This past October, the San Francisco LGBT Center held its first annual LGBTQ Economic Justice Month, with the theme “Building Community Power.” According to the Center’s Associate Director of Economic Development, transgender advocate and actress Clair Farley, this marks the organization’s eighth celebration for LGBTQ economic justice.
In 2011, they expanded the initiative from a single day to a week, with forty scheduled events. Later, the events were spread out over an entire month to highlight the ongoing work done by the Center and their community partners.
LGBTQ Career Fair 2015 (Photo credit: The Center)
Some highlights include the first-ever “LGBTQ Tenant’s Rights Workshop” and “Making the LGBTQ Vote Count: A Community Ballot Forum.” The LGBTQ Career Fair was the largest event, with a turnout of about 50 Bay Area and national employers, including Apple and NASA; it attracted over 400 attendees. Employers at the event also recieved advance training on the best practices to use when working with LGBT employees.
Juliette-Marie Somerset (Photo credit: The Center)
Though San Francisco was rated as the gayest city in America by a recent Gallup poll, discrimination on top of steady increases in rent prevent many of its LGBT residents from securing jobs. One such story includes Juliette-Marie Somerset, a volunteer of the Center and a member of the Center’s Trans Employment Program (TEEI), who was honored at the community awards. Despite an extensive work history, including helping raise a million dollars for Obama’s reelection campaign, Somerset found that being a trans woman of color still meant she had extra difficulty finding work, even in the Bay Area.
Employer Diversity Panel 2015 (Photo credit: The Center)
She told dot429, “The importance of Economic Justice Month at the Center and the kickoff event, for me, can best be described as honoring and standing together as a community to ensure dignity and economic justice for marginalized members in the LGBTQ [community].”
To learn more, we sat down with Clair Farley, who gave us more insight on the Center’s inspiration, successes, and challenges in economic justice.
dot429: What are your personal connections to this kind of work?
Clair Farley: I’ve been with the Center for over eight years. To be able to see the programs grow and to be part of that development of so many up-and-coming community leaders is very personal. I feel like there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. Our theme this year [Building Community Power] is a great example of how much more we can do as a community when we work together.
dot429: How do you balance the celebrations and shortcomings of LGBTQ economic justice? Some people tend to dwell on one or the other.
CF: Part of the balance for me is two-fold: we’ve had so many recent victories. Marriage is amazing but there’s more than marriage. As advocates, we’re looking at more conditions to step up, specifically trans rights and rights for communities of color. There’s still no federal employment protections for LGBT folks.
Also, we’re dealing with some major issues that might be coming up in the next election around California: trying to require trans people to prove [which restroom they should use]based on their birth certificates. Equality opponents want to distract us with fear-mongering and misdirection regarding bathroom bills, when in reality we need to focus on the extreme poverty and marginalization impacting our communities.
We also need to celebrate each other and our community so that we have the resiliency to continue doing the work. A lot of us are working really hard and the elders that have been working for us need the rest of us to step up. We need allies to celebrate when we do make successes so we could have the energy to continue. Both are important.
dot429: For every person that is willing to accept support, surely there is another that will refuse it out of fear or pride, among other reasons. What kind of advice would you offer in such a case?
CF: 70-80% of folks that have accessed services at the Center haven’t accessed city services. The LGBT community is not used to asking for help. It’s hard to say “I don’t know how to do something or I need help.” People also assume that the resources aren’t out there, but as we continue to look at how the market is changing, especially in the workforce, we know that it’s about who you know. So, you actually have to ask for help.
Asking your network for help is so imperative because otherwise you’re fighting against hundreds of other applicants and they don’t even know your name. We need help from our allies but we also need to start showing up for other movements, immigrant rights and the violence against communities of color. It can only happen in allyship. It’s not just about us. It’s about collective work.
dot429: As Associate Director of Economic Development at the Center, you are well versed on LGBT inequalities. Is there anything new that you learned through your work in October?
CF: I’ve learned that part of asking community to show up for the events is that there also still has to be community left in San Francisco. We did a lot of work to advocate and get people engaged, but what I’m noticing is that the San Francisco landscape is continuing to change.
But because of the climate changing in San Francisco, we’re seeing more and more people getting pushed out of the city, and that’s a lot of us queer people and LGBT folks. So I am starting to see that impact on people participating and getting engaged in events happening in the city because so many of us are now in the East Bay or South Bay or out of the Bay Area altogether.
dot429: Anything else?
CF: I haven’t given up on San Francisco. We have to do more to keep San Francisco queer and the city that leaves no one behind!