Statement: Do Not Militarize Our Mourning: Orlando and the Ongoing Tragedy Against LGBTSTGNC POC

See the original post on the Audre Lorde Project website.

June 15, 2016

We at the Audre Lorde Project are devastated by the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando which resulted in the murder of 49 queer and trans people (the majority of whom are Black, Latinx, and/or Afrolatinx), including Enrique Rios from Brooklyn. We send our deepest condolences to all of the families, lovers, and friends of the victims and all of the Southern queer and trans organizers who continue to fight for liberation in their name. We are with you in solidarity.  We are constantly reminded that there is no separation from our need to heal and our need to organize for our continued survival. We need each other now more than ever.

Our community in New York City is struggling today as we reconcile with the constant reality that we are considered disposable by a racist, transmisogynist, Islamophobic, and xenophobic country. From our experiences on the ground as an organizing center for and by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two Spirit, and Gender Non Conforming People of Color (LGBTSTGNC POC) we know that this massacre is not the exception, it is part of the economy of violence against LGBTSTGNC, Black people & People of Color, indigenous people, and immigrants. It makes explicit what the institutions of war, prisons, detention centers, and the police teach our communities every day: that we were never meant to survive.*

Contrary to what the media and mainstream LGBT organizations and publications are depicting: the victims and survivors are Black, Latinx, AfroLatinx, Trans, Gender Non Conforming, undocumented, and working class. These identities matter. They matter because of the US occupation and militarization of Puerto Rico and Latin/South America due to US sanctioned economic violence. They matter because our communities have to make separate Latinx nights at clubs due to racism even within the LGBT community. They matter because Black and Latinx club sanctuaries and safe spaces (like Starlight in Brooklyn, Club Escuelita in Manhattan) are routinely shut down due to rampant gentrification and increased policing of our neighborhoods. They matter because Bayna Lehkiem El-Amin, a Black HIV/AIDS counselor and Ballroom community leader, has been demonized as a homophobe and is currently awaiting sentencing in Rikers for defending himself against an attack by a white gay man. They matter because there is an epidemic of murder of Black and Latinx Trans Women and Gender Non Conforming people and this tragedy is part of this ongoing colonial project.

The fact that only the race of the perpetrator and not the victims is being discussed is telling. Besides erasing the lived reality of Muslim LGBTSTGNC people, Black Muslims, and LGBTSTGNC people of color more generally, this promotes the xenophobic stereotype that Muslim people and immigrants are more “homophobic,” and become “radicalized” elsewhere. The culprit becomes the figure of the “Islamic terrorist,” and the heroes become the politicians, the police, and the military. We reject this deliberately racist framing. Individual perpetrators are part of a much larger system of militarization and colonization. We recognize that terrorism is not imported, it is home grown in a culture that is deeply anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and anti-queer. It is of a culture where the Christian Right has attempted to pass over 200 pieces of anti-LGBT legislation across the country, it is a culture where 59 year old Mohamed Rasheed Khan was beaten on his way out of a Queens mosque this month, where an immigrant detention center in Santa Ana still detains and assaults many Latinx trans women who came to the US to escape US-backed political violence. In order to do justice to the victims of Orlando we have to address these problems at their root causes, not their symptoms. While the daily violences of settler colonialism (the continued occupation of indigenous land), of Christian supremacy, of anti-Black policing, of Islamophobia, of criminalization of gender non conformity, of immigrant detention and deportation are never elevated to the status of national tragedy, we must commit ourselves to abolishing these systems if we want to prevent Orlando from ever happening again.

Already the NYPD, along with other security forces across the country, has heightened security outside of our bars and Pride events. This has looked like armed cops in riot gear policing our safe spaces – cops who are carrying the same kind of weapon that Omar Mateen used in Orlando.  Politicians (both Trump and Clinton alike) are calling for a harsher crackdown on “Islamic extremism.” Our allies are pledging to keep us safe as we assemble for Pride this month. But we ask: safety for whom? They call for increased policing, but never for affordable housing. Hate crimes legislation has been shown to fuel mass incarceration and disproportionately criminalize Black and People of Color survivors of violence. The Christopher Street Pier, a sacred space for LGBTSTGNC youth and poor people of color, is barricaded shut by NYPD during Pride. Calls for gun control never seem to include demands for demilitarization of the police.

