Queerida Del Valle
Punks, Queers, and Jehovah’s Witnesses
I am from the San Gabriel Valley of LA. My mom raised me and my sisters as Jehovah’s Witnesses and part of that is not engaging in politics so getting into politics wasn’t something that I did or came into until high school—by getting into the punk scene and the punk movement and coming a little more to terms with my queerness. Growing up Jehovah’s Witness, I had to be proper for so long and was only allowed to express myself in certain ways. So the punk movement, even though it has bounds, it seemed boundless in that people were able to express themselves in ways I had never thought possible.
So much about punk is anti-authority and anti-establishment. That becoming a part of the scene made me feel really angry because it felt like I was lied to for so long about what was possible. That was why I was super attracted to the punk scene. It was a lot of people in the same boat and realizing we had our own truths and they were completely valid as well. Particularly with Jehovah’s Witnesses, wanting to create this community but having a rigid sense of what a community is and only allowing people to express themselves in certain ways really upset me. Then also just realizing my parents don’t have the answers and also realizing that there was a lot of knowledge where I was told there is no knowledge.
I feel that this is noteworthy, that in high school I realized I was queer. I had my first queer relationship and it was something that I struggled with a lot, even though I was friends with a lot of gay people but not queer people. When people would say, “You’re a lesbian,” I would say no I’m not. Because I’m still attracted to people who aren’t women, but I didn’t know the word queer yet. I knew I wasn’t gay or a lesbian. For me, [queer] sits a little more encompassing. I feel like a lot of these words have been used super fluidly. For me queer has less bounds whereas gay and lesbian have a lot of connotation. For me queer has less of that. Someone who doesn’t subscribe to heteronormativity and heteronormative relationships.
Queerida Del Valle
"I want you to be you and totally comfortable being you and see me and know that I’m in this movement and I’m an extension of you."
I came to San Francisco for college and started getting involved there, specifically with the budget cuts that were happening in San Francisco, specifically with universities. I tried work on a lot of organizing there. I worked on coalition building. I felt it was important to not just highlight that universities were losing funding but also all the other areas losing funding. Cause I thought having a protest or march or something about how all these different groups were losing funding would be more impactful [if we focused on more] than just universities.
I saw it as a greater injustice and saw it being really a symptom of what’s wrong with our country because where we put funding is where our priorities are. And just seeing the things we’re losing funding. Yeah it made me really upset. It was like yeah, I’m not able to take the classes I need to graduate and the business major got extra classes and funding. But I wasn’t necessarily thinking it was an environmental thing. I was more so upset that these programs were losing funding, like ethnic studies was also losing funding. Just anything the university thought was excess.
“I am hesitant to bring things up because I don’t want to be banished again.”
I essentially don’t want to be working on issues that don’t affect people of color. But since almost every issue affects people of color more there’s always a lot to be working on. I try to be adamant about being that perspective and that voice into movement building. That’s one of the reasons why I can’t stand the environmental movement.
For the most part, whenever I have noticed that narrative about people of color or queer people of color or like trans people is not included and I bring it up, I’m kicked out of stuff. I think because I’ve experienced a lot of silencing and gaslighting in different movement building, not just the environmental movement, and even though I know what’s right or what I think is right, I am hesitant to bring things up because I don’t want to be banished again.
I’ve personally found it really hard because a lot of people who do have more decision making power usually want to amplify their voices and don’t like sharing that. A lot of times they’re straight cis white men. Right now is the first time that I feel the most comfortable, maybe not safe, but at least more comfortable in expressing my queerness and my gender identity. My boss is a queer femme. Our CEO is a white gay man. A lot of people in our organization are queer and somewhere in the LGBTQIA+ [spectrum]. That’s something that I have definitely noticed the environmental movement being, at least in this organization, being more receptive to.
Find Your People
So my tactic has been to scope out what accomplices I have within. Even if we are or if I am part of the dissenting voice I’m not the only one in it. That’s been working in my favor. Being a little more strategic about it, which is shitty to do cause I’m still primarily in really white spaces. For the People’s Climate March, we had a platform. Part of it was Black Lives Matter and ending deportations. Essentially covering issues that primarily affect communities of color. I brought up, “I’m glad this is in here, but it is concerning that I am one of the three people of color who show up to these meetings and this was made without having the communities you’re speaking of present.”
