By Danielle St. Pierre, Massachusetts State Director
Content Warning: Sexual assault
We all live in a world where we never want to feel alone, and as a survivor of sexual assault; in my darkest moments I felt alone. It was that exact feeling that drives the work I do with survivors everyday, I never want anyone to feel the way I did. When I was assaulted, I felt broken. I was mad at the systems that failed me. I became angry, and that lit a fire inside of me that I could not put out. If the system failed me, how many others had it failed? Hundreds? Thousands? This had to change. Anger and determination to change the system led to my first phone call with The Every Voice Coalition. After that phone call, I knew that we would change the system and help take steps to fix what was broken, not only with rape culture on college campuses, but what felt broken within myself.
It was when I first started sharing my story publicly that I felt like I had survived. I made it to the point where I could talk about it, and call myself a survivor. I was attending legislative meetings, sharing what it was like to be a survivor fighting within this space, and sharing part of myself with everyone I met. It was nerve wracking and yet so freeing at the same time. I met survivors from all across Massachusetts, creating a support system for us to share parts of ourselves, our stories, our pain, and our journeys. We knew that no matter what we had to face within this work, we weren’t doing it alone, and that felt empowering.
Being a survivor in this space, we had to set boundaries for ourselves, because not everyone was or is trauma informed. Not everyone was okay with us sharing our truths, but we had to find a balance between being completely honest with how we felt and knowing when to hold back. We expose ourselves when sharing our stories -- we relive the moments that changed our world forever. We are told that to make people listen, we need to talk about it, to let people know exactly how we felt. How can someone understand if you aren’t willing to talk about it?
There isn’t a guidebook on how to navigate working within this space when you have been impacted firsthand. Countless hours have been spent worrying -- wondering if sharing my story is worth it. Worrying about how we are going to feel afterwards and wondering exactly how someone else is going to react to it. I dreaded wondering if the response was going to silence me or make me want to fight back tenfold. I wondered if it was ever going to make a difference. Being part of this movement is not easy. There have been nights of crying, stressful drives home from meetings, and long conversations about why we have to keep teaching people how to be trauma-informed when it feels like common sense to us. Isn’t it inherently obvious? No one should have to go through what I did. Common sense.
In sharing my story, fighting back, and finding my voice, I gained the confidence to let others know that those who have experienced something like I had, belonged in that space. Our voices should be uplifted, heard, and listened to. Knowing we weren’t alone inspired us to continue, no matter how many roadblocks we came across. I felt like every time I shared my story, I got a piece of myself back that I lost those FOUR times I was assaulted. It was then, I knew I was healing.
My healing journey has been a rollercoaster, but with the support of the community that this coalition created, I am able to be where I am today. Not only does this coalition fight for change, but ensures that all of us feel supported, heard, and continue to advocate for survivors. I have learned such valuable knowledge over the years. I have learned that we are not fighting for survivors if we are not including them in these conversations. Not everyone identifies with the term survivor and healing is not linear, but together we can create change. OUR VOICES WILL ALWAYS HAVE POWER, and YOU WILL NEVER EVER BE ALONE. Our experiences do not have to DEFINE US but DRIVE US.
I went from feeling broken, to surviving, to healing, to being a fierce champion in this space.
By Andrew Echols, New Mexico State Director
My name is Andrew, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I am very, very queer. I identify as transmasculine and pansexual, meaning that the gender I was assigned at birth is not an accurate description of my gender identity as a man, and gender identity is not something I see when I am attracted to somebody. I am currently a student at New Mexico State University studying elementary education. I’m also co-state director of Every Voice New Mexico, and an organizer for Equality New Mexico, an LGBTQ civil rights organization. Outside of organizing, I enjoy writing music, camping, painting, taking my cat on adventures, and watching bad reality TV with my friends!
The process of centering LGBTQ voices in advocacy is very close to my heart, and this is something that ALL of us can work on as our movement grows. I would like to acknowledge that I am only speaking on my own experience, not on behalf of a diverse community. This is not intended to be a “handbook” by any means; just a collection of my own observations, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
With that being said, let’s jump right in -- how are LGBTQ folks affected by sexual violence?
We know that people with marginalized identities experience sexual violence at higher rates than those without. Here are some statistics from the Human Rights Campaign:
• The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.
• 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of straight women.
• 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29 percent of straight men.
What does it mean to be a young queer and trans person in this work
Having queer identities is a blessing. There are so many strong advocates that understand my experience and will always come running to help, without a doubt. The support I have received from the elders in my community has been unbelievably amazing.
The catch? Most of the queer advocates in my community are old enough to be my parents and grandparents. Don’t get me wrong, I am very lucky to have older queer and trans folks in my life, considering we lost an entire generation to HIV--there are just not enough young people leading the fight. This could be for a myriad of reasons: inability to travel, scheduling conflicts between work and school, lack of knowledge, the list goes on. With that being said, it can be hard to feel heard. Sometimes, my ideas and opinions can be dismissed as naive or uninformed, simply because of my age. I have to yell really loud to be heard in spaces with adults 20 years my senior.
The beauty of the Every Voice Coalition is that ageism has never been an issue. In a movement led by student survivors, there is no possibility that I will be dismissed for being the youngest person in the room. I have stepped into my power here, and I am eager to share the atmosphere we have created with organizations led by older adults.
Centering LGBTQ voices in Advocacy: Do’s and Don’ts
As a reminder, I speak only from my own experience, not on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
DO Take Space, Make Space: Make space for those who are most impacted by policy, particularly in leadership roles, and center their voices throughout the process. Take space to bloom, grow, and know that this space belongs to you.
DON’T Invalidate: Often, young trans and queer advocates hear comments like, ”Well sure, queer and trans students experience sexual violence at higher rates, but this is an issue that affects ALL of us.” Statements like this aren’t necessarily incorrect, but it erases the violence the LGBTQ community has historically faced at disproportionate rates. Prioritize impact over intent.
DO Create a Safe Environment: Creating space for people to be unapologetically queer is absolutely foundational. Our identities need to be uplifted and celebrated!
DON’T Tokenize: Inviting queer and trans team members to participate in an action for the simple purpose of meeting a diversity standard is textbook tokenization. Invite your peers to participate in order to elevate their experience--not to meet a quota.
What does this have to do with me, a straight, cisgender person?
The number one thing that I wish I could share with every queer ally is to take a step back and listen. We are not a monolith. Therefore, do not cross-compare experiences of violence that individuals in the LGBTQ community experience. My experience as a white, trans masculine, bisexual, college student is incredibly different from any other’s experience(s), and my story is by far not the only one. Older, trans feminine people of color will disproportionately experience violence and its aftermath. Sure, our experiences can and will have similarities as we are survivors of violence; but we are not ONLY that. We deserve to be valued for our individuality, and WE need to be the ones telling our stories.
Dear queer and trans youth: you are loved, you are enough, and you belong in this world.
My Experiences with Every Voice through the Looking Glass
About the authors
This blog is home to pieces written by Every Voice survivors, students, and alums, sharing their stories and experiences through organizing, advocating, and surviving.