TransLash Media is a proud sponsor of the 2021 Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference (also referred to as PTWC), which was hosted virtually this year. Though there were chat rooms and mute buttons, the powerful impact of the sessions translated through the screen. People from all walks of life, relationships, and transgender experiences came together to learn how to better be a part of our communities; the conference was nothing short of insightful, engaging, and enlightening.
One of the sessions, Queer Youth Homeless and Activist Skills, covered activism skills, and collaborating with queer youth who are experiencing housing insecurity. It was hosted by Cecily Thomas (He/They), a Black and Filipino non-binary transmasculine activist. Team TransLash condensed the one-hour session into this recap, for your convenience. To book Cecily Thomas for this and other workshops at your school, conference, or organization, reach out: www.ctempire.com. Follow on Instagram: @itsjust_cecily.
Session Recap: Queer Youth Homeless and Activist Skills
In order to combat queer youth homelessness, we have to ask ourselves: what, within our capabilities and capacities, can we do? Luckily, we have a word we can turn to — to help us remember step by step — how we can improve on this issue: EMPIRE. The purpose of the framework of EMPIRE, which was invented by Mr. Thomas, is to comprehend the past (found in letters E and M), deconstruct the present (in letters P and I), and to rebuild the future (in letters R and E). The EMPIRE method can be applied to any situation where activism is part of the solution, but the points below specifically address queer youth homelessness.
Note: Activism in action isn’t a monolithic experience. We all inhabit our roles in different ways. The EMPIRE framework is meant to encourage a direction, rather than give you exact moves to make. Learn about EMPIRE, and the choices afterwards are your own. Just be yourself, and do your best!
E – Educate, Comprehend The Past
Here are some facts concerning queer homeless youth:
- LGBTQIA youth have more than twice (2x) the risk of being homeless than cisgender/heterosexual youth, 45% of them go on to experience it
- Family conflict is the largest factor for LGBTQIA youth homelessness, leaving 1 in 4 teens forced to leave their homes after coming out
- 68% of teens who come out to their families experience parental rejection
- 62% of LGBTQIA youth report experiencing physical harm while being homeless, compared to 47% of non-LGBTQIA youth
- 27% of homeless LGBTQIA youth reported exchanging sex for basic needs, compared to 9% of non-LGBTQIA youth
What can we do to fight this?
Practice ethical ethnography.
Ethnography is the scientific description of the customs of different races and cultures (per the Oxford Dictionary). Unfortunately, when ethnography is studied by white people who come into communities of color to do research with helpful intentions, they often end up doing more harm than good. Some key questions for any ethnographer — in particular, white ethnographers — to ask themselves are:
- Why am I entering this community?
- Who truly benefits by me being here?
People are living research.
Make authentic connections with people to learn from their lived experiences. Make sure you’re listening to the appropriate communities as well; who are you listening to, and where are you getting most of your information? People can get lost in the research. While there is nothing wrong with studying the facts (it is a critical part of education), speaking to and hearing from the community affected by these issues is just as critical a step towards safety for queer youth.
Know your privilege, and know your place.
- Where am I in society/what is my functioning role?
- Why do I function in society this way?
- What are the different power systems that affect me?
- What systems do I and don’t I benefit from?
We can’t effectively use the tools and research we’re given, if we don’t know who we are when we’re utilizing them. Every part of activism involves understanding your role, and we get there through self-assessment. This part isn’t meant to discourage you, but to inspire you to use your privileges to propel your change-making even further.
M – Mobilize
We’ve created the foundation, and we’ve built up the start of our educational ammunition. Now we can begin to mobilize! And remember: ignorance can be an opportunity for growth.
Ignorance as opportunity.
Sometimes people follow others out of ignorance, because they didn’t know where to start with researching the issues at hand, or going through a self-assessment of privilege. Once people are confronted with their privilege, reactions can be so varied: there might be acceptance, but often there is plenty of denial. Nobody wants to be wrong, and often people aren’t trying to be wrong either. But we can’t be discouraged by the varying feelings and thoughts of those unaware; we need to remember what matters, and keep working until everyone can understand.
Mobilize yourself; gather a following through education.
Mobilizing doesn’t always mean a physical, loud march on the streets. We can mobilize ourselves, and the people around us, through micro-activism. What does micro-activism look like?
- Having a clear message
- Educating others
- Giving people resources
- Having those hard conversations
- Making sure you’re up-to-date and continuing to educate yourself
- Making sure you understand the history, and how it informs the present
An example of mobilization is identifying where federal policy fails to meet the needs of LGBTQIA youth (LGBTQIA friendly clinics, transition spaces from child welfare and or/juvenile detention, job/income protection, educational resources, etc.) and diving deeper into what caused these things to come to be as they are.
P – Plant, Deconstruct The Present
Now that we’ve researched and understood the past –and found the flaws based on how things were formed — we can better see what we need to do today to break down the systems that work against us.
Establish a space and guide other’s spaces.
