensitive: Deep, nuanced understanding of cultural and political context of the place and participants coming together is key for successful trustful convening. That understanding and sensitivity translates in very practical ways – intentional partnerships with local organizations, facilitator choice for the convening, design and implementation of methodologies, navigation of who is given space more or asked to speak less. Organizers partnered with a key regional organization –Labrys – that is well respected and rooted in this work. Partnering with respected national or local organization brings legitimacy and take donor control away from holding the convening. I was asked to facilitate the convening because of my roots in the region, knowledge of organizing and ability to do this work in Russian. The rest of the activists were as deeply rooted in the region and its nuances. Collectively, we built agenda and methodologies to reflect participants’ needs and our collective understanding and sensitivity around cultural and political nuances. For example, we ensured that when dividing people in small groups we always mixed up countries from across the region and always asked representatives from countries that are politically and economically dominated to take leading roles in their groups, thus flipping the power script. For icebreakers in the mornings we introduced the idea of national dance moves. It was a testimony to trust built and acceptance of that methodology when we saw participants from countries in conflict and with heavy colonial history and present dancing to each other’s music and holding hands in a rhythm.
  3.   Mutually beneficial: When inviting activists to convenings, organizers must remember that activists face a lot of pressures and exhaustion, so it is important to think of how not to be extractive and how we can give back and what it is that participants could gain from the convening as well as allowing space for resting. Creating enough space in between sessions, not having more then 6-6.5 hours of working time is essential for participants not to layer up more exhaustion. For Kyrgyzstan convening we started working at 9:30AM, had 2 hours lunch break, did not have work days longer than 6 hours. That allowed space for deeper connections outside of conference room and more concentration and presence while in the working space with each other.
  4.     Logistics are political: For all of the convenings, and especially those bringing together persons from historically excluded and discriminated communities we must be extremely sensitive to every detail of logistics from airport arrival and shuttles to single rooms accommodation to what food is being offered. Most successful convenings I’ve seen have logistics team that is local, not coming together with a funder from outside. For Digital Solidarity, logistics were handled by Labrys team, who not only ensured we had good healthy food and single rooms, but also thought of details like identifying trusted, local drivers who are not homo- and transphobic. These kinds of details allowed for a level of comfort and feeling of safety and trust to be built from first moments of landing in the country of convening.
  5.     Clarity of power and privilege in the room: In convenings that have both activists and funders in the room, there needs to be very clear and open conversation about power. As a facilitator, I ensure that there is a lot of clarity when funders speak, when they are asked to not be in the room, and what are the ways for activists to feel safe and comfortable to address some issues. It is also important to create a dialogue and space for when people can talk across that power. Activists may feel shy to approach funders during the convening to have a practical conversation about funding opportunity or simply ask about their strategy and priorities. Organized and structured ‘donors’ office hours’ are a good methodology to build those dialogues in and level the field. Another power dynamic that is important to name and pay attention to during convenings is racial, ethnic, and gender dominations. Flipping the script and always ensuring the voices of those with more power and privilege are not dominating the discussion is important. We practiced all this in Kyrgyzstan convening and participants pointed out at the end that they felt comfortable and experienced no tensions around power dynamics.
  6.     Creativity and heart – not just brain: oftentimes convenings are all about sucking our brains out: thinking, strategizing, brainstorming, planning, debating, discussing. Taking a step out of cerebral frame and into our hearts and bodies opens space for more creativity and innovation when we come back to the brain. It also facilitates great connections and trust among the participants.

The activist future of this forgotten region is here now!

A wide spread of geography that shares common history of being part of the Soviet Union has been struggling for last 25 years to self-identify and get on a global map in variety of ways. Last 25 years brought a lot of changes across the region, including increased authoritarian regimes, wave of backlash against women’s rights and social justice, oppressions, and homophobia. Activism had to adjust and shift with the context in response to as well as in resistance to it. In the last five years, a new generation of deeply critical and analytical, fearless and bold, brilliant and creative, sensitive and authentic, thoughtful and innovative activists has emerged throughout the entire region. Learning from mistakes and achievements from those who came before them, combining local knowledge with international experiences these activists are the future we’ve been waiting for in our region. While not all of them might be concerned about putting region back on the global map, yet, what they are doing is working from within to make deep changes, to integrate self-care and community care and building at the center of their organizing. Oppressions against LGBTIQ communities are deep, violent, and represent daily concern for safety, so being in the space with activists who sharply denounce fear and boldly propose strategies for change is refreshing and promising. That is exactly how it felt being in this convening in Kyrgyzstan.

