by Molly Rose Quinn, Executive Director, OUTMemphis | photo courtesy of OUTMemphis
Pride month 2020 has been marked by extraordinary events. As I write this, it has been exactly three months since the “stay at home” ordinances came to Memphis. It has been three months since OUTMemphis’s community center closed our doors to the general public and transformed into a headquarters for connecting food, supplies, and HIV testing to those in need.
I think it’s important that every year the LGBTQ+ community says something new and impactful for Pride. June marks 51 years since Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and their fearless peers risked their lives for us by rioting against police. They were Black and Brown trans activists, they were sex workers, homeless youth, lesbians, gay men, genderqueer people, and all of our predecessors. As we acknowledge Pride month, OUTMemphis condemns in the strongest possible terms the violence of police against Black people and the escalation of police brutality.
At the end of May, we lowered our flag to half-mast for the death of Larry Kramer – a leader in the movement that first said out loud: LGBTQ+ folks are human and health is a human right. Our flags stayed lowered after the murder by police of George Floyd, then Breonna Taylor, and then the murder by police of Tony McDade. We have kept them lowered following the murders of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton. While we mourn, we have also watched protests in the streets of Memphis and seen police striking some of our closest friends.
We have continued to watch COVID-19 ravage our most vulnerable intersections. We have seen the real time consequences of LGBTQ+ Southerners’ risks of being under-insured and underemployed. We have watched our community members living with addiction, mental health issues, housing instability, and partner violence reach crises. Our youth who live with disaffirming families have been isolated from outside support for months. We have confronted an overwhelmed increased in unhoused queer and trans youth. We have seen the pre-existing social determinants of health made more evident in a rise of HIV diagnoses at the center and an escalated need for prevention. Our Seniors, who were already disproportionately living in isolation, have rallied around peer support and service.
The LGBTQ+ community is hurting. Our Black and Brown communities are hurting. Memphis is hurting.
As I watch these unspeakable tragedies, I think about my LGBTQ+ mindset in bearing witness, and how OUTMemphis can, or sometimes can’t, show leadership. This confluence of events has made us rethink much of what we do–and how we do it. Being a cultural worker means constant reflection and re-visioning on our purpose. A social justice movement means constant reshaping of the pathway forward.
To rise to the needs around us, OUTMemphis has taken several major steps. We are now serving our youth (24 and under) experiencing homelessness in several new stages: drop-in services (like meals and mentorship) which will move to the brand new Youth Emergency Center in a few weeks; emergency housing for up to 30 days, also at the YEC; six months of transitional housing in a shared home with 24/7 access to our case management team; and up to two years of rental assistance for youth in their first apartments.
Meanwhile, we have also made a big decision to launch a major new service for adults, 25 and older: the OUTLast Emergency Assistance program. OUTLast will provide direct financial aid to trans people of color and to LGBTQ+ Seniors, undocumented individuals, and people living with HIV/AIDS. OUTLast will provide financial support for food, hygiene supplies, rent, transportation, and mental healthcare. Please stay tuned and please contribute to the fund if you’re able.
I have asked myself and my peers a question repeatedly this year: What does it mean to be LGBTQ+ in 2020? Amid a global health crisis and in an American crisis of violence, racism, and transphobia, being LGBTQ+ means standing up, over and over, for ourselves and one another. Being LGBTQ+ means faith in grassroots services and a call to fight for ourselves. To fight for our healthcare, our housing, our visibility, our lives, and our pride.
It is our job as LGBTQ+ people to hold space for those most excluded from services and those most marginalized by our systems. It is our job at OUTMemphis to set our sights on the goal posts. It is my job as a leader to keep an optimistic future in mind no matter how impossible that may seem.