Why did you first decide to work with GetEQUAL?
HC: Six and a half years ago, I was deeply inspired by the four undocumented young people (Felipe, Isabel, Gaby, and Carlos) who were walking from Miami to DC on the Trail of Dreams. They were walking to confront Congress with its inaction on the DREAM Act -- but they were also walking to confront the immigrant rights movement with its inability to bust through political hand-wringing to get immigration reform done. In that moment, I was confronted by a similar reality within the LGBTQ movement -- despite millions of dollars and deep political relationships, our largest LGBTQ organizations had gotten little to nothing done in the first year of President Obama’s first term...and it didn’t seem like that was going to change any time soon. GetEQUAL was getting started at that same time, and I wanted to be part of the effort to inject some much-needed urgency back into the LGBTQ movement.
AP: Before I joined GetEQUAL two years ago, I was working at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, fighting to stop for-profit colleges from scamming everybody. I had been working to make college more accessible and affordable for over six years and was committed to that work. But the summer of 2014 was pulling me into the streets. 2014 was a year when it felt like my community -- all of my communities -- were on fire. Undocumented immigrants were fighting for dignity through deferred action. State violence against trans people, especially trans youth, seemed to be on the rise. The bold declaration that #BlackLivesMatter was just beginning to politicize and agitate the entire country. I felt inspired by the courageous LGBTQ people who were resisting in lots of different ways and I knew that the barriers to life and liberty for myself and the people I love required much more than legislative or regulatory changes. I knew it was time to flip some tables -- and my six-year “movement crush” on GetEQUAL told me that this was the best place for me to support and grow that unapologetic, table-flipping movement.
What have you learned from working with one another?
HC: So much! Angela is so different than me -- she really thrives when she’s leading authentically in a public way. I’m much more comfortable working behind the scenes. The thing that I’ve learned from that, though, is to challenge myself to avoid “hiding” behind her. A similar dynamic was at play with Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, my fellow co-director before Angela, and also with GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee -- I tend to be drawn to working relationships in which someone else feels fulfilled while leading publicly so that I can lead behind the scenes. Felipe and Angela taught me how to ensure that I’m doing that in a way that doesn’t add stress or work but, rather/hopefully, helps to provide support and encouragement.
AP: I’ve really learned a lot about the power and necessity of leaning into your leadership strengths and challenges. Heather’s right, we are very different but we also both struggle with trusting our own leadership. Heather really supported me by giving me space to dream big and trust the vision that was unfolding.
What do you think has made your working relationship work?
HC: A willingness to be fully honest. A co-directorship doesn’t work if one person doesn’t feel that they can be critical or raise questions or speak doubts -- the relationship has to be completely honest while also being immensely gentle. Many folks mistake gentleness for passiveness -- I don’t believe they’re the same thing. I believe that gentleness requires great strength -- and I think our working relationship has worked because, among other things, we were both willing to be fully honest while also being clear that our relationship outweighed our desire to be right or to win an argument at any given point.
AP: A deep mutual respect and trust. I feel truly honored to have worked so closely with Heather for these two years. I respect her work ethic, her dedication, her commitment to GetEQUAL’s values, and her willingness to be convinced she’s wrong. My respect for her and the contributions she’s made to this movement made it easy for me to trust her. When we disagreed or struggled to come to a solution, coming back to a place of trust and respect was incredibly grounding and allowed us to move forward -- and often take necessary risk.
GetEQUAL’s core left flank, urgent, unapologetic DNA has remained the same over the past 6 years, but in recent years the organization has more intentionally moved toward growing, amplifying, and supporting the leadership of queer and trans people of color. What do you think GetEQUAL’s work needs to look like in the next year?
AP: We need to double down on what it means to be a space in which LGBTQ people who are organizing in communities that have been left out or ignored can come to for support, training, and community. There's a vibrant movement for life beyond equality, toward liberation, and it's being led by awe-inspiring LGBTQ people of color. We need to use our resources, access to power, skills, and experience in service to that work and those leaders. Like the movement, the makeup and structure of our network has changed immensely in the last several years. We must focus on building capacity for this work in places where it's still scarce, like rural areas and in the U.S. South. We must come together as a community of organizers who believe in more than equality to flex our power toward the change our communities can no longer wait for.
