Healing Justice: Building Power, Transforming Movements – New Report

Today, we are thrilled to share our new report, Healing Justice: Building Power, Transforming Movements.

Today, we are thrilled to share our new report, Healing Justice: Building Power, Transforming Movements, featuring work from the brilliant artist Amir Khadar.

Especially critical during this heightened time of anti-migrant, anti-Black, misogynist and anti-LGBTQI violence, this collection of stories, learnings and recommendations lifts up resiliency and survival practices that center the collective safety and wellbeing of communities as an integral part of our fight for collective liberation.
 
We have learned from our grantee partners, community advisors and peer funders how healing justice is a tool for building power, and how it can deepen and sustain the long, hard work of movement-building. 
 
On May 16, we’ll be convening 75 funders in New York to discuss how we can deepen philanthropic support for this critical work. We’ll be livestreaming the morning and afternoon panels! Please join us on our Facebook page from 10:30am-12:00pm and 1:45-3:45 pm EST.

From these stories and learnings, we hope that we can grow and learn ourselves—unpacking and unraveling our assumptions of what healing and safety can look like within movements, and equipping ourselves to answer the call of resourcing this work for the long haul.

In deep solidarity,
Brenda Salas Neves, Senior Program Officer
Cara Page, Program Consultant
Sarah Gunther, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships

Read the online report

Stand with Caster Semenya!

The recent ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against Caster Semenya is not only a major setback for intersex human rights but reveals how intersex people—especially those who are Black and Brown—continue to be dehumanized and systematically excluded from all spheres of life, including sports.

Photo: La sud africaine: Caster Semenya, médaille d’argent aux 800m; Source: Wikimedia Commons

The recent ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against Caster Semenya is not only a major setback for intersex human rights but reveals how intersex peopleespecially those who are Black and Brown—continue to be dehumanized and systematically excluded from all spheres of life, including sports.

On May 1st, 2019, the South African Olympic athlete lost her challenge against the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), whose new rules restrict testosterone levels in female runners.

As often happens, the news about the ruling and the ensuing media coverage revolved around medicine and testosterone levelsnot the human at the centre of the ruling, her rights, her body and her life.

“Caster Semenyaa black African female athletehas not only been barred from doing what she does bestrunningbut she’s been repeatedly stripped of her privacy, dignity and autonomy,” says Ruth Baldacchino, Astraea’s Intersex Human Rights Fund Program Officer.

“This is an appalling ruling, based solely on sexist, intersexophobic, transphobic and racist stereotypes. This is a serious setback for the rights of all the intersex, trans and gender non-conforming athletes competing in women categories, and may lead to similar regulations in other sports. What we are seeing is an ideological shrinking around traditional gender stereotypes instead of an honest discussion on the relevance of binary sex-segregated sports categories,” said intersex activist Loé Petit, who is a Program Associate for the Intersex Human Rights Fund at Astraea.

The ruling not only stigmatizes intersex people, but also fails to recognize the truth of what it means to be a competitive athletenatural genetic advantages that set you apart to win. Advantages that are celebrated not regulated, be they cardiac capacity, lactic acid levels, etc. The fact that genetic endowment is not regulated in men’s sports goes to show that the IAAF ruling is an overt form of gender policing, and not at all an issue of sports justice.

“As a Black woman, Caster has been perceived as a threat by (white) athletes and sports governing bodies simply because she runs fast. There are countless discriminatory practices and human rights violations that have been committed towards many intersex athletes in the run-up to this ruling. We want to reiterate the demands of the global intersex movement for international, regional and national human rights institutions to take on board and address intersex human rights violations, and in so doing, find adequate solutions for redress and reparations in direct collaboration with intersex representatives and organisations,” says Baldacchino.

“Restrictive binary notions of sex and gender are systems set up to alienate LGBTQI people and tell us we do not belong; they are destructive to us all. But we will not be silent. We will not be legislated out of existence. Our bodies and lives are not open for debate or political opinion, they are a critical part of our lives and our liberation. Our response is to rise up in solidarityto support the fiercest intersex organizations on the ground around the world fighting for bodily autonomy and the right to live life freely, with dignity,” said J. Bob Alotta, Astraea Executive Director.

