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Articles: The 4th Annual NEQTPOC Conference!

Black & Queer with Purpose
April 2017
written by: Miya Ingram & Julia Jones

The 4th Annual Northeast Queer and Trans People of Color (NEQTPOC) Conference, held at Princeton University on April 7-8, 2017, created a liveliness like we could have never imagined. The workshops, the people, the discussions, and the food made this gathering a life changing opportunity. When we first arrived to register for the function, Princeton University’s LGBTQ+ Center greeted us with inspiring quotes, colorful furniture and beautiful decorations. Everyone was very welcoming and we were always met with a smile. With a quick scan of the room, we could see different people from various walks of life. The space was packed with adults, mostly college students from neighboring schools checking in for the event, but we thought it was the perfect time to start interviewing!

The first person interviewed was 23-year old Stefanie Hamill who attends Delaware State University. Stefanie is genderqueer/ non-binary and goes by they/them pronouns. 

Q: What brought you to the conference?
A: I was looking forward to meeting new people. I came here with my friend Ana because they are doing a workshop on immigration later in the conference. I also wanted to make awesome connections and connect with people to mobilize. 

Q: What work do you participate in on campus?
A: Well, I am an activist on my campus. I like using my art to show positive messages about issues I believe in. A group of students and I transformed our gendered bathrooms with graffiti and paint and made gender neutral [bathrooms] on campus. I also am starting my own project to make Zen with different people I meet and take those images and make them into a Chinese butterfly.

Q: How is LGBTQ life at your school?
A: It’s pretty bad. There are gender neutral bathrooms but they are super out of the way and usually have special keys that no one can get access to.

Stefanie made it very clear that they wanted to find out about more queer activist and how they can bring those ideas back to their campus.

The next person we interviewed was Stefanie's friend, Ana Vega, who just so happened to be running a workshop the next day. Ana is also a student at the University of Delaware, who heard about the conference from their professor. They expressed that they wanted to be able to network with other QPOC (queer people of color), so the conference was the perfect place. As it turned out, their workshop wasn't just on being queer. "You also have to come out as ‘undocumented’”, they said as they explained the focus of their curriculum. Then, Ana introduced us to the term “mariposa”. Mariposa is “the Spanish word for butterfly”. This was the title of their workshop but written with an “x” for gender neutrality. Sadly, we didn't get to experience their workshop, “Mariposx”, because of conflicting prior engagements. Nonetheless, we enjoyed being able to talk to Ana.

In our next interview, we talked to a group of students from Saint Joseph’s University. The four of them almost made up the small community that is QPOC on their predominantly white campus. Janice Alcalde, Kalandra Collins, Yaa McNeil and Sydney Villard all brought to our attention that they feel a lack of representation at their school. As both queer and black at Saint Joe’s there’s an increased desire to be “surrounded by melanin” and to be around people with similar identities and orientations.

Q: How did you hear about the conference?
A: [all]: Through our LGBT coordinator. Yaa drove us all down. 

Q: How is LGBTQ life at your school?
Yaa McNeil: Lot’s of first world issues and people don’t take us seriously.
Kalandra Collins: We want to increase visibility on campus, people don’t really know we exist which makes it hard for us to be taken seriously. We also want to create our own QPOC on campus because it’s only about 15 QPOC of color on campus. 

We did some research on Saint Joseph's and the results were shocking. The total number of students, based off 2015 reporting, was 8,415. From that number, 84% of them are White. Leaving 14% of the student body to feel marginalized; African Americans (3%), Hispanic (4.8%), Asian (2.7%), and American Indian (0.1%). We completely understand why increasing visibility was an extreme concern. The overarching message we got from these three interviews was that colleges and universities are failing at being inclusive to black, brown, and LGBTQ+ students within the campus community. The people interviewed were very adamant about feeling isolated and unrecognized on campus as being QPOC. They also felt that other colleges and universities should partner with one another to create more conferences and places to connect if they are not going to diversify their enrollment. Despite feeling secluded, the interviewees wanted to find organizational tools to help them with make their own coalitions in addition to finding ways to develop a stronger presence on campus.

