On June 17, the Emerging LGBTQ Leaders of Color (ELLC) Fund hosted a special virtual event, “Free the Future: Celebrating Visionary LGBTQ Leaders of Color” with movement leaders, including Co-Director of Freedom, Inc. M Adams, Deputy Director of Mijente Isa Noyola, and Arcus Foundation U.S. Social Justice Program Officer Glo Ross.

The Emerging LGBTQ Leaders of Color Fund at Borealis supports young trans and queer leaders of color who work to make movements more interconnected and powerful. “Free the Future” was a deep discussion on transformative leadership and power building, as well as a celebration of the strides that trans and queer young people of color have made over the past year and a half. The three panelists also explored how philanthropy can more fully resource the work of trans and queer youth.

The panelists saw major organizing victories in 2020 despite the unprecedented challenges that they and LGBTQ organizers at large faced. Specifically, when the balance of the U.S. Senate came down to two runoff elections in Georgia earlier this year, Mijente made a commitment to knock on the door of every Latino voter in the state—and did it. Similarly, Freedom Inc. was instrumental in protecting voter rights in the swing state of Wisconsin, where they monitored polls and demanded that every vote be counted amid a massive voter disinformation campaign. 

These are recent examples of the power of LGBTQ organizing, but trans and queer organizers have a deep legacy of understanding how to find and distribute  resources to support each other and help communities survive through times of crisis, especially when the government response is lacking. That is why, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and protests throughout the country sparked by recordings of police killing unarmed Black Americans last year, these visionary and committed leaders knew exactly what to do. 

But their efforts began well before 2020. M Adams noted that the uprisings we saw last year would not have been possible without the long-term organizing of young LGBTQ leaders of color stretching back at least to the 2014 Ferguson uprising. “We know the slow game, the organizing, the dailyness, the community meetings, the following up with folks. It’s not necessarily the big spectacular show of rebellion that people see. But it’s what readies the community for rebellion,” M said. 

That long-term investment is why young LGBTQ movement leaders have been able to make unprecedented strides in the fight for abolishing police. “The ideological shift that we saw in the last five years is something that you don’t even see over generations: getting common everyday folks to think that with policing, what needs to happen is body cameras to then the common everyday average person saying defund them.”   

This kind of impactful organizing, in which LGBTQ young leaders are shifting the landscape of what is possible, first requires them to build internally. Glo Ross opened up the conversation with a nod to these leaders for not only supporting themselves, but the community at large when the pandemic hit: “What I saw being in this community here in Atlanta was queer and trans folks of color holding us.  And through holding us, holding the community at large, saying, Here are the networks. Here is the infrastructure of care that we’ve already had and that we are now using to respond to this pandemic.”

Isa Noyola spotlighted how trans leaders of color in particular, who often get left out of conversations about LGBTQ leadership, built relationships in communities that meant they were the first and most effective at responding to multiple crises—something that government agencies should have done, but in many cases didn’t. “The relationships that you build with people really, really matter in times of crisis because that allows for organizers and for folks that are already holding communities to move and be strategic and think of all the various pieces that we have to do and show up for our folks,” she said. “Just as [funders] are very on top of making sure we get our reports in on time, we are also on deadlines with folks. They are holding us accountable to make sure we are showing up in the correct way when it counts.”  

Encapsulating all of the wisdom and power that these leaders have gained from living through the past year and a half, Glo reaffirmed that it would not have been possible without the vision of trans and queer leaders: “To survive this moment—any moment— to build long-term the future that we need, it’s about trusting the leadership and the vision of queer and trans folks of color.” 

To learn more about the impact of ELLC Fund grantees, read the fund’s latest impact report.