For more information on the ruling, please read statements from our grantee partners Iranti and Intersex South Africa here.

Lesbian Visibility Day 2019

Today, on Lesbian Visibility Day, we’re honoring our lesbian roots by celebrating grantee partners all over the world who fight day in and day out to build community and secure the rights and dignity of LBQ* women through powerful activism, movement-building, arts, and social and cultural change.

Today, on Lesbian Visibility Day, we’re honoring our lesbian roots by celebrating grantee partners all over the world who fight day in and day out to build community and secure the rights and dignity of LBQ* women through powerful activism, movement-building, arts, and social and cultural change.

Astraea came out as a lesbian organization in 1990. Claiming our lesbian identity has always been a politically conscious choice to visibilize lesbian communities and activism which are critical in social justice movements, but whose efforts have often been unacknowledged, or erased.

We recognize ‘lesbian’ as both a sexual orientation and political identity; that it must include trans, intersex, bisexual, and queer women who identify as such or feel connected to lesbian activism, while respecting that the full spectrum of people who experience gendered oppression includes trans men, non-binary people, and more.

“We don’t get to see anybody like us when we grow up. For me, the first thing a movement tells me is that you are not alone.”
– Sappho For Equality, India

Watch lesbian-led grantee partner Sappho for Equality from India share about their activism in this new video.

This year, Astraea supported powerful LBQ* visions by awarding 92 grants to 72 LBQ-led organizations worldwide, totaling over $1.7 million. Beyond grantmaking, we are continuing to shift power and resources to these movements by:

To see some of our lesbian feminist milestones from the last 41 years, watch our new Lesbian Visibility Day video above.

Join us in building power for LBQ* movements everywhere.

Donate

 

 

*LBQ stands for lesbian, bisexual, and queer, and includes lesbian-identified trans, intersex, and nonbinary people.

Learn more about the organizations we fund, who are fighting for LBQ people and more!

Meet our grantee partner, Sappho for Equality!

Listen as Sappho member Sutanuka Bhattacharya shares more about the organization’s work, and what it’s meant to receive support from Astraea.

Born on 20th June, 1999, Sappho is a support group for Lesbian, Bisexual women and Transmen, in Eastern India with its base in Kolkata. Listen as Sappho member Sutanuka Bhattacharya shares more about the organization’s work, and what it’s meant to receive support from Astraea.

Learn more about Sappho for Equality.

Organizing India’s Transgender Communities

In September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court made the groundbreaking decision to overturn Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized gay sex. While this is a historic ruling for India’s LGBTQI communities, there still remain insufficient protections for people and communities at the margins. In particular, India’s transgender communities continue to face legal obstacles to true equality.

By Sabrina Rich, Communications Intern

In September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court made the groundbreaking decision to overturn Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized gay sex. While this is a historic ruling for India’s LGBTQI communities, there still remain insufficient protections for people and communities at the margins. In particular, India’s transgender communities continue to face legal obstacles to true equality.

The Indian government made a landmark decision in National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India in 2014. This court case ruled that transgender people have the legal right to self-identify as male, female, or the now legally recognized ‘third gender,’ and affirmed their fundamental rights granted under the Constitution of India. This decision was followed by the introduction of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, referred to commonly as the Trans Bill. The Trans Bill was intended to implement the protections outlined in the NALSA case. While the original Bill was relatively aligned with the NALSA judgment, 27 new amendments were made which altered its content. In 2018, the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, under claims to protect transgender people and their welfare.

While the Bill’s supporters argue that it will protect trans communities through anti-discrimination measures, the Bill actually poses major challenges to transgender communities. Its definition of ‘transgender’ includes any “trans-man or trans-woman (whether or not such person has undergone Sex Reassignment Surgery or hormone therapy or laser therapy or such other therapy), person with intersex variations, genderqueer and person having such socio-cultural identities as kinner, hijra, aravani and jogta.” Not only does this definition fail to encompass the full spectrum of gender identities, but by conflating intersex people with transgender people, it demonstrates a lack of understanding about differences between biological sex and gender identity.

