the philosophactivist

Monday, October 27, 2014

Queer. Brown. Economic Sovereignty.

For years and years the struggle has been all too real when searching for employment due to my genderqueer presentation and, well, being black/brown in the south. Being bilingual has always been a saving grace- or well, it used to be before my gender expression changed. Recently, as I've been trying to sell my books and zines to get into a stable living situation and take better care of my health, I've been thinking about queer and brown communities and our constant struggle to sustain ourselves and not only keep steady employment but actually get more than our foot in the door (and not as a consumer/customer or at a cash register or serving a table). I am loving the move to train our communities to have the skills necessary for green jobs, tech jobs and jobs as holistic healers (such as the few doula and qtpoc birthwork projects that exist). It's a revolution. Though there are some QTPOC entrepreneurs that have been successful, there are a whole lot more of us hustling and on the grind and barely making ends meet. Sometimes it is due to lack of skills and trainings, other times it may be due to lack of education (if we've had to drop out of high school, for instance). And I'd venture to say that a lot more of the time it's due to other people's ignorance and discrimination which can lead to the aforementioned reasons.

So naturally it would make sense for us to take our skillsharing to another level so we can go ahead and start that business or be in a management position or develop that product. A lot of times we're forced to just take what we can get and we are not the charters of our economic destiny. Sometimes sex work provides a bit more independence, oftentimes it doesn't. Selling our art may pay the bills, oftentimes we're still on the grind. So anything that will put us in a better economic position and not cause us to have to take out tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans is something I can get behind.

Sovereignty. Economic autonomy. It feels so good just typing that. I want it for everyone.

Some projects, organizations, and groups committed to economic sovereignty for our communities

I want to just briefly list some projects, organizations, and groups committed to economic sovereignty for our communities. They are providing opportunities for training, education and skillsharing:

We shift the ways trans*, gender non conforming, agender and non binary people live by creating technology that economically empowers, improves access to social services, promotes gender safety and community sustainability, while bringing visibility to trans* tech innovators and entrepreneurs.

Trans Tech is a revolutionary social enterprise seeking to empower the Trans community through education. We recognize the unlimited potential for growth in what we offer, how we offer it, and who we offer it to.  Our trainings are delivered on-site or online.  Our curriculum focuses on empowerment, education, and employment

Lesbians Who Tech  have a summit and they are a community of queer women in or around tech who seek to be more invisible to each other and others, to get more women involved with technology, and connect lesbians who tech to LGBTQ and women's organizations who are doing incredible community work.

The LGBT Technology Institute is a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization conducting cutting edge research at the intersection of LGBT communities and technology and creates resources, tools, and programs to support LGBT communities.

Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) promotes the creation, exhibition and distribution of new films/videos that address the vital social justice issues that concern queer women of color and our communities, authentically reflect our life stories, and build community through art and activism.
We actively invest in, develop and nurture the creativity of emerging media artists who are Asian/Pacific Islander, Black/African American, Chicana/Latina, Native American and Mixed-Race lesbians, bisexual, queer and questioning women in the Bay Area.
QWOCMAP provides training, screening opportunities and resources free of charge to guarantee full access to our traditionally underserved community, particularly low-income and immigrant queer women of color.

Initiatives and Funding:

Transgender Economic Empowerment Initative
L.A. Transgender Economic Empowerment Project

Brown Boi Project works to build leadership, economic self sufficiency, and health of young masculine of center womyn, trans men, and queer/straight men of color--pipelining them into the social justice movement

3rd Space Support - an initiative with the Audre Lorde Project
The 3rd Space Support program seeks to work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color (LGBTSTGNC POC) who struggle with issues around employment, education, health care and immigration status. It is a place to give and receive sustainable support; where creation, invention and innovation will be practiced.  We will draw from our resilience to support ourselves.

Within this 3rd Space we hold on to the idea that LGBTSTGNC POC communities have always found ways to support each other and survive outside of systems.  The 3rd Space Support program hopes to encourage and create space for these organic methods of community support and community building around employment, education, health care and immigration status to continue.
At the same time, ALP acknowledges that LGBTSTGNC POC community members also engage within systems to find support and get their needs met.  Therefore, ALP will also engage with these systems to provide advocacy, resources and referrals for community members around the issues, employment, education, health care and immigration status.

