This is my fifth week at Pride Center of Vermont as the new Director of the SafeSpace Anti-Violence Program and so far it has been a joyful whirlwind of learning the job, connecting with our brilliant staff, testifying in front of our state legislators, attending so many meetings, engaging with community members, and yes, responding to violence in our culture.
Perhaps like you, I hoped that our post-pandemic “return to normal” wouldn’t include a return to mass shootings and even more violence toward our marginalized communities. A return to normal should not mean that as we venture out of our homes to convene with friends and loved ones – vaccinated and re-charged to organize for a better world – we must also brace ourselves for continued violence, harm, and the possibility that we may not make it home.
If you haven’t experienced fear due to targeted violence, it might find you anyway. In this vein, I will openly share that I am a collateral survivor of gun violence. A white-presenting, cis, queer, able-bodied femme with economic stability, I am also the daughter of a mother who was murdered by a young man with a gun during a carjacking. But this is not about me. Most of us who do anti-violence work have stories of the lived experiences that brought us here.
In my first three weeks on the job, our country saw two fatal mass shootings in Atlanta, GA and Boulder, CO – one that landed at the intersections of racism and sexism at three spas, and the other at a grocery store on a weekday. I testified in front of the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee in support of H.128, the “gay/trans panic defense” bill (co-sponsored by my Winooski State Representative and Pride Center of Vermont colleague, Taylor Small) that simply asserts that a person cannot defend their violent actions toward someone who is or is perceived to be LGBTQ+ because of the victim’s real or perceived identity. And as we celebrated Transgender Day of Visibility, we also saw a record uptick in anti-trans legislation across the country. Last week another Black man was killed by a police officer in a “routine” traffic stop. Protests begin and continue, victims are blamed for their own deaths, and we question what a “return to normal” really means… and for whom?
At Pride Center of Vermont, we continue to mourn with our AAPI communities, our BIPOC communities, the Boulder community, the Minneapolis community, and with all queer and trans folks who experience targeted violence. The Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL was almost six years ago; when people in the LGBTQ+ community hear of another mass shooting in this country, our muscle memories return to that day. What has changed since then? This is about fear of leaving our safe spaces because we don’t know if and when we’ll be killed, assaulted, or otherwise harmed because of who we are and how we show up in this world. Or because of where we celebrate ourselves, or are educated, or go for entertainment, or convene with our religious and spiritual faith communities, or go to for self-care and pampering, or shop for groceries. This is about how many of us have no spaces that feel really, truly safe.
Historically, and in this pivotal cultural moment, fear is never far from the lived experiences of QTBIPOC Vermonters. Outright Vermont board member Amanda Wong wrote in her March Reflections essay, “…Many of us with marginalized identities wonder: What is it like to live without fear of existing? To be in public and never wonder if you’re going to have to navigate some, any kind of violence? To be without a concern that your adequacy, competency, and importance will be diminished or otherwise minimized by others because of your identities?” On March 23rd, Vermont Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDA) for Black Lives released a statement and call to action. We invite you to meet this call to action. Hold your legislators, neighbors, and colleagues accountable to building inclusive communities. We also invite you to sign onto this Community-Centered Response to Violence Against Asian American Communities and share it with your people.
Because violence is intersectional, our policies and practices must be intersectional as well. Pride Center of Vermont does our best to be accountable for any inadvertent harms we cause in our intent to “get it right” as a statewide LGBTQ+ community center. We call on you as our community to let us know when we get it wrong. In our staff’s weekly Race &… Discussion Group, we delve into multi-week curricula related to systemic racism to help guide our self-accountability. We recommend this abolition curriculum we just finished, this Rural Racial Justice Organizing Study Group Toolkit, and our next text, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba.
The SafeSpace Program’s anti-violence work centers the intersections of vulnerable identities and culturally-motivated harms. In the midst of Sexual Violence Awareness & Prevention Month (SVAPM), we loudly assert that violence, harm, and abuse are never the victim’s/survivor’s fault, no matter the circumstances. We stand against violence and hate, and we lead with a commitment to accountability, believing survivors, transforming harm, dismantling oppressive systems, and liberation for all.
I look forward to being alongside you in our many struggles and celebrations. We can never have too much solidarity, connection, joy, and support…along with healthy boundaries and time to rest.
Cheers & Revolution,
P.S. Additional action steps:
- Contact your Vermont Senators and ask them to vote for H.128.
- All queer AAPI and QTBIPOC Vermonters are invited to check out and participate in Pride Center of Vermont’s Thrive Programming. If there is a group that you want to participate in but don’t see on our programming schedule, please let us know.
- Learn about and support the important work of Gunsense VT.
- Educate yourself about abolition and support the local work of the Women’s Justice & Freedom Initiative at wjfi.org.