The Bill would also require that trans individuals obtain a certificate of identity as “proof” of their trans identity. Certificates would only be available to people who are approved by a screening committee, comprised of psychological and medical professionals, government officials, and only one transgender person. Such a committee would take autonomy away from trans and gender non-conforming people and put their gender identities and lived experiences in the hands of cis-dominated institutions. The Trans Bill’s anti-discrimination measures, which claim to protect trans people from discrimination in education, employment, and healthcare, become impossible to access if trans people cannot obtain their required paperwork.

Astraea grantee partner Women’s Initiative (WINS), a women-led organization in Andhra Pradesh working to end violence against stigmatized communities and fighting against the criminalization of sexuality and sex work, has been working alongside trans activists to stop the current Bill from passing in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament. We spoke with WINS president R. Meera to hear more about the organization’s strategies for organizing on the ground and in their communities.

In its current form, the Trans Bill does not contain sufficient input from trans community members. According to R. Meera, one of the biggest challenges in mobilizing people in response to the Trans Bill has been that many transgender people are not even aware that it exists. Talking to community members and educating them on the Bill and its potential impacts became an important tactic for WINS and other activists. Describing her early days of organizing against the Bill, R. Meera said, “We spoke to some transgender Activists [and] requested them to mobilise members who have no access to information, knowledge, or skills to comprehend the import of the Bill.” Trans activists discussed and debated the details of the Bill with working class transgender people and other community members who have limited access to resources.

WINS members and other key activists also organized a hearing where a representative of the Indian Administrative Services, a civil service arm of the executive government, presented issues with the Trans Bill to members of Parliament. The intent of this hearing was not only to educate the Parliament on the problematic aspects of the Bill, but also to demonstrate support for transgender people from various sectors of society, including government officials, community members, and allies.

Another potential bill that activists say would harm trans communities is the Trafficking of Persons (Protection, Prevention and Rehabilitation) Bill, which was also recently passed in the Lok Sabha.

The Trafficking Bill would further institutionalize transphobia through language that is intentionally written in a way that can be used to target and criminalize trans people. For example, the Trafficking Bill declares forced begging as a crime punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison and a significant fine. Because transgender people in India are constantly marginalized by and excluded from institutions, including employment and education, many transgender people make their money through begging. Over time, begging has developed as a culture within the trans community that has helped individuals sustain their livelihoods. Though not explicitly about trans people, this provision can be used to target, arrest, and incarcerate trans people who rely on begging as a means of survival.

In addition to begging, many transgender people make a living through sex work. Though sex work is entirely separate from trafficking in that it is consensual, while trafficking is not, the Indian government has conflated the two through the Trafficking Bill. The Bill seeks to implement a “raid, rescue, rehabilitation” model, which in practice would look like raiding brothels and placing the ‘rescued’ women in rehabilitation centers. Because the Bill makes no distinction between trafficked women and consensual sex workers, this provision would likely lead to the forced rehabilitation of sex workers. By conflating these concepts, the Bill would not only criminalize the consensual sex work that many trans people rely on to survive, but also forcefully institutionalize many trans sex workers.

The Trafficking Bill also states that administering hormones to a person for the purpose of early sexual maturity is considered trafficking. Trans elders often help younger trans people gain access to medical practitioners, some of whom are unlicensed sources, in order to access hormone treatments. This clause of the Trafficking Bill criminalizes their lack of awareness, rather than placing the blame on the government for not providing accessible and inclusive medical care.

A more in-depth transgender critique of the Trafficking Bill, provided by Telangana Hijra Transgender Samiti, can be found here.

Both the Trans Bill and the Trafficking Bill have yet to pass in the Rajya Sabha, and activists maintain hope that they won’t. Trans activists and LGBTQI groups have been organizing consistently and tirelessly, drawing important connections between both bills and their impacts.

Ultimately, all of this organizing has resulted in direct action. WINS is one of many organizations, transgender individuals, and allies to organize and attend protests across the country. One of the largest protests against the Trans Bill took place in Delhi on December 28th, 2018. Hundreds of transgender activists and allies from all over India gathered in the nation’s capital to make their demands heard. Organizers across the country have been vocal both online and in their communities about the need for a bill that protects, rather than threatens, transgender rights.

