At Erasure: The Otherization of Queerness, JusticeAid’s September 18th public forum in partnership with The Riverside Church of New York, speakers and panelists shared their voices and passion, their knowledge and experience, to raise awareness and educate us on the anti-LGBTQ culture and rhetoric that is permeating our country. Rev. Michael Livingston, senior minister at The Riverside Church, gave a stirring invocation.

“This afternoon is about us celebrating queer beauty. It’s about educating and uplifting. It’s about affirmation and advocacyabout nourishing and protecting beautiful young queer lives at risk in a toxic world of conformity, judgment, and erasure.”

The Resistance Revival Chorus, a collective of more than 60 womxn and non-binary protest singers, sang Deva Mahal’s gospel masterpiece, “Everybody Deserves to Be Free.”

I will stand for you
(Will) you stand for me
Everybody deserves to be free
(I would lend a) hand to you
Would you lend a hand to me
Everybody deserves to be free

After explaining the religious vision at the forefront of the anti-LGBTQ legislation, plus the gaps and failures, violence and otherization, that are creating such hardship for trans people, Imara Jones, journalist and creator of TransLash Media, urged each of us to act to protect Black trans people as a way of healing our entire society:

“Every Black trans woman I know wants to create a world that’s better for everybody—because we know that is the only way to create a world that’s better for us… If you are concerned about the least, and that person is lifted up and able to thrive and be whole, that means your entire society will be.”

Rev. Bertram Johnson moderated the panel. The first openly gay African American to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Johnson currently serves as Chaplain at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. A few excerpts from the panel follow.

Charles King, Founder and CEO, Housing Works

“Getting up in the morning and walking out the door is taking your life into your hands. We’ve made life so unbearable hard for [trans] people who are making such a tremendous effort to live their lives well.”

Ceyenne Doroshow, Founder and Executive Director, G.L.I.T.S.

“What does freedom look like in 2023? We need to organize and have a clear direction of what liberation looks like, and do it in the most peaceful way so that we can be heard and counted in society. Then we’ll be able to stand and say, ‘We’re free.’”

Adrian Mora, Film Student

“We need to focus on suicide prevention, housing, decriminalization of sex work, providing mental health services, and affirming queer youth…because every kid knows how hard it is to be queer in this world. But it’s also reminding them that it’s not just pain and suffering. Queerness is beautiful, powerful, and freeing. There’s always hope that you can live a beautiful, authentic queer life.”

Reggie Evans speaking on behalf of the Maranatha Ministry, reminded guests that the Riverside Church is not new to the fight for LGBTQ civil rights, and has been open and affirming for the last 45 years. Eva Cordero introduced the featured speaker, US Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY-15), the first openly gay Afro Latino elected to Congress, who delivered a motivating call to action in support of the LGBTQ community:

“We cannot take for granted the inevitability of progress. We cannot lower ourselves into a false sense of security. We have to keep fighting for equality as vigorously as we’ve ever fought before because the threats are real and those threats must be overcome—with activism on the streets and in the halls of Congress.”

Rev. Bruce Lamb, Minister of Faith Formation, delivered a blessing to the Forum guests and congregation:

“Blessed are your children who are all learning to name, describe, and know…
Blessed are those who have come out, who cannot, who are still finding their way…
Blessed are those who feel boxed in, who feel shackled by tradition, who are suffocated by the roars of expectation…
Blessed are those who have dared to dream and dared to demand justice.”

Jazz pianist and organist Matthew Whitaker closed the Forum with an uplifting rendition of “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.

JusticeAid leverages the community-building power of art and music to transform awareness into action in the fight against injustice. Each year we identify and raise funds for justice causes by hosting music, arts, and educational events. Since 2013 JusticeAid has granted more than 1.7 million dollars to nonprofits working to ensure access to justice for the disenfranchised and marginalized. Our grantee partners are fighting racist voter suppression and racist policing, working to end mass incarceration and inhumane immigration practices, ensuring access to legal services, and addressing the criminalization and hatred of others.

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Photography by Isabel Albee