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.
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.