These protections include the removal of the screening committee, the right to self-identify, the establishment of reservations for trans people in education and employment, and adequate access to medical care for trans people.

Protests against the Trafficking Bill are also ongoing. Trans activists, including WINS members, protested at a municipal corporation office in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh in December 2018. WINS has been an active supporter in the fight against the Trafficking Bill, and R. Meera told us their demands that the Bill be redrafted in order to take the interests of sex workers, trans people, and migrant laborers into account.

Activists hope to prevent the passage of both bills through their continued organizing. Going forward, WINS is working alongside transgender activists to demand that the government ensures all constitutional safeguards including right to life, liberty, and equality, self-determination, and reservations for education and employment. WINS and other activists are fighting for a future that will “give [trans people] power to stand tall and strong.”  

Header Image: Community Members walk the street opposing both Bills; Photo credit: Women’s Initiative (WINS)

Further reading:

Transcending Borders, Building Futures: Our 2018 Annual Report

Join us as we review 2018 with highlights from Astraea and our bold, brilliant grantee partners from around the world.

Friends,

It is with great excitement that we share our 2018 Annual Report, “Transcending Borders, Building Futures.”

In 2018, we made 256 grants totaling $4.6 million to organizations in 69 countries and 21 U.S. states.

We accompanied our movements beyond funding; in addition to making grants, we strategically invested in cross-border LBTQI movement building, we lifted up grassroots organizing by prioritizing the holistic security of activist communities, and we connected beyond oppressive structures to harness the power of ancient and new technologies, providing solidarity in critical times.

Join us as we review 2018 with highlights from Astraea and our bold, brilliant grantee partners from around the world. Read about how together, we are creating the future we believe is possible and necessary for our communities to thrive.

In solidarity,

J. Bob Alotta
Executive Director

Read the report

Trans Day of Visibility 2019

This Trans Day of Visibility, Astraea celebrates the power and vitality of Trans Movements worldwide by uplifting some recent grantee partner achievements in trans organizing.

This Trans Day of Visibility, Astraea celebrates the power and vitality of Trans Movements worldwide by uplifting some recent grantee partner achievements in trans organizing. We are committed to building vibrant and sustainable trans movements globally. This year, we awarded over $1.6M to groups led by trans & gender non-conforming people.

Please join us in lifting up the following achievements:

  • California, U.S.: TGIJP advocated for legislation which passed, allowing incarcerated trans people to change their name and gender marker.
  • Nigeria: THRIN held a large symposium for the trans community and allies.
  • Croatia: Trans Aid held the first national TRANSummer Camp.
  • South Africa: Gender DynamiX redrafted a gender recognition law to incorporate rights for diverse trans people.
  • India: Trans activists and allied groups protested and successfully delayed passage of the regressive Trans Rights Bill.
  • Honduras: CATTRACHAS submitted an argument to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights for failing to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the execution of a young transgender woman, Vicky Hernández.
  • Malaysia: Justice for Sisters advocated against the Court of Appeal for retracting a decision that affirmed the right of a trans man to change his name and gender marker.
  • Botswana: Rainbow Identity Association created support groups for trans and intersex individuals in regional cities across Botswana.
  • Dominican Republic: TRANSSA opened one of the first community education programs for trans people in the country.
  • Serbia: Gayten-LGBT and Labris Belgrade disputed a law requiring trans people to have “reassignment” surgery in order to change their gender identity on official documents.
  • Chile: OTD advocated for a bill which passed, allowing people over the age of 14 to change their name and gender in official records.
  • New Orleans, U.S.: BreakOUT! proposed a bill on gender inclusive bathrooms which was passed by the mayor.
  • Ukraine: abolished arbitrary and cruel trans health protocol thanks to Insight’s advocacy (2017), but Trans rights activists were attacked with pepper spray during Ukraine march (2018).
  • Kyrgyzstan: Labrys Kyrgyzstan developed a guideline based on WPATH which includes human rights component and guidelines for legal gender recognition, which were signed by the Ministry of Health.

