Beyond Marriage is our newest project, and it seeks to expand the current narrow framework of marriage politics in the United States. We led a group of recognized leaders in the LGBT movement to draft a vision statement, that was signed on to by hundreds of activists and leaders from across the country, calling for the reframing of the ‘gay marriage’ focus of our movement, to call for the separation of benefits and protections from civil marriage. This generated tremendous attention (in our movement, and in the media). This project is just beginning, and its work goals just beginning to be developed.
Through our QEJ Network, remains an important part of our work. Throughout New York City, we have strong working relationships with numerous LGBT organizations, anti-poverty/progressive organizations, and immigrant rights organizations who we coordinate to work together on a variety of LGBT economic justice issues. The coalitions we have built have supported all of our other programs and activities.
Immigrant Rights Project
Our Immigrant Rights Project began this year, with a two-year, full-time fellowship from New Voices, to hire Debanuj DasGupta as a full-time Immigration Policy Analyst. This project focuses on advocacy issues of concern to low-income LGBT immigrants. (Until our project, the few existing LGBT immigrant groups have mostly focused on issues related to bi-national couples, and generally have not addressed the needs of LGBT immigrants who are not partnered with an American citizen.) Currently we are focused on bringing together LGBT, immigrant and HIV organizations to work together on lifting the current ban on HIV+ immigrants. In addition, we have led national efforts to build a national coalition of LGBT immigrant organizations, to work together in response to the current national proposals on immigration reform. We are also fighting for access to public benefits for LGBT immigrants, and advocating for easier access to Drivers’ Licenses for homeless people, transgender people and immigrants. QEJ is also partnering with the LGBT Community Center, to leverage funding from the NY City Council for LGBT immigrants in New York. We have succeeded in getting City Council to set aside $25,000 (to be shared by QEJ and the Center) for services to LGBT immigrants – a first for the City Council.
Our Public Education work includes local community forums on a variety of progressive LGBT issues (ie – the Rockefeller Drug Laws, attempts to privatize social security, corporate welfare, the Real ID Act, etc.); trainings for community groups, non-profits, and student groups; as well as workshops at conferences across the country. Also, the QEJ anthology “A New Queer Agenda” (a QEJ book of political essays) will tentatively be published in the fall of 2007.
Shelter Organizing Project
Our Shelter Organizing Project provides outreach/support groups for LGBT adults who are homeless and in the shelter system. We are the only organization in New York to work with this population. Under the leadership of our Shelter Organizer, Jay Toole, this program conducts monthly “Know Your Rights” Trainings for homeless LGBT people, and engages in local advocacy around homelessness and the NYC shelter system. This year, we have run 8-week-long outreach groups in a dozen shelters throughout NYC.
We have also won a very important victory: Early this year, after many months of our advocacy with allies, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) created a new policy allowing homeless transgender individuals to self-determine their own placement in the city’s homeless shelter system. Previously, homeless transgender people were mandated into facilities based only on the gender assigned to them at birth, thus forcing them into hostile and violent environments. New York City’s new policy will allow transgender residents, upon applying for shelter, to specify whether they would like to be housed in women’s or men’s facilities. (We worked long and hard on this campaign, and are thrilled with this important victory, which is the most progressive policy in the country, and is serving as a model in other cities.)
Currently, we are continuing to lead a coalition of organizations to fight for the right of homeless domestic partners to access the family shelter system (as opposed to being separated and sent into the single adult system, as per the current policy). In addition, we have just started a new “Shelter Safety” campaign, to end violence in the shelters.
Welfare Organizing Project
Our Welfare Rights Project builds leadership among low-income LGBT people (through an intensive 10 week Leadership Development Course, as well as through monthly “Know Your Rights” Trainings), and engages in grassroots community organizing to change the welfare system in New York. This project has really taken off this year.
Six LGBT (and gender non-conforming) people on public assistance who, in the spring, went through our 10-week Leadership Development Course decided to form a grassroots community-organizing project, called “Welfare Warriors”. Under the coordination of our Welfare Organizer, Doyin Ola, this core group of people began working together on a series of projects.
First, we worked with TransJustice to support them in organizing the “Trans Day of Action”, where over 500 transgender and gender-non-conforming people of color and allies marched for social and economic justice.
Then Welfare Warriors developed a membership structure, and has involved over 100 people (mostly poor LGBT people) in our events.
Over the summer, we organized an all-day Community Speak-out & Launch event, which was endorsed by nearly 40 organizations, and most of those organizations volunteered at the event. The speak-out featured 6 amazing cultural-based performers, nearly 100 attendees (from organizations, shelters, etc.), and a series of community dialogues where folks voiced their concerns.
From these dialogues we identified demands that have shaped two community organizing campaigns: fighting against trans-phobic discrimination at NYC HRA offices, and advocating for an increase in the size of New York’s welfare grant.