The Economic Justice Day of Action is an initiative of the Welfare Warriors, a project of Queers for Economic Justice. We are a group of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Gender Non-conforming (LGBTGNC) people with experience of poverty, who organize to make the welfare system accountable to low-income LGBTGNC people, and to improve the benefits available for all low-income people. Through direct action, community education, and coalition-building with other progressive organizations we seek to empower our communities, and to connect our struggle for welfare rights to larger struggles for social justice.
On April 17th, 2008 LGBTGNC people facing issues of poverty will have the opportunity to give voice to our struggles in a rally, march and community event. Despite the dominant media images of gay, white, affluent men, innumerable queer, trans and gender nonconforming people of color and white people survive high levels of poverty and economic based violence on a daily basis.
Classism and the Mainstream LGBT Movement
For too long our voices have been stifled by a homophobic/transphobic society. Moreover, because of racism and classism, our issues are overlooked and thereby not part of the mainstream LGBT-rights agenda.
Prior to the gay marriage movement, numerous LGBT organizations were busy fighting hate crimes by using conservative, tough-on-crime tactics of increased jail time, instead of progressive alternatives.
Today the fight for state-sanctioned marriage has completely eclipsed other attempts to address more pressing issues faced by poor LGBTGNC people such as, homelessness, unemployment, inadequate healthcare, immigrant-rights, police brutality, etc.
Poor LGBTGNC people are frequently profiled and pushed out of LGBT spaces that should be open us. All too often our behaviors are policed and we are labeled as being too poor, uneducated/unqualified, “acting ghetto”, too ethnic, or simply not exhibiting characteristics stereotypically linked to a white, middle-class upbringing.
We urge economically privileged Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people to challenge this policing against our community and work hard to ensure that it is not reproduced within spaces they control.
Since the 1996 welfare reform act we have seen the steady erosion of welfare rights and benefits, which has led to increased homelessness and hunger in NY. We fight for the guarantee of economic security both because it is fundamental to our personal well-being, as well as critical for our ability to collectively organize in our communities, instead of just surviving.
We demand that the Human Resources Administration (HRA) comply with NYC Human Rights Law, which protects trans and gender non-conforming people from discrimination.
We condemn current welfare policies that:
- increase proof of citizenship requirements for Medicaid applicants and denial of health coverage to non-citizens or people who can not prove citizenship.
- relegate poor people to low-skilled jobs, through welfare programs like the Work Experience Program, where we are not offered living wages, benefits and/or opportunities to learn new skills.
- cut States’ welfare funding if they fail to plug enough poor people into low-paying, dead-end jobs.
- do not recognize non-biological lesbian mothers as family
- force LGBTGNC substance users, who are addicted and seek public assistance, into homophobic/transphobic treatment programs, where they sometimes drop out and are denied benefit
- enable discrimination and harassment of LGBTGNC people at welfare centers and/or workfare sites, which eventually compels us drop out and earn a living in ways that are criminalized by the State.
- enforce heterosexual marriage by allocating $100 million for marriage promotion and $50 million for “responsible fatherhood” programs.
- deny homeless LGBTGNC youth, who have been thrown out of their homes by homophobic/transphobic guardians, access to benefits because they can not provide letters from parents attesting to their independence
Housing/ Homeless Crisis in NYC
We are witnessing the crystallization of a comprehensive strategy to displace low-income people from New York. Corrupt and undemocratic political structures, such as the Rent Guidelines Board, erode affordable housing and fail to hold irresponsible landlords accountable for code violations and illegal evictions. At the same time the homeless population is increasingly criminalized through selective law enforcement that protects the “quality of life” of economically privileged New Yorkers. We oppose the concerted effort to gentrify and privatize public spaces homeless people call home, which typically leads to intensified targeting of poor and homeless people by the NYPD. The struggle, led by poor queer youth, to maintain public access to and use of the piers in the West Village, perfectly illustrates what happens when a previously public park with long LGBTGNC history is privatized. We commend the efforts of FIERCE! for fighting to maintain public access to public land and support the efforts of Harlem Tenants Council, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities & Movimiento en el Barrio in resisting gentrification in communities of color.
We applaud the Gender Identity Project, Sylvia Riviera Law Project, and other organizations that worked along side Queers for Economic Justice in successfully lobbying the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to recognize gender self-determination in the New York City shelter system. We eagerly anticipate the full implementation of trans-sensitive policies, which would hopefully include comprehensive sensitivity trainings for staff at intake/assessment shelters.
We demand that:
- NYC develops truly affordable housing and, in particular, develops housing for people living with AIDS and other special needs.
- DHS acknowledge the violence LGBTGNC shelter residents face and make tangible steps to ending it/control of housing policy is returned to NYC through the repeal of the Urstadt Law, which took away home rule and brought rent-regulated housing under the control of an unaccountable state legislature.
- the city enforces its own maintenance codes which protect the well-being of tenants, instead of targeting the most vulnerable New Yorkers by enforcing classist “quality of life” initiatives.
As Immigrants we are forced to leave our homes because of U.S. imperialist policies that strip us of our rights, ravage our land, pollute our air and waters, and corrupt our governments. Undocumented residents of the U.S. must survive the violence of poverty without access to welfare, or obtain jobs that pay below minimum wage and work under deplorable conditions. And even though all immigrants pay taxes either through paid work, sales tax, and other taxes, we are categorically denied access to many tax funded services. We condemn the racist and xenophobic “immigration debates” currently occurring in congress, and oppose indefinite and mandatory detention of non-citizens, as well as the mass incarceration of people of color and low-income communities in the U.S. more broadly.
As documented or undocumented residents in the US we:
- demand full access to ALL public benefits, genuine legalization and opportunities to adjust status for all undocumented immigrants, and the repeal of the HIV ban.
- oppose heightened policing and criminalization of immigrant communities, including the increased militarization of the border and the use of city and state agencies to enforce federal immigration law.
Police and State Violence
Poor and working class LGBTGNC people are constantly targeted by the NYPD and other law enforcement officials. We demand an end to the classist, racist, transphobic, and homophobic attacks by the NYPD and oppose any attacks that further funnel our community into the Prison Industrial Complex, which does not provide real safety for our communities. We applaud the Safe Outside the System Collective & Critical Resistance for the work they do to provide real accountability that does not rely on prisons, police or jails.
We call on all poor and working class people, as well as anti-poverty allies in NYC to endorse this call to action, build contingents to march together in solidarity on April 17th, 2008 & demand economic justice for our communities!