[The response was] a lot of defensiveness. And one woman, after I don’t know how many white men lost their shit, she was like, “I want us to all notice if you’re someone who said something to her, who you are, and who has been speaking and realize that with her identity, how much it took for her to say what she said. And what this room looks like and I want us to all sit with that. Because when people of color speak in a room full of white people it’s not an easy thing for people to do, especially when they’re standing up for their own communities. We should all sit with that.” I was like, yes, her.
An important part for me is having the voices of marginalized folks there in the beginning and be a part of the process in the beginning and not just like asking them to come along later.
So that it is as inclusive a movement as you want it to be because you have those identities there and represented and part of leadership.
So that if a person with a similar identity to someone who is part of leadership feels like they belong there.
People can say [something’s on the agenda] and it won’t be present in the people who are there. I feel what really shows it’s there is who’s behind the words. They [People’s Climate March] had this platform and it said all these amazing stuff but then a person of color isn’t allowed to speak in that space or allowed to speak without being silenced?
White People Can Be Queer, Can I?
“I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be queer and be present in the environmental movement.”
With my queerness I feel like it’s something that I also need to learn when can I bring this and when can I not? And in a sense, because of that, more often than not I feel like I can’t bring it, until recently. It’s something that I’m still working on and still trying to figure out what it means to be queer and be present in the environmental movement. In seeing, even though it’s primarily white people, being able to do it I’m like oh I can talk about my queerness in this space. I can like say that I don’t specifically go by she, her, hers pronouns here and that’s totally acceptable. It’s something for myself I’m trying to get or lean more into—it’s something I’ve felt or haven’t felt like I’ve had the space to do that.
[We need to] have a diverse leadership so that people of all identities [who] align with that see themselves in leadership and they’re allowed to be in it. Certain parts of my identity I could bring to the table and I couldn’t and I had to always figure out what parts of me will be digestible here. What part of me can I not bring here?
Historically, a lot of wins have been off the backs of marginalized people and not addressing their needs. I even think of the Paris Climate Agreement and a lot of Indigenous people are like 1.5 is fine for cities but not for Indigenous people, so things like that. It’s not unless all those voices are present and have the same power that decisions will actually benefit everyone will be made. If not, there’s going to be sacrifices and they’re going to be the people already marginalized and disenfranchised.
I’ve been spending time with people in Idle No More, which is an Indigenous environmental justice group—they’re connected to Indigenous people all across the world. Then also talking to Chief Caleen Sisk in Shasta and how she’s in touch with tribes in New Zealand, and they’re always talking and figuring out ways in which they can support each other. I think that work is already being done—one tribe will fly to another area to support. For example, when Standing Rock was happening, all these Indigenous people from South America came and stood in solidarity. For me that’s the biggest example that I’ve seen with Indigenous communities with the ways in which they support each other. With other environmental justice communities, I haven’t seen it be as expansive and I’m not really sure what the reason is for that.
Finding Me, Finding Yourself in the Environmental Movement
“I want you to be you and totally comfortable being you and see me and know that I’m in this movement and I’m an extension of you.”
I work for a large environmental nonprofit. A lot of what I try to do is amplify. I don’t want to take credit for the years of work people have already put into things, so I have been trying to talk to the people who have been doing the organizing for years and ways in which I can support that work they’ve been doing and if I can plug myself into the work any other way besides just support.
I’ve been [working on] this school [project] and talking to the students of color about the importance of green spaces. Even though I feel like some people will read me as queer right off the bat, there are definitely some queer brown kids there that have cozied up to me that I’m really stoked about. I’m like yeah you can be you and I want you to be you and totally comfortable being you and see me and I’m in this movement and I’m an extension of you and that even though I still feel I can’t bring all of myself, I want these kids who are interested in this to see that people like them are a part of this. I feel like in seeing people doing the work and being in leadership, for a lot of people with marginalized identities, lets them know it’s okay to be who they are. At least for me, that’s how it functions.