In order to prevent the violence we witnessed in Orlando, it is more important than ever that LGBTSTGNC POC turn to each other for community safety rather than relying on systems that were never meant for us. It is more important than ever that we reject increased militarization at home and abroad. It is more important than ever that we uplift the experiences, politics, and movements of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx queer and trans people fighting for self-determination of our bodies, homes, neighborhoods, clubs, and lands.

It will be imperative that we look towards each other for our political survival, for our collective well being and safety.  We honor the names of those lost in Orlando, as a reminder of the conservative backlash in this country and reminder we must continue to fight, to love, to build power and transform violence and colonization that has always deemed our bodies expendable.

In Solidarity,
Audre Lorde Project Members, Board, Staff

 

* Audre Lorde’s “Litany for Survival”

 

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

December 10, 2018

Welcome to the new NFG website!

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December 4, 2018

From Sector Newcomer to Board Member

Marjona Jones joined the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock four years ago after working in the field as an organizer for 14 years. She came to Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) through an existing relationship between Veatch and NFG: Molly Schultz Hafid, former assistant director at Veatch, also served as an NFG board member and co-chair for the Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) working group. “She was outgoing co-chair when I was hired at Veatch — the relationships she had built through that working group were important to me as well because I also worked around economic equity,” says Marjona. Initially, NFG was a space of learning for Marjona as a newcomer to the sector:

I joined [FJE’s] program committee, and then was invited to join the coordinating committee. It was an education! It was really about supporting the working group in order to create opportunities for funders to come together, hear about grantees, and think about how to create more space within philanthropy for this. That takes building relationships within philanthropy. That takes creating more breadth for funders to leverage what we have, and more, for our grantees. We’ve got to do that by educating one another within philanthropy.

NFG was also a space of affirmation and sustenance for Marjona, whose organizing background and perspective from the field anchors her work as a grantmaker and informs her relationships with grantees. At NFG, she found a commitment to racial and economic justice that matched her own. She has gone on to become centrally involved in NFG, joining Funders for Justice (FFJ), participating in Project Phoenix, and now serving on NFG’s board. 

An Intersectional Framework

NFG centers people in its work, helping funders understand the meaning of an intersectional analysis and apply it to their grantmaking. Marjona lifts up FJE’s Working at the Intersections program as an example:

Something I really want to share is a report that Working at the Intersections put out [titled Journey Towards Intersectional Grant-making] about best practices for how we want and need to support work at the intersections of identity. “Intersectional” is often just a buzzword, and so we thought it would be good to offer understanding around how that perspective plays out, and how it plays out within philanthropy too.

To me, it was a beautiful convening that we did [with Working at the Intersections]. It really opened up folks to talk about what it is we deal with as women of color within philanthropy. We need to be mindful about how that impacts the field of philanthropy, and how we move our work. There are layers that we have to be very intentional about if we really care about justice liberation and how all those things intersect. If we aren’t mindful of this, we can be really shortsighted then in funding program work because we are so siloed in philanthropy — ‘This week she will show up as a worker, next week she will show up as a woman, the following week as a person of color…’

Because of [Veatch’s’ general support grants], our funding isn’t requiring people to carve up their identities, which I think is a disservice. Requiring people to show up in this way sometimes impacts and distracts from the work.

In speaking about how NFG promotes an intersectional approach in the philanthropic sector, Marjona also highlights her participation in NFG’s Project Phoenix: Connecting Democracy, Economy, and Sustainability, a year-long cohort collective learning program for funders. For Project Phoenix, the term “new economy” means intersectional activities with an intention to support a democracy that works for all, an economy that provides good jobs and promotes local economic prosperity, the growth of ecologically sustainable and non-extractive sectors, and a re-prioritization of the role of capital in society to better serve these goals. Marjona shares how participating in Project Phoenix expanded her understanding about environmental grantmaking:

Project Phoenix really helped me understand my work a great deal, because it was focused on democracy and the environment. It was hard for me as a general support funder to see our role in moving that work because we have an environmental portfolio, but we didn’t have a way of supporting those intersections [of racial and economic justice].