Knowing your place as a white person — when advocating collides with race issues/QPOCs (Queer People of Color) — is incredibly important. It is not just about fostering the self-awareness within yourself, but also being able to speak out when you notice negligence coming from other people, even when unintentional. It is not on people of any minority experience to educate you, or your friends.
As a keeper of the information you’ve studied, it’s also your responsibility to spread it like wildfire.
It is also important to notice how you’re advocating. Be careful to not speak for us, but rather saying things along the lines of, “that’s not your place to say, that is racist behavior. Here is what I’ve done, and what I’ve read, to help myself better understand and help combat these issues. Here is how I’ve learned that [insert problematic behavior here] is racist.”
Determine your intention and plant it.
Why do you want to become an advocate? What led you to wanting to help others? Once you determine your intention, you have to plant it, and constantly water and fertilize it with education. Advocacy can be closely related to a plant; it requires a lot of routine attention. If you forget to water the plant, the plant will die. We need to constantly remind ourselves why we care, how we care, and what we can do to keep caring in the right ways.
Broaden your scope.
It’s so important to pay attention to where you’re planting seeds. There might be parts of realm or scope that you’re advocating for that need more time versus others, and there might be a large amount of people focusing on a specific part of the cause — and you could take that as an opportunity to study and infiltrate the issues within that are underrepresented in advocacy.
You can also ask the people you’re helping about what they think the major un-clocked issues are, and how they see it changing. We build our activism through education, so there is no harm in walking into a part of advocacy you aren’t familiar with to help. This is how we started our journey: educating ourselves! And this is a part of continuing that process and stretching our capabilities.
Examples of planting include: working for LGBTQIA centers and housing sites for youth experiencing homelessness, starting a food fridge or a mutual aid group, hosting resume building workshops with food and incentives, being LGBTQIA competent when working in law, social work, or education, etc.
I – Infiltrate
Spread the cause through the message.
We can infiltrate minds and spaces by spreading cause through perspective, it’s vocal activism time! This can look like speaking at events, hosting spaces for discussion. Be sure to pay attention to which spaces you’re infiltrating and why, and use your knowledge to de-construct the norms that damage people. This is a very important part of the process, but comes with practice. Don’t be discouraged by a small turn out at your first event, we all start somewhere, and what’s important is that you’re trying.
Disrupt the norm and infiltrate minds and spaces.
Often times the norm is the problem. ‘Norm’ can be used as a descriptor for the things that have been normalized in society, that damage others. The norm is white supremacy, it’s ableism, it’s transphobia, it’s ideas that disadvantage/inherently work against minority populations. Our goal is to enter those beliefs and those spaces, and de-construct the uncomfortable feelings towards those that are different from you.
Spread change through perspective.
A great way to open up to these situations is using a mindful approach, and saying something along the lines of, “I am a person of these identities; these are the things that I’ve done wrong, and this is how I know that,” or “I am a person of these identities; this is what I’ve learned about these issues, and this is what we need to do to be better.”
Speaking from your own experiences as opposed to coming from a statistical standpoint as an opener, tends to be a more welcoming experience for people to open up with their thoughts on the issues at hand. Use your privileges to your advantage, and use your passion and heart to get the point across.
Examples of infiltrating can include making your workplace more LGBTQIA friendly, volunteering with organizations that service queer homeless youth, and pushing queer youth homelessness as agenda items for local town halls and congress agendas.
R – Reclaim, Rebuilding The Future
Don’t reclaim what isn’t yours to reclaim.
An example of this is white people trying to “reclaim” land in the process of advocating for Indigenous people. You can help them get back what was theirs, but that doesn’t also make it yours. Your gain is having helped others. Their gain is what they were owed.
Reclaim your body and mind.
Sometimes after the infiltration phase of activism, we get lost within the work and forget to take care of ourselves. If we want to be sustainably active, we have to implement the time for self-care in our activism.
Reclaim your role as an activist.
You might catch yourself through the process of infiltrating doing too many things, and losing sight of where we planted ourselves, slowly losing sight of the intention. It’s important to constantly ask yourself:
- Why am I an activist?
- What am I doing?
- What can I be doing that could more helpful than the scope of work I’m in now?
Examples of reclaiming include: giving people a place to call home, adopting queer homeless youth, using your privilege to aid queer housing sites, funding mutual aid organizations, supporting sex work, and negating shame based culture.
E – Evaluate
Before, during, and after the work, it’s always important to look back and evaluate. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions, being careful to notice any trends/reoccurring themes:
- How do I feel?
- What went wrong/right?
- How do I feel about what I feel?
- What did I do right?
- What did I enjoy doing?
- What can I do better with? (which is where education comes back into play)
Examples of things to evaluate: the white savior complex, where your time, money, and energy was spent, and considering whether or not you made the effort to ask organizations what help they needed, rather than assuming.
These tools can help us build better futures for ourselves, and our communities. Do your research, help as much as you can, and build that EMPIRE.
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