I am lucky for about a million reasons, and one of them is that I know Nikki Lopez. We went to college together at Bryn Mawr; we lived together in the late, great Perry House (when I was a senior and she was a junior); and we fought the good fight as members of the Latina affinity group executive board for three years. She's a wonderful friend, a poet, an activist, and a DJ. I actually screamed in my office when I read that she was the new executive director of GALEI, a non-profit dedicated to helping young, queer Latinx in Philadelphia. Her heart is so freaking huge and she is so good at what she does, and I was so happy for her.
But Nikki posted something on facebook yesterday about her choice not to go to a hearing in the gayborhood -- where I lived for two short years, and where she still lives, in center city Philly -- and it struck a chord in me about the fine line that you walk, as someone whose whole being is always on fire for the justice you and the people you love need so badly. How that means you get burnt out, and how, sometimes, you have to go home instead of going hard, in order to take care of yourself, so there's some of that fire left tomorrow for the work you need to do. This is her post in its original state -- shared with Nikki's permission, of course -- the only changes being hyperlinks I added for further explanation.
When "Coming Home" is an act of resistance
Or why I didn't attend the public hearing on Racism in the Gayborhood
'All the women. in me. are tired.' - Nayyirah Waheed
Last night, hundreds of folks from Philadelphia's queer community packed the tiny room at 804 Arch street and attended the PCHR hearing on racism in the gayborhood. Many folks called me, texted me and asked if I would be attendance, I heard some even looked for me at the event. I was not there. Simply put, after a day's long work of grant writing and convincing funders on why our programming as the only queer latinx social justice organization in Pennsylvania is necessary and important, writing reports to our funders convincing them why our organization should continue to receive funding to do the work we do, supporting staff who wanted to attend the hearing but could not because they provided back up to our youth drop- in program to ensure the queer latinx youth who come to galaei could still have a safe space, to answering other emails and interviews around the hearing and recent racist gayborhood events...muchacha, yo estaba cansada. I received a text from my girlfriend asking me when I would be "coming home" because she had prepared a delicious vegan rican meal, and after a days long work, I was looking forward to the healing a home cooked meal could provide.
As a queer latinx person directly en la lucha of social justice work, I've learned that I must choose strategically and intentionally what spaces will best serve me. I knew last night's space would not serve me. While I wanted to encourage members of the Filadelfia Queer Latinx community to attend and share their testimonies, I also knew that sometimes self preservation, to echo Audre Lorde's words- is also revolutionary work. Last night's event, felt more like deja vu, than a direct action forward. As some folks have already vocalized, similar events have occurred in the past. The hearing also demonstrated that once again in major queer/lgbt spaces, the Latinx community is often forgotten about- there was no Spanish translator at the hearing, none of the promotional efforts were offered in Spanish, and presently many of our city government offices lack queer and latinx representation-How are we to believe that the government entities meant to protect us and our civil liberties, can do so, if they do not reflect us, the multiplicity of our community members and our languages? As the executive director of an organization that directly focuses our services and programs on queer people of color, I am hyper aware of the landscape of our leadership in non profits, especially in LGBT non profits. In the HIV/AIDS prevention field, in 2014, people of color went from being disproportionately impacted by HIV to the majority of new infections and the majority of people living with HIV. Why? What are we doing or not doing that caused this shift?In the beginning of this letter I brought up the task of work which including convincing new funders to fund our unique work at galaei because isn’t it interesting that community-based organizations that center people of color reached their peak closures at the same time that people of color became the majority of new infections and the majority of people living with HIV? Galaei and Juntos released a joint statement that illustrated the marginalization our LGBTQ immigrant community faces daily here in Filadelfia- our immigrant LGBTQ community have been denied admittance into some of the city’s most prominent gay nightclubs due to club policies that refuse to accept valid forms of identification, such as non-American passports or Consular ID Cards. Access to comprehensive healthcare for undocumented LGBTQ people is yet another huge barrier, compounded by limited bi-lingual staff and the reality that none of the resources needed by our communities are offered directly in our neighborhoods, placing the burden of access squarely on their shoulders.
This is why I am tired. This is why we are tired. Basta Ya. Public hearings like the ones that occurred last night are not enough. Pending "recommendations" are not enough. While I honor the space of healing and redemption last night may have been for many community members, I also want to recognize that for others, myself included, last night's space felt too reminiscent of the re traumatization of people of color. We are tired of having to repeat our stories, our fears, our anger, our rage in order to convince the white lgbtq community of the atrocities of systemic and institutional racism. The system has to change. That is the lucha I commit myself too, that is the lucha GALAEI committs to, change is what the Black and Brown Workers Collective demanded during their direct actions, of which they were heavily criticized for, yet is what propelled the hearings to take place. Being en lucha, also means knowing when to heal, when to center, and that "coming home" to our safe spaces of love and care, is an act of resistance against oppression.
Sigue Pa'lante, Pa'lante Sigue,
Executive Director of Galaei
part of a series on the wizard geniuses in my life -- friends and family, colleagues and allies -- who love me, whom i love, who influence me, and who you should know about because they do amazing work in the world. no one accomplishes anything alone. i certainly don't.