It was deeply personal for me to be at this convening and to facilitate it. Having left my home country of Uzbekistan 17 years ago, my heart has never left the region. Being outside, yet deeply connected, allowed me a perspective of insider outsider for many years. Being back to Bishkek where I used to come as a young activist from Uzbekistan for convenings, conferences, and exchanges, was profound. I can clearly see the changes that have been achieved in the past two decades of diligent fearless strategic organizing by so many. Having a dedicated queer owned and led club and community space or a law that protects the rights of transgender citizens or psychologists who are trained to support queer youth was all a dream in the beginning of 2000s. All of that and more is a reality now in Bishkek and in many places across the region. While still facing oppressions, the activism is resilient, deeply political, and playfully creative. This convening was part of planting a seed for more region-wide solidarity and engagement among activists.

This Valentine’s Day, we’re loving our people!

In recent months, we’ve been thrilled to welcome four new staff members. 

This Valentine’s Day, we’re appreciating the staff members who work daily to advance Astraea’s mission to resource frontline LGBTQI activists in the U.S. and around the world.

In recent months, we’ve been thrilled to welcome three new staff members. We’re delighted to welcome Loé Petit to the Intersex Human Rights Fund as a Program Associate, where they’ll work closely with our IHRF Program Officer, the Intersex Fund Advisory Board, and intersex leaders in regions around the world to further resource and garner support for multi-racial, intersectional and global intersex movement-building. Biola Odunewu brings her strong organizational skill, good humor and Nigerian herbal tea apothecary prowess to our team as Executive Assistant. Lastly, Hanna Israel’s West Coast savvy and diligence bolsters our fundraising efforts as Development Associate for Institutional Giving.

Our staff, both new and old, continue to drive and shape Astraea’s work as we resist and build collective power and liberation among LGBTQI movements. We’re grateful for all they do!

With deep solidarity and power,
The Astraea Team

Meet our new staff members

Loé Petit
Intersex Human Rights Fund Program Associate

Loé Petit is a French queer and feminist intersex activist, involved in community organizing at national, regional and international scales. [Read more]

Biola Odunewu
Executive Assistant

Biola Odunewu is a multi-channel communications specialist and entrepreneur with 15 years of experience in strategy, operations, marketing, and product development. [Read more]

Hanna Israel
Development Associate, Institutional Giving

Hanna is a queer activist and unapologetic anti-zionist Jew from Los Angeles with ten years’ experience in grassroots organizing for environmental defense, reproductive rights, prisoner support, migrant justice, tenants’ rights, and elevating sexual assault survivors in alternative communities. [Read more]


Want to join our team? We have some exciting new positions opening:

Program Intern
Program Interns work closely with Astraea’s Program Team to learn about and contribute to our support of over 130 grassroots LGBTQI groups around the world.

Director of Individual Giving and Special Events
Astraea seeks an experienced fundraising professional to lead Astraea’s Individual Giving Strategy.

Deputy Director
The DD will work closely with the Executive Director to create an environment for success that inspires staff and provides holistic, adaptive systems to support the organization’s mission and values.

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Digital Activism, Queerness, and Collaboration in Central Asia and Eastern Europe

A conversation between Aizhan Nomad of Labrys Kyrgyzstan, Shalini Eddens of UAF, and Mariam Gagoshashvili of Astraea about LGBTQI+ activism in Central Asia and Eastern Europe and the importance of connecting activists working across the region.