Since we were the only high school youth at the conference, we were met with extra smiles and ways we could potentially help our communities. We realized, early on, this conference was going to shed light on terminology and lifestyles that we haven’t heard of. Thus, the keynote speakers were very informative and gave us inspiration to keep documenting the events. However, the most exciting part about the conference was the gender-neutral bathrooms. Being able to go inside and find men, women, non-binary, and genderqueer individuals, just doing the simple task of washing their hands was empowering. It was a feeling of comfortability most of us have never felt in our own communities. As the conference concluded, feelings of liberation were brewing within everyone. Yes, we all appreciated our time together, but we all knew that the journey was not complete. There were thousands of other QTPOC not being able to live in their truth because of their communities, parents, religions or because they do not have any examples of positive QTPOC. It was then, we made it our obligation to go back to our homes and neighborhoods to be the change we wish to see in the world. None of us are free until we’re all free and it mustn’t end to just those that could attend the conference. Taking all our tools and resources we learned throughout the conference, we are now ready to be the change agents for our communities. We will no longer stay silence. We will walk in the path of our past but build a better future. We are ready to heal, unite, and inspire!


Wise Words at the NEQTPOC Conference
April 2017
written by: Julia Jones

The gathering of like-minded people is not a new concept, but the gathering of QPOC (queer people of color); double minorities with similar struggles and experiences, is something much greater. The conference featured a few keynote speakers, and a multitude of workshops. Despite the different titles, all workshops had a social justice epicenter. There were three keynote speakers in total, but we only had the chance to witness two of them. It was a privilege to listen to Ignacio Rivera, and Francisco-Luis White speak; they were wonderful people!

Ignacio Rivera spoke the first day of the conference. The short pamphlet biography describes them as “an international performance artist, activist, writer, filmmaker, lecturer, and sex educator. [They are] a two-spirit, Black-boricua taĆ­no queer who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun “they.”” Rivera was the first to impart knowledge unto us with their presentation entitled “How to Speak Your Language of Sex, Love, and Play.” Although not necessarily intended for the youth among us, there were still critical takeaways to comprehend and apply to everyday life. Their presentation began by defining polyamory while noting the stigmas and that the lifestyle was not wildly popular amongst POC (people of color) individuals. Based off those observations, they decided to start their own groups tailored to QPOC. Rivera admitted that they found it difficult to find the language to explain why a space specifically for POC needed to exist after receiving backlash from critics. Whilst creating their group, Shades of Poly, they realized “The work [I was doing] was bigger than all the fun I was having.” After that awakening, they began to use their platform to educate. After a while, their presentation transitioned to the topic of sex; the taboos and the audience’s personal thoughts or presumptions on the subject. During a brief reflection and discussion on societal standards about sexual practices, Rivera rendered their own “International Human Sexuality Model” which included important pieces like self-care, curiosity, intimacy, and desire; seemingly all things human nature seeks. Additionally, Rivera spoke about setting boundaries. They introduced that even if you make new partner perimeters along the way, you should know and state your limits at all times. Next, they talked about consent which is an essential part in working with yourself and with everyone outside yourself. A big part of their movement deals with helping “survivors” or anyone who's been in a situation where their consent or lack thereof wasn’t considered. Rivera’s survivor advocacy ranges from teaching them to be comfortable in sexual experiences to helping them understand their triggers.

The following morning, the keynote speaker was Francisco-Luis White. Breakfast in hand, we sat down to listen to them pass on some of their wisdom and experiences. Francisco was described as “an Afro-Latinx poet, storyteller, and advocate…” They have released a chapbook of seventeen poems about their journey in regards to their gender identity and sexuality, called Found Them. They spoke about trans people of color coming out, and noted that “we’re liberating not just ourselves.” They also said that they hate the term “coming out,” as they’re more likely to state “...when I discovered that ‘man’ didn’t fit.” They were not only an advocate for queer rights, but they also were a big proponent of HIV awareness and the decriminalization of those that have been diagnosed. When asked about how people outside of those diagnosed can help, they responded “get informed, stand behind us!” Overall, their speech was intriguing and gave us a little bit of insight into Francisco and their life.

The audience played a vital role in Rivera’s and Francisco’s presentations. From everyone cheering when they yelled out “PHILLY”, to asking questions that propelled the topics forward, the crowd was indeed a key player to the energy of the conference. However, the question that struck a chord with the gathered community was during Rivera’s speech. An audience member inquired “how do you decolonize attraction when your partner is white?” Rivera didn’t have an immediate answer because their journey didn’t take them down that particular path. But, other individuals that shared a similar experience attempted to share strategies that worked for their relationships. The community-feel to every conversation assisted in taking each presentation to another level of breathtaking.

