This month, as a slight departure from our typical newsletter, Ain is writing to share a personal update as a staff member dealing with illness and connection to community during this time. We are so happy to have them back! -HB
Dear Out in the Open Community,
What does labor justice look like at a small nonprofit like Out in the Open? How do we live our values and stay in community during a global crisis? These past two months have given me answers to these questions in ways I never anticipated.
On Friday March 13th, Out in the Open staff members met to discuss our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. HB (our Executive Director) and the board executive committee approved a plan that we would work remotely going forward, widen our policy to offer unlimited sick time during the pandemic, provide additional time off (outside of existing time off), and give staff members a small, one-time bonus to deal with unexpected expenses in this time of crisis.
The following week was a blur- canceling events, shifting everything online, dealing with school closures, calling family and friends all over the country, worrying. Buying groceries, learning how to clean, monitoring the news, trying to relax, adapting to each new change in our lives. Despite the fear, I took my own health for granted. I’m a transmasculine person, and I often joke that my gender identity is carrying heavy things. I wasn’t going to get sick. My plan was to be a rock for my loved ones and community.
Soon after that, I started coughing. The illness quickly progressed until I was the sickest I’ve ever been. An unshakable weight filled my chest. I was too weak to climb the stairs without stopping multiple times to catch my breath. Feeling this vulnerability in my body was scary and humbling. I felt shame about my inability to be productive. Given the political climate, I felt afraid of anyone finding out. Through it all though, I knew that I had the support of our community. That kept me going.
After a month away, I’m back to remote work now. I know that I have been lucky. I could take the time to heal without losing my income or my job- and was even encouraged to do that. I have never had access to this kind of supportive work environment before, and the majority of folks I know still don’t. Our community members with chronic illness and folks with less access to resources and medical care have long known what I experienced in this temporary way. We need to work together to ensure that healthcare is not tied to employment, that being out sick doesn’t mean we can’t pay our rent, that shame and stigma don’t harm folks further when our bodies (and minds) aren’t viewed as “able.”
I’ve noticed lately that every business with my email address seems to be sending messages like “we’re all in this together.” The truth is, we’re not. Access to power, resources, and justice have long been imbalanced and continue to be, especially in times of crisis. Black folks, Indigenous folks, and people of color know this. Trans, queer, lesbian, gay, and bisexual folks know this. Rural folks know this. Hollow statements from companies using the concept of togetherness while attempting to profit off of us does little to heal communities or individuals right now.
One reason I love Out in the Open is that we genuinely are in this together. We live at the intersections of so many identities, and we show up for each other-- for rural and small-town LGBTQ folks-- no matter what. We work to build community and support structures through all times. Experiencing the level of support I needed while in isolation made me profoundly understand the power of our community and the boundlessness of your generosity.
Thank you to the monthly sustainers, those who took the #ShareMyCheck pledge, and other folks contributing resources to keep Out in the Open thriving through this time.
Thank you for participating in and sharing mutual aid networks.
Thank you for gifting flour, making masks, posting photos of your pets and gardens, sharing #whatchawatching recommendations and LGBTQ news updates on our Slack channel.
Thank you to folks providing medical care, transportation, government services and everything considered essential.
Thank you to everyone who has been farming, teaching, working in grocery and hardware stores, facing the panic and continuing to show up where folks need you.
Thank you to those working from home, having too many video-calls, navigating rural internet service, juggling pets and/or kids, wearing business attire from the waist up.
And, just as importantly, thank you to those rural queer folks who have just been staying inside and feeling your feelings. Not responding to messages. Eating, distracting yourselves, breathing, coughing. We don’t have to be productive to be valid.
It means a lot to know that we’re all here, surviving together.
I’m so grateful for all of you.
As HB said in last month’s newsletter: The only way through this is through this together. Let’s keep going.
Onward with solidarity and tender gratitude,
Ain & Out in the Open
Director of Development and Outreach