Central Asia and Eastern Europe are often forgotten regions when it comes to our awareness of geopolitics, social, or cultural issues. Because of this, there have traditionally been fewer resources and less support provided to activists fighting for LGBTQI+ rights and justice in the region. Even today, only 4% of all foundation human rights funding supports efforts in the CAEE region, and funding actually declined between 2013 and 2015¹. The region is also the second most underfunded in the world in terms of LGBTQI+ rights, after the Middle East and North Africa. And yet, ongoing efforts by state forces in Central Asia and Eastern Europe to restrict internet freedom and freedom of expression, shrink or close civil society spaces, and crack down on human rights mean that it is extremely critical to bolster and resource LGBTQI+ activists there. 

Astraea teamed up with the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF) in September 2018, to co-create a convening for LGBTQI+ activists from all over the region to meet, collaborate, create, and build power together. The convening was an opportunity for activists to dive into the ways digital activism can strengthen queer and trans activism across the region, while also taking time to reflect and consider its implications to physical and organizational security, and mental burnout. Labrys, a long-time Kyrgyz grantee partner, hosted the four-day convening. It was held at a resort in northern Kyrgyzstan, ending with a joyous celebration of queerness at a party in Bishkek. Participants came from all over the Post-Soviet region, made up primarily of cis-queer women, trans people, and non-binary activists. Intentionally set in a serene mountain-top resort, activists also had the opportunity to unwind, spend time in nature, and take part in healing and self-care practices.

We sat down with Aizhan Nomad of Labrys, Shalini Eddens of UAF, and Mariam Gagoshashvili of Astraea to hear more:

Mariam, what would you highlight about digital activism and other work being done by LGBTQI+ activists in the region for people who may not know much about it?

Mariam: You know, this is a region that is really struggling with colonial oppression and is often very very unsafe for queer and trans women, and for the greater LGBTQI community as well. But it’s also a region where you have really amazing, inspiring examples of activism, collaboration, and that is only growing and strengthening against all odds, especially the major lack of funding and resourcing.

Arts and cultural activism have been central tool for many activists, and some of that has now evolved into digital activism as well. Because the LGBTQI+ communities in the region are often invisibilized and in some places, even criminalized, activists often take on really creative strategies of resistance.

For example, in Kazakhstan protests are often framed as theatrical performances. In Armenia, there is a group that runs a feminist library, to broaden public education around queer issues. In Ukraine, we have a grantee partner who organizes equality festivals around the country, co-organized with other local activists; they tend to utilize a range of multimedia and are interdisciplinary and intersectional, dealing with subjects from migrant rights to abortion. Our grantee in Russia is using its knowledge of digital technologies and legal issues to support trans activists navigate restrictions around civil society, internet freedom and LGBTQI rights.

Aizhan, as activists, what was the impact of having activists from all over the region come together to talk about LGBTQI+ issues and the political and social issues related to that across the region?

Aizhan: This was honestly the first time where we had LGBTQI+ activists coming from all across the region. It was incredible to be able to really hear from one another about the various challenges we are facing in our countries, the achievements on the ground, and generally share our experiences as activists.

We discovered a number of similarities in terms of the political challenges and discriminatory practices we are facing, many of which are led by or started in Russia, and then taken on by many of our governments.

We also strategized about how best to decolonize our language and make it more representative of our communities. Many of us have already been working on this concept within our own organizations but it was great to be able to think collaboratively on how we can create terminology that best reflects our identities and cultures, and hasn’t necessarily been imported from Western or Russian languages.

Shalini and Mariam, as funders who have supported activists in the region, why was it so important for you to co-host this kind of convening?

Shalini: Given that we have a really strong grantmaking program in the region, this convening was such a fantastic opportunity for us to meet with so many activists we support and really see and understand their movements in a more tangible way. It also really allowed us to solidify our collaborative approach and values around funding, by being able to partner with organizations we have had the honor of supporting.

As co-hosts, Astraea and UAF gave some support in terms of logistics and offering insights and training on certain aspects of the program, but it was really good to have Labrys leading the process, given their immense knowledge of the region and movements there. Ultimately, the convening really deepened existing relationships, helped us build new ones, and expanded our understanding of LGBTQI activism in the region as it relates to digital security.

