Southerners on New Ground aims to improve life for LGBTQs and people of color by educating those who oppress
With the climate of our country swaying back and fourth on social progress, many people are looking for ways to support those who need it most. While this 2016 presidential election motivated many, organizations such as Southerners On New Ground, or SONG, have been fighting for quite some time and hope to offer a an outlet for those who want to help.
SONG is a regional organization established in Durham, NC, in 1993 by three white women and three black women all a part of the LGBTQ community. SONG was primarily founded on the intersections of the LGBTQ community and people of color.
“We’re a liberation organization that focuses primarily on racial and economic justice for any and all people that live in those intersections and deal with it on a day to day” said Ayanna Ogaldez, a member leader at SONG’s chapter here in RVA.
SONG is currently housed in Atlanta Georgia but has organizations focused in many southern cities, including here in RVA. They have had major accomplishments in the south over the years including crafting the first-ever Southern, LGBTQ-led, traveling Organizing School for small towns and rural places all over the South, training over 100 Southern and national racial and economic justice organizations to integrate work around homophobia and transphobia into their work and holding over 50 Southern sub-regional retreats for Southern Queer People of Color.
More locally in our home city, SONG has been working on a campaign called Free from Fear which focuses on trying to get a community review boards put in place so an independent body can address issues related to police activity.
“There is a board for that, but it is made up of half police and half attorneys so it’s not something you’d want to go complain to about the police. So it would be nice to have something separate,” said Micky Jordan, a SONG member leader and fellow. “We’re working on changing police policies to be more LGBT-inclusive and helpful for people of color and working class people. Working on stopping profiling and harassment that could happen to trans people is really great.”
For the past year, SONG has been working on a series of transgender pacific police training that has been given to VCU police They hope to reach other area departments as well in the future.
“With the campaigns, we’ve noticed that there is definitely a need for cultural competency and accountability in terms of racism and anti-racism within the police force,” said Ogaldez. “We have been doing a lot of research on just what community review boards are and what they’ve looked like in other places and try to use that to influence what we want ours to look like. And also just collecting stories that people have had with police and trying to be as inclusive as possible to all those experiences.”
Campaign work is a very recent thing of SONG. In the past they held political education events for different organizations to try and make sure people who are coming to their meetings and their events understand the historical context on what’s going on right now. Whether it’s the most recent election or the history of LGBTQ community.
With the looming threat of a Trump’s America, organizations such as SONG are ever growing. And with more people aware of the struggles face by minority groups, SONG continue it’s work as there is always more done.
“While the racism is more blatant now, it has always existed,” said Ogaldez. “I feel like our organizing is going to be more focused on pulling resources and figuring out how best to move forward. Personally, I’ve been wanting to hammer down solidarity and what that could look like in this “new” climate, and just to make sure we’re continuing to amplify the voices of those most marginalized.”
As President Elect Trump appoints cabinet members with a history of flaunting civil rights issues, the accomplishments that the LGBTQ community have made over recent years offers hope for what could be a difficult few years.
“There are more people who have been politically activated,” Jordan said. “I think knowing that is pulling people into organizations who have already been doing work in the city.”
With an LGBTQ organization that is primarily focused in the South, SONG is able to speak to a group that may not have a community of like-minded people around them. SONG members often encounter the stereotype of conservative Southerners but they hope, with their work, and by tailoring their message to that audience, they can change that.
“There’s a lot of infrastructure around organizing in the South that looks different from the North or West Coast regions,” said Jordan. “There’s definitely this deep history, but not everyone feels very connected to it. So I think having organizations that are specifically focused on the south can build this type of connection to the very broad history of organizing that has existed through racial justice or even LGBT organizing and making sure people are aware of that.”
Just recently here in RVA, SONG held an event called Trans Listening that allowed a panel of Trans people to talk about the negative experiences they’ve had with law enforcement to an audience of officers from all over the city and counties.
“They couldn’t respond to anything, they just had to listen. Because a lot of officer become defensive and these people are telling them what they have experienced so you can’t say it doesn’t exist,” said Jordan. “Amplifying those kinds of stories are amazing. The fact that they can’t let the thought of these things not happening in Richmond just sit and exist.”
“I knew that I wasn’t the only one experiencing isolation within my creative journey as a queer person of color.”October 21, 2016
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