Advocating for Direct Advocacy
A discussion of direct advocacy within grassroots LGBTQ+ organizations.
When we talk about advocacy within the 2SLGBTQ+ community, we often are thinking of the larger picture; lobbying legislators and government ministers to change legislation or regulations, doing workshops and education for company teams and public servants, or even doing large awareness campaigns.
This work is absolutely essential in the fight for a better world that is safer and kinder to all 2SLGBTQ+ people, and the organizations that have the capacity to do this broad-scope advocacy are full of amazing and passionate Queer and trans leaders that have paved the way for so many of us to enter the scene of Queer organizing and activism. It is not uncommon though that this type of advocacy completely consumes our attention and capacity.
Money is often granted to larger organizations that are capable of having full and part time paid employees to do this type of work; and many community members feel more comfortable donating their time and money to these organizations because there is a feeling that this is where things are getting done. While that feeling is not necessarily wrong - these organizations are doing incredible and difficult work - grassroots efforts and local direct activism becomes overshadowed, and overlooked.
The individuals experiencing homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, lesbophobia, transmisogyny, do not feel the immediate benefits of this kind of advocacy. Your local trans employee that is repeatedly misgendered will not have their discomfort or pain soothed when they hear their managers have attended a gender diversity training and 'completely understand the whole transgendered thing now'. These individuals and their experiences matter deeply to me, and to the Rainbow Ottawa Student Experience (ROSE).
Frequently we hear about 2SLGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender youth, that they do not feel comfortable raising their complaints, concerns, or issues with institutions or businesses because there is a power imbalance, or they aren't out fully yet, or they are afraid of retribution. In the grand scheme of 2SLGBTQ+ activism and advocacy these experiences are minutiae, but at the end of the day it is why every Queer and trans activist wakes up every morning ready to put their own comfort and safety on the line to enact change.
I established ROSE's Advocacy Program because we all deserve to have our own individual experiences with anti-2SLGBTQ+ discrimination recognized and addressed; regardless of our own capacity to carry out that process. We already have been able to help multiple young Queer people raise their issues with institutions like Carleton University or businesses such as the Hudson's Bay Company. The best part of this work is that not only does it help resolve these personal experiences (which can often help Queer and trans folks move through the healing process faster), it leads to immediate and meaningful changes within the workplaces of institutions that are slow to make widespread change a reality.
In the coming years I hope to see more groups develop programs and services that provide this kind of direct advocacy. For this to happen, we will also need to see infrastructure supporting the development of this kind of work, in the form of advocacy training , systems navigation guides, expanding access to Mental Health First Aid certification, anti-racism and anti-oppression education, and money to fund this work; there is a deep personal reward to doing meaningful activism in a volunteer capacity, but charm does not pay bills for young hungry Queer folk.
Whether its in schools, local businesses, or city-wide; we are all safer and better off when harm against our community does not go unchallenged.