Trans Justice Funding Project

Sustaining Ourselves Together

I'm certain there are many more informal groups and organizations that are working together to help each other survive. Since the beginning of time, wherever there is struggle, there are people coming together to support each other through it. I know in my darkest times when I've been searching for employment and dealing with discrimination I've felt very isolated in my efforts. Sometimes queer folks of color have access to spaces that have employment initiatives but that lack racial analysis and are racist. And sometimes other places are seriously transphobic or homophobic.   And when we get up the spoons to go to an LGBT resource center, we might still deal with racism or classism. Other economic projects might be underfunded. Or maybe we don't live in a queer mecca and don't have access to LGBT resource centers or the few visible economic empowerment initiatives. Maybe we don't have the desire or the resources to move to these metropolitan cities with these programs and initiatives.

So what can we do on a smaller (but no less impactful) scale within our smaller friendship circles to establish some sense of economic power? I've seen folks who are really innovative and who have night markets where folks who sell art, books, clothing, food, soaps, herbal medicine, etc. come together to sustain themselves.  I've seen folks who independently sell their work and wares- even plates of food from their homes.

What do I mean when I say economic power, anyway? I mean having control over our economic situation in tangible ways like being able to pay for our housing and health care and that of our family members. I mean, not being exploited by companies who give you the minimum pay while they get the maximum profit through your work effort. True, it's capitalism and many of us have no choice to engage with it. But economic power is about having the choice of how to engage with these systems, your work ethic not being exploited, and you feeling as if you can sustain yourself through your work effort. It's not being worked into the ground for peanuts and not being provided health insurance while your well-being suffers. For some of us it means finding ways to create our own positions and small businesses or side gigs and for others of us it means divesting from these systems completely in whatever ways we can.

I'd like to see more spaces created for groups to come together where we can talk about the ways we QT*POC can support each other economically like Audre Lorde Project's 3rd Space Support. Our ancestors undoubtedly had many ways that they came together for mutual aid. Collectives and cooperatives were born out of their struggle though we see less visible POC representation in them these days. We're still there though and POC collectives committed to sovereignty do still exist. Check out Dr. Gordon-Nembhard's book on the history of African-American cooperative economic thought and practice.

Visionary questions:

  • How will we find ways to sustain ourselves economically as individuals and communities? 
  • What's the work we need to do within ourselves and within our communities before we can build a more cohesive economic justice movement centering those who are the most marginalized?
  • How do we bring together organizations and community members dedicated to working on queer and trans* rights, racial justice, economic justice and policy and advocacy in substantial and more impactful ways? Do you already know some examples of this?

and most of all-

what is our vision for what it would look like for us Queer and Trans* folks of color to have economic sovereignty?

I personally want to see the creation of more access to holistic medicine paths for our communities. I want to see more accessible (by this I also mean affordable) trainings for birthworkers, herbalists, naturopaths, traditional chinese medicine and ayurvedic practitioners and even more access to our community members to sit at the feet of elder curander@s and other healers and spiritworkers.

I want us to have more access to training to be in positions to help our communities build worker-owned cooperatives and credit unions.
I want to see us get access to learning liberation permaculture and how to start organic farms and sell sustainable products and build sustainable homes and architecture.
I want to see us running our own free schools and universities.
I want to see us starting our own art programs and valuing art integrated with healing work.
I want to see us learning more about community organizing and training each other.
I want to see more of us doing work in technology and other innovative industries.
I want to see us helping to fund each other's education and businesses
I want to see us knowledge sharing and working together to help each other discover our power and let each other know that we are not alone in our visions of this work. We don't have to deal with racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism in the 'workplace'. We can create alternative economies and employment more representative of us, our work ethic and visions for the work we're passionate about and the changes we want to see for our communities.

Here's more info on the current economic situation for QPOC:
The State of Gay and Transgender Communities of Color in 2012
American LGBT Workers of Color Are Part of a Broken Bargain 
Injustice at Every Turn: A look at Black Respondents on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey
Black and Transgender: Still on the Margins
Why Centering Race in Transgender Advocacy is Key To Equality for All
Remember the closing of Queers for Economic Justice?