As our facilitator Angelika Arutyunova a queer feminist trainer with deep roots in the region, said in her reflection on the convening, “Convenings are a place for convergence of new ideas and connections of activists and funders face to face that cannot be replaced. It would be very challenging to have a virtual convening or a social media exchange that would create a trustful space for participants to engage in a deep conversation. For convenings like the one we had in Kyrgyzstan, that aimed to build solidarity and trust, it took careful weaving of methodologies to build trust that led to some profound conversations.”

Mariam: I think one of the most incredible parts was having many activists within the movement come together for the first time and have the opportunity just to get to know each other, listen, and relate to one another’s experiences. It was also – as Aizhan said – a space to identify the challenges as well as the advancements in their countries, and map some of those out, particularly as it relates to the influence of Russia and of colonialism.

For me, the convening really made it clear the immense value in cross-border collaboration and strategizing. There was a real appetite among folks to work together, to create communication platforms, and build spaces to stay digitally connected. The activists discussed creating stronger networks and potentially even a more formal regional organization to do regional advocacy, strategy, and peer exchanges, and also to have cultural, sports, and arts events and raise visibility of the LGBTQI+ communities. This felt particularly important because activists from CAEE have not always felt ownership over wider European spaces that are often perceived as more Western-led.

It was important for the convening to be conducted in Russian – a language spoken widely in the region in spite of its colonial nature and to have the space to reflect on the implications of using both English and Russian languages, and terminology, and to make a conscious effort to come up with alternatives that feel more true to local realities and languages.

Shalini, what were some of the major learnings for UAF around this convening?

Shalini: I think that a lot was actually reaffirmed; we definitely learned a lot, but many of those learnings were a reaffirmation of our instincts, and seeing them come to life in this way was wonderful. We feel strongly that it is essential to let local partners like Labrys take the lead, and they did that beautifully by creating an open, safe, inviting space for the activists.

Our role as funders is to facilitate spaces like this convening, but not to control the design of them. In that vein, we re-learned the importance of making sure we find our balance of being an activist funder, and not taking up too much space.

I think the other big learning was just around how incredibly transformative it is to collaborate with like minded organizations. We have worked alongside Astraea for a long time, but this was the first time we partnered with them on a convening like this, and to do that with an organization whose political and funding values are so aligned with ours made it really effective.

Aizhan, finally, what were the highlights of the convening for you personally?

Aizhan: For me, it was the care that we created amongst one another as activists, and the power that we have shared through exchanging our stories. Often, we have to really push ourselves to continue the work that we do because it can feel like we’re working on our own, but the convening helped me to see the amazing creativity in our communities, and how we can build on that together to make things easier and better for our communities both in our countries and across the region.

In her reflection, Angelika beautifully summed up the personal impact of a convening like this, writing, “It was deeply personal for me to be at this convening and to facilitate it. Having left my home country of Uzbekistan 17 years ago, my heart has never left the region. Being back to Bishkek where I used to come as a young activist from Uzbekistan for convenings, conferences, and exchanges, was profound…while still facing oppressions, the activism is resilient, deeply political, and playfully creative. This convening was part of planting a seed for more region-wide solidarity and engagement among activists.”

***

Astraea has been committed to supporting grassroots activists in the CAEE region for over two decades, recognizing the strength, resilience, and simply the existence of activism against all odds. In May 2018, acknowledging that trans activists have begun relying on the internet in particular as a means of organizing, Astraea, along with Transgender Europe (TGEU) produced the report, Mapping Digital Landscapes of Trans Activism in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The report found that trans communities in the CAEE region are resisting the challenges of surveillance and threats to freedom of expression using digital tools in extremely innovative ways, from relocating servers to safer places, to using social media as a way to increase visibility to their issues and bring communities together. While these brilliant, bold activists are already using creative means to strengthen their movements, there is an urgent need to invest in them and their strategies so that they can continue the fight against oppressive forces.

If you want to learn more about the convening held in Kyrgyzstan, this reflection piece by facilitator Angelika Arutyunova offers more insights and learnings.

¹ http://humanrightsfunding.org/populations/lgbtqi/year/2015/

Meet our grantee partner, Immigrant Youth Coalition

An interview with Immigrant Youth Coalition’s Communications Coordinator Yessica Gonzalez.

The Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC) is an undocumented and queer/trans youth led organization based in California, that mobilizes youth, families and incarcerated people to end the criminalization of immigrants and people of color. Through story-based strategies and grassroots organizing, IYC brings the struggles of directly impacted communities to the forefront of our movements to create social, cultural and policy change.  

In the video above, IYC Communications Coordinator Yessica Gonzalez shares more about the importance of the organization’s work, as well as what it’s meant to receive support from Astraea.

Learn more about Immigrant Youth Coalition.

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Video transcript:

I think meeting other resilient queer, undocumented folks who have become my best friends, and creating a different world that we’re envisioning forward, that’s been one of the powerful moments doing this work.

There’s a lot of media attention around immigrant visibility, and we always see the good, light-skin student who is valedictorian as the one who should get citizenship. So when there are other folks who don’t fit into that criteria, they’re easier to be targeted because then they don’t seem as the ones who are deserving of all these other treatments.

A few years ago we launched a campaign called the TRUST Act to stop the collaboration between local law enforcement and immigration. That was really instrumental because it would stop people getting targeted. Or, at least, when they were stopped by police and asked for an I.D., or questioned for anything, they wouldn’t be directly funneled into a detention center, and it would give more security to folks who were victims of domestic violence, or who had been victims of a crime to call upon somebody and not fear that they would be deported or fear direct persecution or direct criminalization through immigration enforcement.

We know that citizenship isn’t the answer because a piece of paper isn’t going to take away the anxiety, depression, trauma that a lot of people are going through or absolve the targeting and criminalization of folks. Colorism is a reality, so by saying “it’s beyond citizenship, and it’s about stopping deportations,” I think that is more of the framing that we want to go towards.

Astraea was actually our first funder back in 2013, and thanks to the support of Astraea, we’ve been able to get more access to funds and sustain the work that we’ve been doing and supporting it through leadership development. And we are seeing other youth who are undocumented and who are queer creating more spaces for themselves. And, also, supporting other folks so we can continue the work and create long-term visioning.

I think personally, growing up undocumented and getting to know other undocumented folks and knowing that we’re resilient people! Everybody thinks that we’re this sad story but no, undocumented people are great! Yeah, we’re hard-working but yeah, we also know how to have fun, you know? We also know how to smile. We also know how to laugh. We also know how to do other amazing things. And I think seeing somebody reunite with their family after they’ve been incarcerated or detained, being able to mobilize, empower themselves to tell other people about the work and that it’s okay to fight back and it’s okay to take on your own case. And then seeing them outside of a detention center, when they’re back with their community, back with their family, to me that has been the highlight of this whole work. And it always reminds me why we continue to do this.

On the U.S. Trans Military Ban

Astraea condemns the Supreme Court’s recent decision to stay injunctions in recent trans military ban cases, effectively banning trans people from serving in the military.

Astraea condemns the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to stay injunctions in recent trans military ban cases, effectively banning trans people from serving in the military. We deplore this stance, as its function is to dehumanize trans people and deny them a key avenue of access to resources like healthcare and education. Like many other tactics deployed by the current administration, we see this action for what it is–an effort to pretend to “protect” an invisible electorate from an imaginary enemy.

At the same time, Astraea strives for the demilitarization of the state and dismantling of mechanisms that force people to participate in the military industrial complex in order to access vital resources. We hold these contradictions because it is our responsibility to, and we vow to continue supporting work that does not shy away from paradoxes or nuances, but that seeks solutions that free us from all forms of oppression.

Learn more about the Supreme Court’s decision via the links below:

Black lesbian visibility matters!

November 25 – December 10 marks the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence,’ an annual international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. Astraea grantee partner in South Africa, Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) works to combat violence and injustice against Black lesbian women in the townships of South Africa, which is particularly prevalent, but often silenced.

One of the first organizations of its kind in South Africa, FEW, based in Johannesburg, is a black lesbian feminist organization engaged in advocacy, education and action to ensure that black lesbians enjoy holistic freedom in all aspects of their lives. While on paper the South African constitution does prioritize human rights and equality for all, poorer queer, black women living in the townships are often targets of widespread discrimination and violence. FEW works to empower black lesbians in the townships to celebrate and navigate their sexualities and queer identities.

