On the cusp of celebrating a decade's worth of work creating "new generations of critical and independent thinking young people who use their unique experiences and power to create a just world," The Chicago Freedom School, located in Chicago's South Loop, served as a tailor-made donated venue for members of the grassroots multiracial, multigenerational collective Gender JUST to hold an April 16 open forum. The event focused on ideas regarding access of trans youth to the restrooms with which they identify while also exploring a starting point for radical solutions to LGBTQ youth homelessness.
According to their literature, the members of Gender JUST encompass an extensive range of "gender and sexual identities, skills, cultures, abilities, citizenship status educational backgrounds and income levels."
Founded in 2007, the collective seeks not only to smash capitalism but, among other metamorphic goals, to "transform queer communities by abolishing hierarchies" and "support a multi-dimensional and powerful movement and promote community-based solutions that are accountable to those most vulnerable to institutional violence and harm."
Three Gender JUST membersYasmin Nair, Julian Hendrix and Kendall Granberryled the "Are The Kids Alright?" discussion attended by a group of students, activists and community representatives from a full spectrum of ages, gender identities and racial backgrounds.
There were no divisions to be found among any of them as the afternoon progressed and suggestions were raised in keeping with the collective's goal, which Nair stated, to "be a cognitive movement that becomes a place where LGBTQ people can think about what radical alternatives are to what's going on in the community."
To that end, Nair noted how trans issues have suddenly been thrust center-stageboth for good and for ill, she noted.
"A lot of that is sincere, especially on the part of the trans community, which has needed resources for a very long time and which has, in the past, been marginalized by the Human Rights Campaign for instanceliterally thrown under the bus," Nair said. "But now trans is a big deal because that's a big funding category."
"It's a great opportunity," Nair added. "It's a great moment in time that finally people are accepting that trans issues are important and need to be funded, but we've also had very specific experiences with the nonprofit industrial complex, especially in Chicago, that we know interest in trans issues is very cynical and determined not so much in terms of actually working with trans people in the trans community, but with organizations who are taking a slice of the pie."
Recalling the recent legal fight waged in the suburb of Palatine's Township School District 211 between the District's Board and a high school student who wanted to use the changing room matching her authentic gender, Granberry listed some of the questions that emerged from what became one of the first public and media-saturated battles over the rights of trans individuals to perform a basic human function in a society that wants to set them apart and criminalize them.
"How do we envision frameworks for trans liberation beyond legal frameworks?" Granberry wondered. "Focusing on community resources and social institutional responses to these populations is where a more radical strategy exists."
However, as illustrated by Gender JUST, not all institutions in the nonprofit arena are approaching the issue and that of youth homelessness from a passionate sense of social justice. The bottom line in an organization's mission sometimes comes down to the size of its wallet and how to increase or justify the budget needed to fill it.
Hendrix examined the queer youth homelessness work of three Chicago-based nonprofitsThe Howard Brown Health Center ( HBDC ) and its Broadway Youth Center ( BYC ) program, The Puerto Rican Cultural Center project El Rescate and Project Fierce.
Hendrix took an in-depth look at each organization's history, funding and services and how they have answered some fundamental questions that include the shared identities of queer, gender nonconforming and trans youth.
"Are you related? Do they live in your neighborhood? Do you encounter them in your work? Do you share an ethnic or racial identity? Are they U.S. Citizens? Are they your age?" Hendrix asked. "When you think of queer youth, who are you thinking of?"
Hendrix added that each of the organizations he presented "presume certain answers to these questions and the capacity for which these organizations are foundationally prepared to provide intersectional support depends upon who they envision themselves serving."
"When thinking about youth, or any part of our communities that justice requires a very different set of resources than a majority, imagination becomes very important," Hendrix concluded. "We must imagine more broadly about other options that are available."
For more information on Gender JUST, visit genderjust.wix.com/genderjust. For more information on The Chicago Freedom School, visit chicagofreedomschool.org .