HC: I think that evolution is exactly what the movement needs more of right now. As I transition out of GetEQUAL’s day-to-day work as co-director, I’d strongly encourage the team to continue along that trajectory. The movement is in an interesting place right now because there is very little vision being articulated from the grasstops -- after marriage equality became the law of the land, the urgency for change from those in organizational and philanthropic leadership has quieted. But the reality is that the “win” around marriage equality has resulted in deep backlash -- it’s what is fueling Donald Trump’s rise and what’s emboldening the racist, xenophobic, transphobic religious right. The only solution to that backlash is for queer and trans folks of color to consolidate strategy and to build power together in order to create a different center of gravity within the movement -- and I think GetEQUAL is well-positioned to help make that shift happen.
As co-directors of an organization that is often criticized by moderate and conservative LGBTQ people and organizations, what got you both through?
HC: Knowing I had a partner in the work. I can’t imagine being in a leadership position in any part of the progressive movement without a co-director structure. Having a partner in the work who has the same organizational power and also the same organizational accountability has been the only way that I’ve been able to make it through -- especially when criticism comes in hard. When I first came on board at GetEQUAL in 2010, I remember lamenting to a friend about all the criticism that was coming in from all sides -- that it felt overwhelming, suffocating even. He asked which groups were leading that effort -- which groups on the right were issuing the most piercing blows. I laughed and said, “Oh, you thought I was talking about the right....I was talking about folks inside the LGBTQ movement!” I don’t think folks always understand how much emotional and spiritual stress movement work puts on folks -- but having a partner in that work has been absolutely crucial to my ability to make my way through.
AP: Honestly, the criticism gave me a lot of clarity around just how necessary a grassroots movement for LGBTQ liberation is in this moment. When you pose a question like, “Why are corporations that profit from high rates of LGBTQ people of color being hemmed up by the carceral system also funding our Pride celebrations?” the response can only be something that makes more clear the need to end such a practice. Having a partner that wasn't afraid to ask the hard questions of movement leaders -- even when it meant having to answer those questions internally -- made me more confident and brave, and I know all of our movement organizations are better for it.
What are you most proud of in your work with GetEQUAL so far?
AP: Some of my proudest and most impactful moments with GetEQUAL have been when we are able to show up for and build with queer and trans activists kicking ass across movements. The very obvious truth (to anyone that's paying attention) is that LGBTQ people are at the forefront of the movement for black lives, the fight for dignity and justice for immigrants, climate justice, the fight for $15, and reproductive justice. I'm so proud of how we have been able to share our tradition of unapologetic demands, direct action, and intersectional analysis with groups on the local, state and national level. Being able to share space, strategy, wins, and setbacks with people organizing from multiple identities requires deep, authentic relationships -- the kind of relationships that can and will transform how we build movements, fight for change, and ensure that we all Get Free!
HC: That's tough. I’m the first to criticize our work and to deny credit in favor of telling a more accurate and more inclusive story about how things get/got done. But one thing that I’m absolutely confident in is GetEQUAL’s role in “moving the movement.” While we were certainly not the first organization to critique the symbiotic relationship between LGBTQ grasstops leaders/donors and the Democratic establishment, I think our willingness to do so very publicly and in front of the mainstream media moved the needle on the way that the movement is perceived by political leaders. One clear example is around the push for passage of the Equality Act. Six years ago, *no one* at mainstream LGBTQ organizations or on the Hill would entertain the idea of a “full equality” bill -- but that exact bill has now been introduced in the U.S. Congress. Furthermore, over the past six years my/our analysis has evolved -- and we know that “legal equality” is not enough so long as the law treats people of color, trans folks, immigrants, dis/abled people, women, incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated people, and poor people differently than white, cisgender, middle-class citizens -- even white, cisgender, middle-class citizens who are gay. So we are now pushing for a “liberation” agenda, rather than an “equality” agenda in order to ensure that we’re fighting for all of us and not just some of us. While there’s still *so* much work to do in order to truly build the left-flank political power that we actually need in order to get to the point of LGBTQ liberation, I am proud that GetEQUAL has played a role in moving the needle in real and substantial ways.
Rather than hiring a new co-director immediately, GetEQUAL’s staff and board will be spending the next few months thinking and strategizing deeply around how we can be of the best and deepest service to the LGBTQ liberation movement. With so much changing within the LGBTQ movement and with so many new needs arising each day, our board has made the decision to take the time to ensure that we get this right.