FEW are also the organizers of the annual Soweto Pride march, first launched in 2004. Soweto is a township of the city of Johannesburg, home to anti-apartheid icons Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Continuing the township’s history of advocating for freedom from oppression and violence, Soweto Pride is a grassroots-led Pride march and celebration for those who have often felt left out of the more corporate-endorsed Johannesburg Pride march, as well as to bring visibility to the black lesbian community of the townships.

As 2018’s Soweto Pride activities came to an end, Astraea Foundation Program Officer Lame Olebile sat down with FEW’s Jade Madingwane, to discuss the history and significance of Soweto Pride, the future of FEW, and how Black lesbians in South Africa are creating spaces for themselves and reclaiming their voices.

LO: How is FEW working to center black lesbian leadership?

JM: There is a real need in the townships to have conversations around what it means to be lesbian, black, and feminist, and there is also a critical need to center Black lesbian leadership, in order to prioritize the specific concerns faced by black lesbians. FEW is the only organization that works with lesbian women; there are provinces that have LGBTQIA+ based orgs but not ones that are specifically Black lesbian focused because there’s a lot that comes with being Black and lesbian, just like there’s a lot that comes with being gay or trans.

One way FEW is doing this is through the creation of the Rainbow Activist Alliance (RAA), which is a network of 15 LGBTQI community-based organizations across the country collectively working to create safer communities, ensure access to appropriate public health care, ensure non-discrimination within the criminal justice system, and build black lesbian leadership. We are really working to have the RAA up, running, and strong so that its members can become leaders in their various townships and advocate for issues of greater visibility and access for constituents.

LO: What do you feel are the politics that are fundamental to Pride, and specifically to Soweto Pride? What is its significance?

JM: Being able to celebrate our queer identities is number one. The social spaces which we have within our townships are generally hetero-based and they are not often LGBTQI friendly, so they don’t cater to our queer identities at all. Soweto Pride is a space where we can celebrate our identities as Black lesbian women from the township.

Soweto Pride is also about raising awareness about violence and discrimination in the townships and communities we live and exist in. I can’t take a walk and hold my girlfriend’s hand because it can lead to violence. We need to openly say, we know that women are dead because of their identities, and we know that most hate crimes also happen within the township, and we can’t disregard these things. It’s about having conversations about why people are violent towards black women’s bodies, and particularly lesbians? What is it that upsets people about us being queer?

Being visible matters. Women are so often looked down upon by communities, and told, you need to be a mother, and cooking and cleaning, but a lot of people don’t seem to think that women have politics. For me, being out there and claiming the streets of Soweto is critical because I exist in those streets and it’s not like I can just go somewhere else. I need to celebrate my queer identity in these streets and I need to start where I come from as a Black lesbian woman.

LO: Pride itself has been a contested issue in South Africa, thinking about the interruptions of Joburg Pride, by activists and the politics that was rooted in. How different from white corporate Joburg pride do you feel Soweto is? What is the local feeling of Soweto Pride?

JM: Soweto Pride is about marching in the streets, and taking up space and making noise in the streets that we exist in and are occupying on that day. The politics really differ because we are a political entity that says our statement looks like fighting in the streets, singing in the streets, being angry, being sad in the streets that we exist in and come from. It’s also about raising awareness; it’s a political statement.

Joburg Pride is for the rich, for a lack of a better word; it is for people in the North who have houses with high walls and proper security, where they can be lesbians freely. We don’t have that. Joburg Pride is not a free Pride that is accessible for Black people that are marginalized and come from the townships. Soweto Pride looks like a free pride for all, Soweto Pride looks like raising awareness in the streets, and celebrating your queer identity even if you don’t have the money. At Soweto Pride, anyone can come and dance and network and celebrate themselves as a queer person.

LO: What are some of the challenges you have experienced in organizing in Soweto?

JM: Organizing is one hell of a job; it is taxing and emotional and draining. One of our main challenges is finding the balance between creating social spaces for our communities, and more targeted organizing spaces. We can’t always be putting our minds to work, like wondering “what are we going to do about the police that are brutalizing us?” etc, because that is so emotionally and mentally exhausting. We need to have social spaces because they function as a coping mechanism for many of our constituents, because we’re always talking about serious things and these spaces give us a break from that.