Project Phoenix was helpful for me to understand all the different ways the work that we fund had a place [in the environmental landscape]. It was important for me to understand where we fit in the larger field of philanthropy. And it was also really helpful to understand our current socio-economic moment — capitalism, it extracts not just resources from the ground but it extracts resources from working-class, poor communities; it extracts people, it extracts lives, it extracts health. Prisoners are used as free labor to make goods and then those goods are sold back to us. It extracts our wealth — from the way the banking system works to the way it suppresses wages.  

So it helped me understand when you are talking about climate change and environmental protections, you need to be talking about worker protections, and housing, and health, and education. All of these things are connected. You can’t talk about these things in a vacuum. Those organizations that are focused on the environment without thinking about people need to be focused on people as well.

Amplifying Resources and Awareness in Critical Times 

Marjona shares an example of how NFG plays a powerful and responsive role in amplifying resources for racial justice through the network of funders with whom the organization has built a shared values framework and provided concrete, immediate avenues for funders to take action. With the organizers in 2014 who were taking a stand on the ground to protest the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Marjona understood the importance of supporting them with navigating the same criminal justice system that was being used to target and intimidate them. She worked closely with NFG’s Funders for Justice program staff to convene a conference call to mobilize resources and support the organizers’ legal costs: 

There were protests happening in St. Louis, and they needed emergency funds for bail support and organizers to work on legal aspects such as defending people, going with them to court, and helping them through the process. I felt that was critical because it is something that gets left out of grant proposals. People are going to put their freedom on the line — what happens to them once they are arrested, charged, and have to go to court? This is a concern especially in St. Louis, where folks are often new or first time offenders.

I remember emailing Lorraine [Ramirez, Senior Program Manager] at Funders for Justice, asking, ‘Can you send this out to the listserv?’ And she said, ‘Why don’t we do a call?’ I helped get folks on the phone, and they ended up getting support. It wasn’t a large call; it was just a handful of funders. But, I feel like if there had not been FFJ, I would have had to do that legwork myself, and to be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to call funders individually to get that support while I had the work of my docket. I could not have brought people to the table so quickly on the strength of my own relationships.  

Because NFG has been organizing within philanthropy over the years with convenings and webinars, they have built up integrity in the field. People know to go to NFG if they have questions about black organizing and police brutality. So when NFG puts a call out asking if we can move resources for something, people will join and pony up.

Supporting Members to Engage Actively 

The ways that NFG supports its members to go deeper and develop a broader understanding of their role and potential for impact is important to Marjona in her work:

I think folks [at NFG] understand that we need to organize. They understand that philanthropy has to be as organized as we expect our grantees to be. NFG’s convenings and information sharing help create conditions so that can happen. A lot of [the staff at NFG] are former organizers... I said it before, and I will say it again, I don’t know if I would still be in philanthropy if it had not been for NFG.

Veatch has always had a commitment to racial justice, but we have increased our giving to over a million dollars to racial justice organizing — and part of that was from our work with NFG. We said to ourselves, ‘Yes, we are doing this, but we can do more. So let’s figure out how to be creative, and how to support our colleagues in being creative as well.’

After what happened with the Ferguson uprising, there was so much handwringing on the left. Helping to break through that to take action was important — because this isn’t just about Missouri, and this goes beyond Michael Brown. This is about the nation. It helped people do something, get in the game, and be public about how they were going to support that work. Was it perfect? Hell no! Especially when you have got money and power in the mix. But it did move funders in the right direction, and that’s what we need. Because it’s really easy to sit in our offices and say, ‘I [only] have this much money, and I have to get this docket out the door.’ But we have a greater responsibility. NFG helps you understand that greater responsibility, as well as how you can take that responsibility, hone it, and bring it into the program work