Thanks to all our grantee partners and activists fighting for trans rights across the globe!

Support organizations like these all over the world who are on the front lines of international trans rights movements.

Donate

 

 

Trans Day of Visibility: Resources and Links:

Digital Solidarity at Astraea!

Astraea has always been deeply invested in building capacity and resilience for our movements and communities.

For LGBTQI communities, digital spaces are concurrently the newest sites of inspirational activism and violent backlash. Astraea has always been deeply invested in building capacity and resilience for our movements and communities.

In 2014, with the launch of CommsLabs, we became the first funder to make a major investment in media, communications, and technology in LGBTQI activism globally. Since then, we have held four CommsLabs convenings in Colombia,  Africa and the Dominican Republic.

We’ve recently conducted research in India and Central Asia & Eastern Europe with the ultimate goal of supporting queer and trans activists in their efforts to mitigate surveillance, censorship, and other threats to Internet freedom, as well as to harness the power of technology, communications, and media to further their movements.

This April, some of our staff members will be hosting panels at the upcoming Internet Freedom Festival, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share some of the exciting, queer, tech-y work Astraea has been up to!


What Astraea’s been up to:


Photo: Internet Freedom Festival 2019 logo. Credit: Internet Freedom Festival

Astraea @ IFF

Astraea will be leading a session entitled ‘Digital Landscapes of Queer & Trans Activism: Threats, Opportunities and Resistance.’ Our Executive Director Bob, one of our Senior Program Officers, Brenda, along with two of our grantee partners from India and Kyrgyzstan, will be presenting at the conference. In this session, we will share key insights from three digital landscape mappings we have conducted in the past year, drawing connections across political and movement contexts in the United States, India, the Dominican Republic, and Central Asia & Eastern Europe.


Photo: Grantee partner Sappho For Equality presentation, 2014. Credit: Sappho For Equality

India Tech Assessment

We are busy compiling a technical assessment of digital organizing in India, which will map and assess the state of digital activism for LGBTQI activists, so stay tuned for that! At IFF, we will be highlighting recommendations around holistic digital security for Indian activists and technologists based on key findings from the report.


Photo: Participants at Astraea’s Dominican Republic CommsLabs, September 2018. Credit: Carlos Rodríguez

CommsLabs Convening in the Dominican Republic

In September 2018, our fourth CommsLabs convening took place in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. The convening was an opportunity for activists to collectively build their digital strategies, explore creative storytelling techniques, experiment with media-making, build deeper relationships, and so much more! Hear what participants had to say about the convening in this video.


Photo: LGBT Organization Labrys Kyrgyzstan on Trans Day of Visibility, 2017. Credit: LGBT Organization Labrys Kyrgyzstan

Digital Activism in Central Asia & Eastern Europe

In May 2018, acknowledging that trans activists in Central Asia & Eastern Europe 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 & Eastern Europe. Read the report in English and Russian.


Photo: Astraea, Urgent Action Fund, and Labrys Digital Solidarity Convening in Kyrgyzstan, 2018. Credit: Labrys Kyrgyzstan

Queer Digital Solidarity Convening in Kyrgyzstan

Astraea teamed up with the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF) and Labrys Kyrgyzstan in September 2018 to co-create a convening for LGBTQI+ activists from all over the Central Asia & Eastern Europe region to come together and harness the power of digital tools and technology for activism. Read more about it here on our website!


Photo: Speakers Maya Richman (left) and Slammer (right) at Astraea’s Why We Fund: Care and Holistic Security event, 2019. Credit: Bridget de Gersigny

Why We Fund: Care and Holistic Security

Astraea has had the privilege of working with incredible Mozilla fellow Maya Richman since September 2018. As a Mozilla fellow, she is working alongside Astraea to explore and support the security needs of LGBTQI groups around the world. On February 27th, we hosted a Why We Fund event for our New York community during which Maya highlighted learnings from her work here at Astraea, and the value of embedding technologists within under-resourced organisations. She was joined by her colleague Slammer, another Mozilla fellow working with Consumer Reports. View photos from the event here!

Want to support the digital and holistic security of LGBTQI communities globally? Join us!

Donate

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.

***

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.