Monday, March 30, 2009

Report back from "Queer Youth Capacity Building" in Portland- more exciting than it sounds!

This weekend a group of Stonewall folks (3 staff members and 1 board member) loaded up in our trusty mini van and hit the road to participate in a capacity building training sponsored by the Pride foundation and facilitated by a group from Portland called TACS (formerly known as Technical Assistance for Community Services- although I don't think they use that acronym anymore).  In Portland- we met up with 5 other Queer Youth Organizations from all over Washington and Oregon.  

The term "capacity building" can mean many things for different organizations- and can sometimes be part of the mysterious secret code that is the language of working within the Non-Profit world.  However, what "capacity building" means for us is figuring out how we can make sure our big dreams and visions (a world where queer youth have agency over their lives, where we are building community accountability and we are all working towards social justice... etc, etc) can be sustained in the work we do as an organization.   Some of CB for our group will mean creating systems within our organization that will help strengthen our organizational memory, fundraising and community connections.

Topics and questions we covered this weekend included and were definitely not limited too:

How do we keep our visions and values clear when we work within a system that may distract us from the work we really want to be doing?

What leadership means within our groups and how we are striving to recreate the standard definition to one that is less hierarchy and more collaboration based.

An assessment of the  strengths we have and the challenges that our organizations are currently dealing with.

The cool part is that we are in this for the long haul.  We will be meeting with these same 5 organizations  (what TACS is calling a Cohort) for the next 18 months- traveling to the cities where each group resides; Tacoma, Kennewick, Walla Walla, Portland again and then back home in Olympia. From my own point of view, its been a great experience to be able to connect with and get ideas from 5 other organizations who may have some of the same values as us, but in may ways have very different approaches to working with queer young people.  Also, it was really comforting ( and in some ways troubling) to hear that other group around the area are struggling with the same things we are- it definitely puts things in perspective.

More reports to come as we continue to work with the PRIDE foundation and TACS- we'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Amazing video!
Check out performer Sonya Renee in a completely moving and brilliant piece! It is one of the most amazing and articulate expressions of pro-choice awesomeness I have ever heard!
It has totally helped me deal with the messed up, day by day assault of idiocy I have to see around the block from my house at the Planned Parenthood.

Equality Day!

Last Thursday was Equality Day. Stonewall participated in the rally at the Capitol and then lobbied with our district reps. It was interesting to hear the conversations that were happening around the issue of marriage equality, and to see the strategies being used by groups organizing around that issue. At the end of the day, we hosted a free burrito dinner and discussion, hoping to facilitate some critical dialogue and envisioning for the movement.

Here are some thoughts about the day, the discussion and the dinner:

The theme of the day was of course, "Equality". We've been having a lot of conversations at Stonewall, and been thinking a lot about how we can be engaged in this struggle and support the campaign for marriage equality. There's something though, that seems so limiting about the rhetoric and rallying cry of equality. As Brandon noted in an earlier post, there remains a looming spectre around this discourse, the ambiguous question of "equal to what or to who?". If our end goal is to gain further access to institutions that bestow privileges on certain people within our communities, while not questioning the nature and values of the system that is creating and necessitating those inequalities, then I think we are doing a great disservice to the broader queer and trans community. Should there be laws upholding a distinction between what gay people are allowed to do compared to straight people? Of course not. But what we are talking about is equal opportunity to engage in a particular way with this system. It doesn't acknowledge the impacts and inherent inequality of that system in terms of people's quality of life and access to resources.
This does not mean that we do not support this campaign. We are actively engaged in working towards this. We just felt it was important to acknowledge the fact that we do not believe that disparities in people's health and well being that are born out of being queer, trans, women, poor people, disabled people and people of color are going to be resolved by the granting of gay marriage.
At our discussion we talked about the ways that marriage equality is or could be part of the movement for racial justice, gender justice and economic justice. We also talked about the challenges that racism, sexism, transphobia and classism present to the marriage equality movement. It was really awesome to hear from people. Our turnout was pretty good. We were really happy to get a lot of local activists out, who disappointingly did not hear about Equality Day otherwise. There was a mix of people, some who work actively around gay marriage, and some who have criticisms and are not actively working around it. We were disappointed to not have more people who were at the rally. It was a long day, but we felt like beyond meeting on the Capitol stairs and lobbying our representatives, we needed to be talking to each other, hearing from each other and thinking of new and creative ways of doing the work we are doing.
And as for the dinner, I dare say it was delicious, and the people here at Stonewall are excited and a little intimidated at how much beans they're going to be eating for the next month.

Please give us some feedback, post your comments and thoughts!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Brandon! Here's some organizational upheaval!

On our dear co-worker Brandon's birthday last week, Stonewall Youth's Board of Directors voted on a number of items that are truly revolutionary for us. We thought we'd share the good news as we get it!

