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We Finally Created a Space for Ourselves

Queer & Trans students come together to build community and break down barriers
By Jessica Lee - Basic Rights Oregon Youth Organizer

Basic Rights Oregon and the Oregon Student Equal Rights Alliance (OSERA) partnered to host the first statewide queer and trans students of color gathering in February, 2007. This event was part of Basic Rights Oregon's Youth Organizing Project, and conducted as part of the third annual Oregon Students of Color Coalition Conference. The event was largely funded through a grant from the Liberty Hill Foundation and the Equity Foundation.

The full day session, titled Putting Color in the Rainbow, was organized and created specifically for those who identify as queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) to address the complexities of intersecting identities and the broader issues of race within the LGBTQ community on campus and off.

Historically, the mainstream LGBTQ movement has marginalized people of color and not fully addressed the racial inequity within primarily white queer and trans spaces. The conservative right has used this as a wedge: saying LGBTQ people are all white and people of color are all straight. Then they use this wedge to divide communities on issues like same-sex marriage and immigration.

The right wing depicts fundamental liberties as if they are in limited supply and furthers the misconception of "special rights". This also works to exclude QTPOC into exclusion from both GLBT and racial justice movements when, in fact, the QTPOC identity should be found in the center in both spaces.

At our February gather, many queer and trans people of color attendants expressed feelings of tokenization based on racial and socio-economic misconceptions and a lack of action from white allies in particular. There was group consensus that many in the LGBTQ community do not grasp and/or do not wish to address the racial conflicts that are acutely pervasive to Oregon, despite its progressive reputation.

As part of creating a movement that encompasses a larger and more comprehensive social justice framework, BRO and OSERA recognizes the need for LGBTQ organizations to commit to anti-racist work. Putting Color in the Rainbow serves as one of the components of a larger organizational development path committed to these issues.

Two trainers, Yasmeen Perez and Joanne Alcantara, traveled from Seattle and created the agenda for the session, based on feedback from QTPOC on the topics and trainings they felt should be addressed. Perez is the Co-Director at Seattle Young People's Project, a youth-led social justice organization, where she organizes for youth liberation, racial justice, queer rights, and more. Alcantara was previously the Queer Network Project Manager at the Asian & Pacific Islander Women & Family Safety Center. Both are members of the Queer People of Color Liberation project based in Washington State.

An intimate group representing Portland, Eugene and Corvallis met over pizza and snacks to create a space to support each other and bring QTPOC issues to light. The group created an environment where students could speak freely on personal experiences as QTPOC, ranging from activist work to the dating scene. Components of the session included defining language and terms, analogies of oppression, intersectionality models, and community networking. Towards the end of the day, participants began the steps to building principals of inclusion (a set of guidelines for LGBTQ organizations and campaigns to be proactive on issues of race and inclusive of QTPOC members) including: a commitment to anti-racist work; recruitment and retainment of QTPOC in leadership positions; creating space and practices to hold people accountable; an investment to self-education and recognition that people can be wrong; and to lift up marginalized voices in place of tokenizing.

A workshop for allies of QTPOC was also offered the third day of the Oregon Students of Color Coalition Conference. Both QTPOC and allies need to be invested and proactive around issues of race, social justice and multi-issue action in order to move forward. Putting Color in the Rainbow was the first of what will hopefully be an annual event.
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By Anonymous John Nelson, at May 10, 2007 5:08 PM


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