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
To sign onto this letter yourself- click here.
To: Governor Scott,
Cc: Vermont State Legislature, local Selectboards
As Vermonters, we are now in a global crisis along with the rest of the planet. We thank the State and local governments that have already taken some swift action to create protections during this time. As voices from the LGBTQ, Black, POC, disabled, working class, and immigrant communities, we know COVID-19 impacts our communities disproportionately.
As a community we are being asked to self-distance and quarantine in order to save lives and bring about the end of this crisis more quickly. We know every person within our community is impacted by COVID-19, from work stoppages to sickness, to increased fear, anxiety, and isolation, and that most Vermonters want to do their part for the greater good. We also know that in order to fully engage in adequate self-distancing efforts people need safe housing, economic resources, access to health care, and critical protective equipment. We hope you will act to help keep everyone in our communities safe and able to weather this storm.
There is an ongoing obligation to continue implementing steps that will keep all people in Vermont safe during this COVID-19 crisis. We believe these actions will support the health and wellbeing of all members of our community and urge you to put them in place:
Out in the Open
The Root Social Justice Center
Lost River Racial Justice
Vermont Workers Center
Pride Center of Vermont
Dearest Out in the Open Community,
For so many of us, the world is a totally different place than it was when I last wrote you all almost four weeks ago. For so many of us, this present reality is not so different from the one we were living in February. With the veil having been pulled back to reveal even more clearly the lack of justice, equity, and access to power and resources so many of us have been screaming about for far too long. It has been a painful few weeks. And as my therapist so wonderfully reflects when I come to her saying "I am not sure I can handle this (whatever the "this" is at that present moment). She says, "You are handling it. This is part of you handling it." We are collectively handling this time even when the supports we were told existed have fallen flat and we're collectively and individually left searching for a solution.
When I last wrote you all, I was feeling a lot of grief. I am still having many periods of grieving right now but the prevailing things I'm experiencing presently are a strong desire to stand together, support each other, and love each other through this struggle and beyond the next one. It's what we as LGBTQ folks have always done and what we as rural people have always done.
It's why Out in the Open continues building community and support structures outside of the State even through the best times. So that we're already here for each other in the worst. Because in times like these, we need each other. And while we've witnessed and participated in an incredible ability for webs of support and mutual aid to spring up so quickly right now, having existing trust and relationships with folks helps immensely and allow us to come together more quickly in times like this, when we need to. The only way through this is through this together.
And I promised you all an update on or around April 6! So, with all of this in mind, we will be continuing to balance both holding community close and keeping shared public health at the forefront. Some updates:
With solidarity and love,
HB & Out in the Open
We are here to support our rural LGBTQ community in this time and always. We are working continuously to make virtual space for our community to connect and support each other. Our recurring group spaces have moved to meeting virtually. If you would like to attend - please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our calendar which is being updated regularly.