Even before the #metoo movement trained the spotlight on gender inequity and its impact across the globe, there were organizations doing the hard work to address these at-times violent failings.
From closing the wage gap and protecting reproductive rights to ending gender-based sexual exploitation, the push to support and empower women and nonbinary people has roots that date back generations.
Recent attention has forced important conversations about gender into the public square — on social media, into office breakrooms, and around kitchen tables. And beyond the big, headline grabbing, celebrity-focused movements are efforts by grassroots organizations working to make a big difference in the area of gender equity. We highlight three of them here.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute
From judges to school board members to members of Congress, more than 800 elected officials who openly identify as LGBTQ hold office across the United States. They serve in nearly every state, thanks in large part to the work of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
One of several national organizations preparing candidates for political office, the Victory Institute has worked to elevate and advance LGBTQ leadership nationwide for more than two decades. In 1993, when it began, fewer than 50 gay and lesbian people held such positions.
Three years ago, when Victory Institute created Out for America, a map tracking LBGTQ elected officials across the country, it identified fewer than 500. The 2016 election results—and more recently the presidential candidacy of Mayor Pete Buttigieg—have energized potential candidates across the country, says Ruben Gonzales, Victory Institute’s vice president.
Every training class since Donald Trump’s election has been at capacity. Still, LGBTQ people in political office nationwide represent fewer than 0.2% of all elected positions.
“We see an opportunity to build a bench at the earliest levels, what our opponents [of LGBTQ rights] have been doing for decades—city mayor’s offices and the state legislatures, working their way up,” Gonzales says.
Each year, the Victory Institute brings to Capitol Hill a cohort of interns across the gender, race, and even geographic spectrum, creating a pipeline into LGBTQ political leadership. And through its international program, the organization works with partners to train and support LGBTQ leaders in other countries.
At the core of Victory Institute’s work is its boot camp where potential candidates learn what it takes to run for office—from making fundraising goals to writing a field plan. LGBTQ elected officials attend and share their stories and experiences with participants. Victory Institute also helps candidates to publicly come out—helping them shape their messaging and connecting them with other LGBTQ officials who can provide mentorship.
The training also helps ground unreasonable ambitions, Gonzales says. “We have people come to the training and say, ‘I wanna run against Ted Cruz for Senate,’” without fully realizing what it takes to do that, he says. “People are fired up and want to make change. The Victory Institute can show them that we need them just as much—if not more so—on the school boards and in local places.”
That was true for Brianna Titone, whom no one—including Democratic Party leaders in her home state of Colorado—expected to defeat her Republican opponent during the 2018 general election. Yet Titone garnered 439 more votes than her challenger in the conservative 27th district to become Colorado’s first out transgender state lawmaker—one of only four in the country.
A geologist and software developer, Titone came out as a transgender woman in her late 30s and immediately became active in LGBTQ issues. When a party official suggested a run for state office, she was dubious. “Nobody like me had ever really won a state office before, and my district hadn’t seen a Democrat since they redrew it following the 2010 census.”
Titone attributes her victory to personally canvassing her district—knocking on doors and connecting with voters. The Victory Institute training, she says, models, as best it can, the experience LGBTQ candidates face on the campaign trail—and that’s different from other training.
But with so few transgender candidates overall, she says, “the curriculum is still based on the LGB portion of that experience.
“You can apply a lot of the same techniques but being trans is still a special case, and we’re all starting to really learn about what works and what doesn’t work and how to manage.”
If you could openly share your story, how would you do it? What would you say?
Breakthrough, a human rights organization that uses bold, creative action to disrupt the cultural status quo, has launched a multimedia project to give girls and gender non-conforming youth of color just such a platform.
The her.stories project seeks to shift perception of marginalized communities by giving voice to young people at the intersection of race, immigration, gender, and sexuality who rarely see themselves represented in media. Throughout 2020, it will capture the stories of 75 young people, offering a snapshot into their lives through their own individual forms of art. It will feature a documentary film series, a traveling photo exhibit, community events, and an interactive online storytelling hub.
Priya Kvam, associate director of strategic partnerships and initiatives, says her.stories aligns with Breakthrough’s partnership strategy of building relationships not only with young people, but also with a broad network of organizations, from student groups to academic institutions, that share a commitment to social justice.
“Really, the goal,” she says, “is to penetrate pop culture in such a way that people not only see and imagine other communities differently, and in a way that is much more respectful and affirming and celebratory, but also [to] look at structural violence and different kinds of human rights violations as they play out in real time.”
The project will include the stories of young people like Ta’Lor D’Yonna Mosley, a Black, queer actor, model, and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Mosley says they want to showcase the agency and privilege they have in their identity and through their work.
“This project gave me room to share what my queerness is to me,” says Mosley. “It highlights the importance of celebrating yourself through the hardships, violence, hate, and cruelty, and I hope people feel that, too, when they see me doing it.”
If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice
Perhaps no single issue important to women and nonbinary people has come under greater attack in recent years than reproductive health. With the ultimate goal of reversing Roe v. Wade, an alarming number of states have restricted access to abortions or moved to ban them outright.
It was within that gathering storm, in spring 2019, that an organization of lawyers, law students, and legal activists, working for years to protect reproductive freedom, joined forces with another group advocating for people criminalized for self-managing their abortions. Together they formed If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, a single movement committed to protecting those made vulnerable by the seismic shifts in reproductive health care.
The group’s work is fiercely intersectional, focusing on racial, economic, immigrant, gender, LGBTQ, and disability justice, and recognizing that the law isn’t always designed for everyone and often works against certain communities.
“What we’re building now is a movement of lawyers and law students who will transform the law and policy landscape, so that everyone can decide if, when, and how to define, create, and sustain their family,” says Andrea Grimes, communications manager.
One key initiative involves working with other organizations to help improve abortion access for young people through such strategies as eliminating parental involvement laws.
Another focuses on protecting access to self-managed abortions—the use of non-clinical methods to end a pregnancy—care that has become ever more urgent in this fraught environment.
In a brief filed in a Louisiana case, June Medical Services v. Gee, pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, If/When/How argues that with abortion access being diminished, there’s growing concern people will be investigated by law enforcement for choosing to end their pregnancies or buy abortion pills online. Those most vulnerable will be people of color.
“The specter of the ‘back-alley’ is now more historical fact than present concern due to the availability of abortion with pills—but the fear of prosecution is real,” says Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel for If/When/How.
“People who prefer clinical abortion care must be able to access it, and those who choose self-managed abortion—or who are forced to rely on it when clinics close—must not be criminalized,” she adds. “Whatever someone’s reason for ending a pregnancy, the law should protect them, not punish them.”