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Building A Queer Left

By: 
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Date Published: 
November 01, 2007

On June 26, 2007, 100 beautiful queer grassroots activists representing over 44 organizations from 18 states gathered in Atlanta, Georgia. Leading up to the US Social Forum, this conversation was the start of renewed phase of intentional queer organizing and the culmination of months of visioning, listening, and planning. Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ) and Southerners on New Ground (SONG), queer organizations committed to intersectional approaches that center working class communities and people of color that are based in New York City and Durham, North Carolina respectively, headed up the organizing for the meeting.

In preparation for the gathering, QEJ’s Susan Raffo conducted twenty-five “listening sessions,” which identified that the major obstacle that queer organizers with left politics spoke about was their sense of debilitating isolation. This gathering was designed as a way to build relationships and connections and was specifically targeted at folks grounded in intersectional social justice framework, rooted in a wide range of communities across the US. Raffo found it important to note that at least 50 potential participants who were interested in the conversation, but not currently involved in grassroots work, stepped back from this meeting, in an effort to honor the leadership of organizers actively involved in those prioritized communities.

The organizers reminded us that access to resources still shapes the public face of our movement, especially when it comes to national meetings and conferences. Paulina Hernandez and Caitlin Breedlove of SONG noted that although the intention was for the majority of participants to be people of color and 70% of the people pre-registered were people of color, that at the beginning of the day the make up of the space did not reflect those numbers.

Still, the people of color in attendance were integral to the conversation. Shash Yázhí, a participant from the Movement Strategy Center ignited the hope that filled the room explaining, “I’m here to vision big and dream big: 50 years, 100 years. I know that I may not see liberation in my lifetime, but if my role is to lay a grain for that foundation, then that is my role.” Participants spoke to the lived consequences of the “stereotypical mainstream gay activism” which they often see as a rich white male project, something that excludes people of color, immigrants, and poor people.

Specific challenges we face within left movements were also discussed, especially those elements that remain blind to the connections between sexual and gendered oppression and all other forms of oppression. Participants of color mentioned feeling pushed to choose between being isolated either in white spaces with queer politics or in culturally organized spaces where it is hard to be out as queer. At the same time, we noted that it seems to be queer people of color doing a disproportionate amount of work on both of these fronts, while remaining invisible and becoming burnt out.

The disconnection and continued racism, classism, and homophobia that pose barriers to our movement work, have serious consequences for our communities generally. One participant mentioned that if prison justice organizations continue refuse to see the experience of queer and transgendered prisoners as a priority, and queer liberation organizations continue to ignore the problem of mass incarceration, then those of us who are criminalized because of our poverty, race, immigrant status, and queerness have no where to turn. More generally, the young people in our communities remain vulnerable to violence if there is no visible movement of queer working-class people and people of color to have their backs.

We agreed that next steps would include: continued regional and national gatherings, translations to broaden the conversation in immigrant communities, additional listening sessions, as well as spreading the word through a media and internet working group. QEJ, with the support of the participants in the forum, is developing a two-year plan based on the priorities we identified at this “historic” gathering.

We invite all of you who were not able to attend to participate in the ongoing conversation by contacting Susan Raffo at susan(at)q4ej.org.

About the Author
Alexis Pauline Gumbs wrote this article with the support of Caitlin Breedlove, Paulina Hernandez, Joseph Deflippis and Susan Raffo. Alexis is a member of SONG, UBUNTU and SpiritHouse and is the founder of BrokenBeautiful Press (www.brokenbeautiful.wordpress.com). Feel free to contact Alexis at alexispauline(at)gmail.com.