1. Happy birthday Brandon!

2. Permanent co-director model at Stonewall. We voted to shift our staffing structure to have 2 co-directors instead of one Executive Director. Right now we have two Program Directors coordinating our Education Programs and Speakers Bureau, and thought that having two people tackle the multi-faceted challenges that face an E.D. would be a good idea. It would allow us to find two people who can complement each other and bring different skills to the organization. Our current goal is to solidify our infra-structure and financial situation enough so that by May Day we can hire two people at 20 hours each with the expectation that they would fundraise for an additional 12-20 hours a piece.

3. Level pay rates. Our other goal is to have an equal pay rate for everyone that works at Stonewall. It used to vary depending on if someone was an intern, or where the funding was coming from for their position. Now everyone will be paid the same hourly rate and have the same benefits in terms of vacation time, etc.

4. Staff are voting Board members. Previously staff have been present at all Board meetings and have given reports and updates but were not officially voting members. Now we are hopefully working towards a more integrated structure where each level of the organization is informed by the others.

These decisions mark a momentous moment for Stonewall. The times we are living in are racked with uncertainty and fear. The state of our economy, the impacts of militarism around the globe, the attacks on the rights of LGBTQQ people, women, trans people, poor people and people of color, all lead to feeling angry, worried and depressed. Yes, it is depressing. But it's also a time that our work as communities will thrive if we can reflect on our values, and decide on strategies that embody the ideals of the world we want to build, when the world we know is no longer recognizable. It's a time of vision. We're proud to share ours with the community of Olympia, and look forward to the work we will all do together.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Some more thoughts on equality, civil rights and gay marriage

To piggy back on some of what Brandon was saying, there's an interesting article in the current issue of Colorlines (March/April) on racial justice organizing and it's integral role in the development of the LGBTTQQI movement. It addresses some of the conflict that rose up in a post Prop 8 blame game, with some notable vocal finger-pointers like Washington's own Dan Savage.
I also find myself wondering what we are talking about when we talk about "the movement", what the goals are, what the vision is and how our values are reflected in our strategies and praxis.

Equality Day is coming up on March 12th. Groups from around Washington State are coming to lobby at the Capitol on a host of issues ranging from marriage equality to safe schools. Stonewall Youth is going to hold a post Capitol debrief and discussion at 3:30 at the Stonewall office (call for directions). We hope that this will bring together an intergenerational group and create a space where we can talk about the challenges and victories happening in social justice organizing right now. We'll be having a free dinner as well! We invite anyone from our community to attend.

For more information e-mail us at or call 360-705-2738.

What Are We Trying To Be Equal To?

So as some people may know, Equality Day is approaching. Equality day is an event that takes place to give voice to queer supporters of civil rights and mainly advocates for gay marriage in Washington State. Although I find it important to be given the same rights as my fellow heterosexuals, I always feel like I lack the enthusiasm I see around me when rallying for this particular issue.

I was speaking with a very good friend of mine who explained to me that gay marriage is not necessarily a right, but more of a privilege that is placed in this very complex system of institutions. When I think of the Spirit of Stonewall my mind automatically jumps to the Gene Compton Cafeteria Riots in 1967 or the Stonewall Riots of 1969. I think of the Gay Liberation Front and the other radical groups that started the queer movement off with a bang, making connections with other radicals like the Black Panther Party. I now see that our voice looks a lot different than it did forty years ago, which I believe is both good and bad. But now I see us comparing Queer lifestyles to fit into a heteronormative society, which in the end doesn't do much to end oppression. I often times feel frustrated that the only things that get a large amount of visibility are queer families that have two parents or couples that have been together for a significant amount of time. I feel like we shouldn't have to have those things to be treated as a human being to begin with.

There is a story that I would like to share to help communicate my point. There were once six blindfolded people who were asked to approach an elephant and touch what they were told to touch. The first blindfolded man was guided to the elephants leg and said that he was touching a pillar; the second touched the tail said it was a rope; the third felt the trunk and said it was a tree branch; the fourth felt the ear and said it was a hand fan; the fifth felt the belly and said it was like a wall; and the last person put his hand on the tusk and said it was a solid pipe. So if we only see marriage equality and we don't include other things, then we aren't seeing the whole elephant.

In the end I am in full support of Queer people having the choice to marry because it is only right. But I would also like to keep in mind hundreds of other problems that are linked to the liberation of people. Once marriage equality is achieved, is that the end of our movement? On the day LGBTIQQ people can get married are we going to be able to say without blinking that we are not oppressed? Does harassment stop in schools and on the streets? Will the police look at queer relationships the same as heterosexual ones when dealing with things like domestic violence? Will courts view sexual violence in the queer community the same? Will the rise of Queer rights be taught in our history books? Once we are given gay marriage, do we side with the white male dominated, heterosexual christian nation that thrives on keeping people of color in jail, low income people without health care or resources, and undocumented workers in fear? Do we continue to be "ONE NATION UNDER GOD?"

Monday, February 16, 2009

U.S. Military Will Offer Path to Citizenship

Check out this article, what will they think of next?
The military is initiating a new program to offer expedited citizenship for people who enlist.