QEJ IS CLOSING – THE WORK CONTINUES
Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ) is a progressive non-profit organization committed to promoting justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation. Our goal is to challenge and change the systems that create poverty and economic injustice in our communities, and to promote an economic system that embraces sexual and gender diversity. We are committed to the principle that access to social and economic resources is a fundamental right, and we work to create social and economic equity through grassroots organizing, public education, advocacy and research. We do this work because although poor queers have always been a part of both the gay rights and economic justice movements, they have been, and continue to be, largely invisible in both movements. This work is always informed by the lived experiences and expressed needs of queer people in poverty.
QEJ, 2002 to 2014
It is with profound sadness that I write to tell you QEJ is closing.
Funding has always been a challenge for QEJ throughout our 12 years of existence, but this year the financial crisis has been relentless. We finally had to face the painful reality that we cannot keep going. The crisis cannot be resolved simply by a one-time burst of money. Had that been true, we would have turned to you, our community, and asked for help. I am sure of your response.
What the Board and I had to confront was that this financial crisis would remain an ongoing emergency because we had no certain guarantees of future long-term funding. We were looking down the barrel of the funding-world shotgun, and understood that we could not stay alive. We know that QEJ is not unique in this crisis. We see clearly how our radical vision of social change -- including issues of poverty, incarceration, sexuality and racism too often did not align with more mainstream foundation priorities. And we know that this gap between our vision and the funding that enables it is a critical issue for our communities in the future.
We have never had a large number of major donors able to write big checks (though we thank the ones who have). What we have always had was a loyal and committed group of donors who believe in what QEJ does, and who gave—not huge sums—but all they could. Yet that wasn’t enough to keep us afloat. We needed to find another way to stay alive and, though we had a strategy, we did not have the time to implement it. Realizing this, we looked at each other and said what we had never said before: We have to close.
This has broken our hearts.
That heartbreak is a reflection of how proud we are of the community we have helped build, the accomplishments we have collectively achieved, and the history we have made. We have been a unique, innovative LGBTQ voice speaking from the crossroads of sexual orientation, gender identity, class and race. We have never shied away from articulating our critique of capitalism and its ruinous impact on queer lives. We fought for a vision seen through a distinct QEJ lens – a vision not framed by same-sex marriage or “don’t ask-don’t tell”. We have talked about the root causes of poverty while we organized for a safer, more inclusive, and more accessible homeless shelter system. We have advocated for economic justice and basic workplace protections like paid sick days and living wages as we organized around the need for transformative economic change. We have often been the organization to most fiercely claim the untamable beauty of queerness in LGBTQ identities: the beauty in what we have been, the beauty and potential in who we are, and the vast possibility of our future. And we have never wavered in identifying the goal as liberation, not equality.
We ask you to keep QEJ’s legacy and vision alive. The work that we have done these past 12 years is of fundamental importance for the future of our communities. Queer, economic justice activism is needed now more than ever and we will need you, our community, to help carry that work forward as QEJ comes to an end. Use our website, our writings, like A New Queer Agenda and Beyond Marriage, talk about the issues and the vision for which QEJ is known. It is now up to each of us to take this on, never letting the too often absent voices of our communities disappear. We know that QEJ’s impact has been much larger than its size. Help all of us who love QEJ keep this legacy a living thing.
Our founding Director, Joseph DeFilippis, and our second Executive Director, Kenyon Farrow, both brought a passion for radical change to the struggle for queer social and economic justice. Jay Toole, QEJ’s only Shelter Director, brought her years of experience living as a homeless stone butch to our work on LGBTQ poverty. Our staff throughout the years, our founding Board Members and those that came after them, the shelter facilitators and activists, interns and organizers who have graced QEJ’s life—all have been fierce political advocates for a different kind of LGBTQ movement, one that didn’t assume short-term solutions could lead to freedom.
It is hard not to simply list names here. There are so many who matter. But what is true for all QEJers—former staff and interns and volunteers and stakeholders and donors and Amazing Racers, all those who supported QEJ during these powerful 12 years—is that we have confronted the need to create a different kind of queer political movement. A movement that never forgets the majority of us whose lives are scarred by poverty and racism or those who are just getting by. A movement acknowledging that our queer realities are shaped by class and race and desire. A movement to include those of us who have never really been included—the majority never invited to the table. QEJ has always embraced the rightful priorities of a genuine LGBTQ liberation agenda. That is what QEJ has stood for, and why its history matters.
Ironically, as we prepare to close our doors, our work and our vision has never been stronger. Our new initiative, Queer Survival Economies—a project addressing the devastating impact of the nation’s ongoing economic crisis on LGBTQ lives—is taking off. And QEJ’s advocacy work with poor queer adults in city shelters remains stable and resilient, while our LGBTQ shelter support groups continue to grow. We maintain an organization which fosters dialogue and debate about the crucial issues confronting our communities: immigration, HIV status, sexuality and the power of the erotic, queer aging and disability; policing; the struggles of queer, low-wage workers; and the still-harrowing impact of Hurricane Sandy on our communities.
Our work will continue. From her volunteer organization Jay’s House, which is working to establish the first LGBTQ adult homeless shelter in New York City, Jay Toole will direct shelter groups and volunteers. And I will continue the organizing work Queer Survival Economies as a volunteer-driven initiative, reliant on a core of QEJ board members and stakeholders to move it forward. If you want to work on either of these QEJ initiatives in the near future, Jay and I will let you know how to reach us.
Finally, at this final juncture, we need your help. In order to close with dignity, we are asking for your financial assistance. Until the office shuts down, we have expenses that cannot be managed without your support. Whatever help you can give QEJ within the next short while will mean a great deal. Though we are scheduled to close our office by late January 2014, our website will stay up for the next six months.
Our vision has not faltered; our funding has. But QEJ‘s fierce commitment to economic justice remains. We have had an amazing 12 years of radical, compelling work, driven by the vision of QEJ’s founders and supported by the passion and belief of stakeholders, volunteers, interns, donors and board members. We don’t intend for that to end. We will discard the 501(c)(3) shell of the current QEJ, but we will not put an end to our own history, our unique vision, or our commitment to radical, transformative change.
“Queer issues are class issues. They are issues of government and nonprofit violence, both inside and outside LGBQT organizations. The struggles we face go beyond making ends meet; violence’s of poverty, racism, policing, and ableism pervade our lives.”
A Fabulous Attitude – A QEJ Welfare Warriors report
We will be organizing a NYC celebration of QEJ sometime in January 2014, to celebrate the beauty, history and vision that is QEJ’s. We will let you know more about this when we do.
Thank you for your love and support.
Amber Hollibaugh – QEJ Executive Director/Founding Board Member
QEJ Board: Ricky Blum, Carlos Augustus Blanco, Jay Toole. Luis Sanchez, Ari Wohlfeiler, RJ Mendoza, Morgan Goode, Rahul Saksena
Please feel free to share your thoughts and sentiments below.
I feel so much gratitude for all the work that y’all have done, for all the work y’all will continue to do, for all the work that will happen by all of us who will carry this vision forward into the future.