Another challenge we face as an organization is the intergenerational divide in the townships. We have a lot of people who say, “hey you’ve been doing this work for a long time, I’m sure a lot of people have gotten it by now that we’re lesbians and we’re here to stay,” but for us the constant organizing and advocacy work is critical because generations differ in their attitudes and points of view. So, we’re constantly working to sensitize people and raise awareness in different ways about the lives of black lesbians in the townships.

LO: So what do you see as the future for FEW?

JM: For me, the future of FEW looks like going back to some of the things we used to do really well. Like reviving the lesbian soccer team or drama series we used to have, ‘The Roses Have Thorns’ which was a project in different townships where they had plays that spoke to living as Black lesbian women. Those stories are really powerful because they tell their queer narratives, which we don’t often get to hear. Now, we’re not even accessing places like radio stations where we can have narratives by queer people, whereas before those spaces existed for those stories which help queer people to see themselves. So for me it looks like having these things back up and running, which are both entertainment, as well as advocacy tools which help us learn things. It’s also having those safe spaces for Black lesbian women because it’s really tough not having those spaces as queer people, and having to force yourself into spaces where you are not welcome.

LO: And what does the future hold for Soweto Pride?

JM: For me, the most important thing is having that visibility within the streets of Soweto. So we should move around a lot for Soweto Pride and not just have it in one area, because we can’t always be visible in just one area. The future looks like moving around different townships and having queer people be a norm within these townships and not necessarily in one area where we know it’s safe to be queer but also in those spaces which make us uncomfortable, but where we also know queer people exist.

Read more about FEW here.

Trans Day of Remembrance 2018

Today and everyday we remember the legacy of our trans ancestors as we continue to fight for the rights and autonomy of trans, non-binary and GNC people.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the murder of Rita Hester, a young Black trans woman from the U.S. whose life was taken in an act of anti-transgender violence. Her death led to the creation of Trans Day of Remembrance by trans activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith. On this day, two decades after Rita’s life was taken, we honor her and all the trans people that came before us. It is vital that we connect the murder of Rita Hester to the violence that trans people, especially trans people of color, continue to face. Transrespect recently reported there were 369 cases of reported killings of transgender people worldwide in the past year. Each trans person we lose to violence is an individual with their own colorful life story of resilience and joy.

Despite this violence, our trans ancestors showed resilience and strength. They paved the way for our grantee partners all over the world who are advocating for trans rights in their respective regions, and working towards a world where we are free from this violence. Today and everyday we remember the legacy of our trans ancestors as we continue to fight for the rights and autonomy of trans, non-binary and GNC people. Our existence is resistance.

Find a TDOR event near you:

Trans Day of Remembrance Resources & Links:

Meet our Intersex Human Rights Fund grantee partners

This year, Astraea awarded $275,000 in grants to 41 grantee partners across 33 countries, including two regional networks in Europe and Asia. 

Today, on Intersex Awareness Day, it is with great excitement that we share our fourth cycle of the Intersex Human Rights Fund grantee partners.

This year, Astraea awarded $275,000 in grants to 41 grantee partners across 33 countries, including two regional networks in Europe and Asia. 65% of these grants are to existing partners, affirming our commitment to providing long-term support and promoting sustainability. While the intersex movement is growing across all regions, in this cycle, 35% of the grants are to new groups from intersex-led organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

These are some of the fiercest intersex activists and advocates who are addressing human rights violations and stigma faced by intersex people, and collaborating with other intersex organizations, human rights organizations, educational and healthcare institutions, and allies.

This past year, intersex rights activists held regional meetings across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. The regional meetings—several of which were supported by the Intersex Human Rights Fund—were the first intersex spaces that many activists in the Global South had experienced. Activists emphasized the criticality of movement-building and the need for increased visibility for the intersex community as a whole.

2018 is Astraea’s largest-ever pool of Intersex Human Rights Fund grantee partners, signaling a major growth in the global intersex movement and advocacy efforts. However, the lack of funding for intersex rights continues to be a major barrier in realizing those rights and shifts in norms.