The conference was a fantastic gathering. Touching upon topics from setting boundaries to breaking down barriers made for a weekend of enlightening conversations. Moreover, Rivera stated that systems of constructed binaries, patriarchy, and capitalism plague us as a collective. The hope is to build a world without those systems to push us closer to utopia. Together, Ignacio Rivera and Francisco-Luis White helped spark a change and create a call-to-action with their insightful words.


Navigating the Workshop Walls
April 2017
written by: Miya Ingram

The NEQTPOC Conference offered a well-rounded and comfortable space for queer and trans* people of color to attend workshops as well as provide a social justice networking opportunity. The theme for the conference this year was “Healing, Coalition Building, and Decolonization” with workshops centered around intersectionality, healing from trauma, being queer and black/brown in America, surviving in predominately white institutions, and needing full representation in governmental legislation. Each presentation brought new ideas to the table on how we can assemble while being authentic to ourselves.

The first workshop we attended was, “Dialogue: Black and QTPOC”. This workshop was an open discussion about topics that are often ignored, like anti-blackness within the black queer community (light skin vs dark skin), holding cis-men accountable for derogatory actions against queer men and transwomen, and everyday microaggressions. The topic that peeked my interest focused on listening and protecting black queer youth. In my opinion, this was extremely important because many black queer youth feel that they are often ignored and discarded by their parents, their schools, or their peers. This compiled alienation can lead to depression and suicide which is very disheartening. Being young and in touch with my sexuality, most people misinterpret my assurance with “going through a phase”, which is incorrect. I know who I am but I want to discover what I stand for without having to defend my identities all the time. Thus, after attending this workshop, something sparked within me. Having the chance to witness and engage with various queer people of color living their truth was astounding and prompted me to do the same. This workshop could have gone on for hours but unfortunately it had to come to an end. Thankfully, two enthusiastic participants from New York guided the room in a chant that allowed everyone to get extremely energized as they left for their next workshop.

The second workshop we attended was, “How to Reform Your Mind from a F***boi to a F***boi Abolitionist.” Please, don’t fear the name! The workshop was the opposite of the click bait title. Upon first hearing the term "f***boi", some of the attendees were unclear of its meaning. The facilitator summarized it as “an emotionally manipulative person who doesn’t care about anyone except themselves”. Thus, this workshop discussed the reasons why an individual might adopt f***boi or negative attributes as a coping mechanism for past trauma. We also explored how reforming oneself can led to abolition. This means that once someone begins the process of understanding their feelings and re-evaluating how they are treating others; they can spread positive energy into new relationships. Therefore, eliminating f***boi qualities and breaking the cycle of toxic partnerships.

The third workshop we attended was none other than The Attic Youth Center’s collaborative effort between The Bryson Institute and WERQ/Radio Podcasting & Youth Making Media Internship! These programs partnered to create a very informative presentation called, “None of Us Are Free Until All of Us Are Free: Resisting Intersecting Oppression.” The inspirational part about this workshop was that it was youth led. Facilitators Hazel Edwards, Giana Graves, and Timmy Lawrence, highlighted topics such as racism, white supremacy, transphobia and cis-sexism. This opened the floor to some uncomfortable conversations considering the nation’s current social climate. Despite varying points of view, each participant left with resistance tools to combat against social justice issues within their communities. Moreover, the group discussed the concept of “Collective Liberation”; ways to create strategic plans with other queer people of color to accomplish the same goal while completing smaller goals along the way. Some resistance tools that were discussed included boycotting anti-black and anti-queer businesses, silent protest, redefining beauty standards, collective capital, and creating safe spaces away from negative energies that no longer serve the collective. Additionally, it was agreed that we can all achieve the same goals in unique ways if we communicate clearly and support each other. The presentation concluded with the participants understanding that the conversation was just the beginning. For continued progress, we must start taking actionable steps to liberate ourselves, our communities, and others in need. As a youth, it was touching to watch Edwards, Graves, and Lawrence lead such a dynamic workshop. By watching them, I could envision a similar platform for myself!

Overall, my eyes were opened to new ideas plus giving me a renewed spirit. It was spellbinding to attend a conference dedicated to people of color living in their truth and being successful in their choice careers. I could see myself returning next year to facilitate a workshop or be a keynote speaker. Every presentation ignited a fire inside of me to make a change, whether big or small, for queer justice or just to better myself as a human being for my community. Thank you NEQTPOC; a job well done!

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