Connecticut Voice

Your LGBTQ+ Voice

This Pride, Claude Louis brings Direct Action to the Celebration

It goes without saying, Pride Season has gone a little differently this year than it has in previous years. The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent demonstrations against police brutality have put a stop to the typical festivals and celebrations. Sure, maybe you’re caught off guard and feel under-informed on what’s happening at the moment–but no matter the year, the LGBTQ community always has opportunities to get educated and join the action.

The Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport is hosting a two-part webinar in recognition LGBTQ Pride Month, and its second installment is on Tuesday, June 23rd. Hosted by local Connecticut organizers Katelyn Owens and Claude Louis, the webinar is a deep dive into the more socially charged issues that we’re facing, particularly racism, housing discrimination, and transphobic violence. The webinar is welcome to anyone who wants to learn more about the LGBT community, and learn more about themselves and how they can contribute to direct action efforts.

We spoke with Louis about queer liberation, statewide trans issues, and youth activism. Sign up for the second installment of the webinar here–everyone is welcome!

CT VOICE: The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent protests have put a halt to the typical Pride celebrations. But in lieu of festivals and gatherings, we have opportunities to reflect on and inquire into what Pride really means. This year, what does Pride mean to you? What issues and revelations have been especially important to you this summer?

CLAUDE LOUIS: Pride is usually hard for me every year. It’s supposed to be a celebration—we’re queer, we’re able to live openly, we celebrate our culture and liberation. But not everyone is liberated. So, at times I’ve felt that Pride overshadows conversations about what it means to be queer and truly free and equal in America. Yes, we have marriage equality, and in some places we can hold hands express same-sex love openly, but for most of the country, queer people are still afraid.

In the midst of every Pride season, I remind myself that Pride started as a riot. We demanded equal rights, an end to violent persecution of queer people, the freedom to be ourselves. It’s great that we’re dancing and celebrating, but it’s always easy to forget that a lot of members of our community are still fighting for that freedom. And in light of recent killings of unarmed black men and women, and especially recent murders of trans women of color, the protests all around the world have been thrilling to me. I’m glad that this year Pride is a little less celebratory, and a little more call-to-action. It’s unfortunate that we’ve been brought to action by COVID-19 and police brutality, I wish it could be more organic and gradual, but I’m just happy to see people linking arms and joining in solidarity.

CT VOICE: Tuesday’s webinar covers pressing issues in the LGBT community such as racism, homelessness, and transphobic violence. What matters are especially relevant and specific to Connecticut’s LGBT community? In facing these issues, what kind of initiative would you like to see from the more privileged members of our community?

CLAUDE LOUIS: Connecticut has a huge issue with LGBT homelessness, especially transgender homelessness. Nationwide, LGBT people are overrepresented in our homeless populations. The Trump administration’s recent attacks on LGBT healthcare protections, too, make me think of the struggles I’ve witnessed working with these populations in shelters. It was always a struggle to get homeless trans individuals to their shelters and watch them get placed in environments that don’t match their gender identity. For instance, a trans woman in the process of hormone therapy might get placed in a male shelter, and that’s not safe for her—it heightens her risk for violence, for sexual assault, and the misgendering also retraumatizes her.

In recent years, most of the shelters in Connecticut have done a great job at learning about cultural competency with trans populations. Trump’s rollback erases that work though—it’s no longer required, and it makes it easier to ignore the threats trans people are facing. On top of that, Connecticut also got some attention for the recent lawsuit against transgender high school athletes in Glastonbury. It might not seem related to Trump’s rollback at first, but the precedent it sets is extremely dangerous for trans people in our state, and the lawsuit is an example for this.

I believe Connecticut has a long way to go in accepting and understanding our trans residents—the LGBT community has a responsibility to educate our public, give platforms for transgender people to speak about their issues and needs, increase the resources for trans individuals, especially among homeless populations. Most of all, we need to make it clear that transphobia just isn’t right.

CT VOICE: Sometimes it can be easier for the LGBT community to focus on issues like HIV activism and small business ownership, which are certainly important and pressing. But sometimes we forget that race and gender are still at play in the more prominent discussions. How would you like to see the community reshape our framework?

CLAUDE LOUIS: There’s so much that providers and institutions can do to offer greater resources, but we have to start with education and cultural competency. You could put a “safe space” sticker on any building, but the space might not be safe—lots of providers claim to be culturally competent, but they frequently fall short. They don’t want to risk the discomfort and difficulties that come with learning, because they worry about coming across as uneducated or tone-deaf. But if you don’t put yourself out there and make yourself uncomfortable, you’ll never learn. The “safe space” sticker shouldn’t just be given out, it should be earned.

I want our community to devote itself to being anti-racist. For white allies, becoming anti-racist is really hard work—it’s uncomfortable to sit with these feelings. People aren’t born bigoted, but they’re socialized in a bigoted environment and given subconscious biases. It’s extremely difficult to unpack the ignorant things you’ve been taught and analyze your awareness of it all. But the LGBT community needs to unpack its biases, and really, we need to stand up for one another. If one of us isn’t free, then none of us are free. Trans people are still subject to violence, queer black people still face a great deal of racism. We’ve been avoiding these realities for a while, but now is the time to unpack them and to truly support each other.

CT VOICE: Your work in Connecticut’s LGBT community is focused primarily on youth issues and youth programming. How do you feel young queer and trans teens are responding to our frenzied, uncertain time?

CLAUDE LOUIS: Our youth are really the leaders. All around the world, on social media, they’re the ones saying, Enough is enough. They’re bringing attention to these issues, and their voices are reaching people and changing opinion. A recent Black Lives Matter march in New Haven drew thousands of demonstrators, and it was organized by a teenager! That’s amazing to me.

Among the LGBT youth in Connecticut, we still have an apprehension towards the system. But in lieu of systems, queer and trans youth are forming bonds and developing mutual aid independent of the system—something I refer to as the “queer survival network.” It shows that young people can survive without the help of adults, and it also shows that young people believe that being true to their identity is a central urgent issue. In the face of violence and discrimination, they want to be themselves—as a gay man, it makes me extremely proud.

CT VOICE: There is a lot of work to be done in tackling the inequality, racism and transphobia in Connecticut’s LGBT community. Nonetheless, we still have a great deal of progress and diversity to celebrate this Pride Season. What do you love most about Connecticut’s LGBT community?

CLAUDE LOUIS: As a Connecticut native, it brings me joy to watch children come out of the closet at younger ages than I ever did. This summer in particular, I’ve also been grateful to hear no complaints about the cancellation of our regular Pride. So many of our LGBT figures and organizations have been using their platforms to draw attention to Black Lives Matter, and they did it without being asked. There’s still a lot of fight in the LGBT community, and I love seeing that. It’s something to celebrate.