Our grantee partners have been instrumental in:

  • Organizing to end the pathologization and medicalization of intersex bodies by providing accurate and positive representations of the intersex community: Collectif Intersexes et Allié-e-s was formed on Intersex Awareness Day in 2016 as a collective that provides peer support but also to act politically and be a representative voice for intersex rights in France. The group takes a firm stand against pathologization of intersex people, working to end mutilations and non-consensual treatments, removing gender in legal documents, and including intersex variations in educational resources across the country.
  • Raising awareness about intersex human rights violations by establishing regional networks to end discrimination and protect the rights of intersex people: Intersex Asia was born out of the Asia regional meeting in 2018, to affirm intersex peoples’ rights to bodily integrity, physical autonomy, and self-determination. The network was created by 14 activists across 10 countries in Asia and reflects the growth of the movement in the region.
  • Serving as catalysts for information dissemination, awareness raising, and advocating for the rights of intersex people: Intersex South Africa (ISSA) was revived in 2017 after a South African meeting of intersex activists highlighted major gaps concerning intersex issues in the country. ISSA’s works to ensure that intersex people have the right to accurate information and access to medical records concerning their bodily autonomy, as well as providing support to and awareness around the intersex community in South Africa.

Please join us in celebrating the work of these powerful grantee partners and read more about their work and the work of this global movement, in the links below*:

AIS Suport Group Australia Inc. // Associação Brasileira de Intersexos // Association of Russian-Speaking Intersex (ARSI) // Beyond the Boundary // Bilitis Resource Center// Brújula Intersexual // Campaign for Change // Collectif Intesexes et Allié-es// Comité Visibilité Intersexe // Egalite Intersex Ukraine // Fundación Reflejos de Venezuela // The Houston Intersex Society // Intersex And Faith // Intersex Archive Project // Intersex Asia // Intersex Danmark // Intersex Human Rights Australia // Intersex Ísland // Intersex Persons Society of Kenya // Intersex South Africa // InterAction // IntersexUK // ITANZ // Ivy Foundation // Mulabi // NNID // Oii Chinese // OII Deutschland/IVIM // OII Italia // OII Sverige // Organization Intersex International Europe (OII-Europe) // Rainbow Identity Association // Srishti Madurai LGBTQI+// SIPD Uganda // Trans Bantu Association Zambia // Trans Smart Trust // TZK’AT, Red de Sanadoras Ancestrales del Feminismo Comunitario // Verein Intergeschlechtlicher Österreich (VIMÖ/OII Austria) // Vivir y Ser Intersex // XY Spectrum

*We do not publicize some of our courageous grantee partners because of the security threats they face in their local contexts, so groups may be missing from this list.

P.S. By supporting Astraea you are creating ecosystems of resistance that are smart, effective, and unique. We are answering the call of this moment. We will win. And we will do so because of your support.

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Watch a video about our Intersex Fund grantee partners’ recent work:

Intersex Activist Tatenda Ngwaru on Intersex Awareness Day

Intersex activist and Astraea Grants Management Associate Tatenda Ngwaru shares why Intersex Awareness Day is important to her.

“We are here and we’re not going anywhere.”

Astraea’s Grants Management Associate Tate Ngwaru is an intersex activist from Zimbabwe. In anticipation of Intersex Awareness Day on October 26th, listen as she shares why the day is meaningful to her.

Learn more about Tatenda.

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Video transcript:

My name is Tatenda Ngwaru. I’m an intersex activist. I’m originally from Zimbabwe, but now based here in New York as an asylum seeker and I work as a Grants Management Associate here at Astraea Foundation.

People have to know that the intersex community is very stigmatized. It’s supposed to be shameful, it’s a taboo, we’re not regarded as people. So, for me to be able to say “Happy Intersex Awareness Day,” and to know that there’s a day that is dedicated to that makes me feel proud, and I think it is also a day that we want to reflect on the challenges that affect the intersex community and how much more work there is to be done.

It is a nice thing for intersex people to know that they really do have a day, that people allow them to say, “We are here, and we’re not going anywhere.” As an intersex activist, as a Black woman, as a woman, I want to say, from me to you: all love.