During the week of October 26th, our class studied the Queer Economic Justice (QEJ)’s welfare warriors research collaborative (wwwrc) report, entitled “a fabulous attitude: low-income lgbtgnc people surviving and thriving on love, shelter, and knowledge.” We examined the multidimensional aspects of their report, which articulates the complexities of being both low-income and queer. Coupled with an interview with founder of QEJ Amber Hollibaugh, the text also informs our visions for personal and collective resistance. By analyzing the interview in tandem with the collective, we learn about the role of heart, desire, and dreams in progressive movements for queer justice.
As a multiracial group of 17 LGBTGNC people, the WWWRC formed in July 2007 to investigate the ways in which their communities survive daily interpersonal, institutional, and systemic violence. Upon establishing the collaborative, they conducted participatory action research. They employed a mixed-method approach for collecting data, including participant observation of meetings, videotaped storytelling sessions, and community surveys. After performing collective data analysis, the report discusses issues that the community of multiracial, low-income, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people face. Moreover, the contributors aim to uplift voices; to document injustice in public service systems; to share the creative ways that people survive, resist, and foster liberation; and to provide guidance on navigating public services like shelters, housing, public assistance, and the courts.
In the collective’s analysis of the multiple ways LGBTGNC people are targeted by the police, such as police harassment and arresting victims of violence, they argue that we cannot understand these challenges as solely issues of sexuality or gender. Instead, they are also issues of race, class, ability, and citizenship. The intersectionality of their identities shape their material conditions, as they encounter constant threats to their survival. These include – but are not limited to – homelessness, harassment while simply walking down the street, and denial of access to public benefits or services from hospitals, LGBT centers, and welfare agencies – the very same spaces that proclaim to support LGBTGNC people.
I particularly appreciated the report’s maintenance of collective glamour in their vision for personal and collective survival and resistance.
The writers express collective glamour by rejecting the narrative of victimhood that is often attributed to them. For example, they refer to a “group of people living with HIV” instead of the conventional label “HIV victims.” To label LGBTGNC people as victims is to suggest that they lack agency. Despite their experiences of poverty, isolation, ableism, and reproductive injustice, they are still decision-makers. In fact, their mere survival is a form of resistance, demonstrating resilience and strength. Participants in the study are also proactive in maintaining their health and well-being through mental health support and activism, HIV support and activist organizations, and traditional healing communities. In a world that threatens their lives, they find ways to combat violence and discrimination within institutions, while simultaneously building an alternative worlds. The report generates modes of protection – for both themselves and others in their community – from police violence and while navigating public spaces on a daily basis.
The report’s list of ways to resist are also queer because of its non-normativity. Institutional resistance might be advocating for policies, lobbying representatives and signing petitions. Challenging class-based forms of resistance, the piece argues that we do not necessarily have to take these approaches to be resilient. Alternatives exist as well, such as maintaining spirituality, fighting back with friends, and engaging in community action. Art, music, and journaling as methods of healing are also incredibly empowering, as we write and articulate our experiences into history.
A collective glamour also critiques the neoliberalist model of self-determinism – that is, the romanticization of the individual. According to the collaborators, when experiencing institutional violence, isolation is a common way to protect ourselves. However, we must reduce that isolation. Getting together and generating ideas and resources to fight back is a crucial mode of collective resistance. Capitalism calls for individual desires and withers collective consciousness; in response, we must live our lives with an ethic of care not only for ourselves, but for the people around us.
The methodological approach of the report is also non-normative. Firstly, they only use lower-case letters throughout the piece, a practice of which rejects conforming to standard conventions of grammar. Moreover, straddling lines between the qualitative and quantitative research, they make survey research more humane. Often times, the social sciences write about low-income BIPOC queer folk in a robotic, objective manner. In doing so, their experiences are reduced down to numbers and statistics and hold an objective “truth.” Instead of taking that approach, the report embodies an ethic of care. They created space for the participants to discuss their experiences (hence “storytelling”) and allowed room for them to self-identify on their own terms.
Overall, I found this week’s topic empowering and informative, especially as we ground ourselves with election week coming up. The collective reminds me that the state has not, and will not, protect low-income, BIPOC queer communities. Moreover, alternative modes of existing in this world exist beyond electoral politics – and they are deeply impactful. Regardless of the outcome, we must still commit ourselves to our day-to-day, local work in order to actualize a vision of material resource distribution.