NAME: Braeden Hall
ORGANIZATION: Just Communities of Arkansas (part of the National Federation for Justice and Community [NFJC])
ABOUT BRAEDEN: I was born in Germany to a single mother of four, but moved to the USA as soon as I was legally allowed to fly. Thereafter, my mother and her four children including myself spent many years in chronic poverty, constantly moving from place to place so my mother could find work. There were many times where we did not have a place to live. After having moved almost every year of my life, I ended up in Heber Springs, AR where I graduated high school. After high school, I went to Hendrix College to double major in Psychology and in Philosophy and Religious Studies. My passion is deeply rooted in the intersections of social justice and Psychology – as I am applying now to get my Ph.D. in Cultural or Social Psychology. I have now moved 31 times in my life, and I don’t see myself stopping. I hope to one day teach and perform research on how our personal identities form and maintain our perception of others, how systems of oppression are maintained psychologically and culturally, and most importantly discovering interventions to those psychological phenomena to make our societies a better place for all of us.
Why is LGBT activism still so important?
LGBT activism is still important today because our nation is still overwhelmingly fraught with and consumed by heteronormativity/cisnormativity, the lack of understanding about what those words even mean, and considerable violence and injustice facing many in the LGBTQ+ community. We still live in a society where people are deeply confused about the differences between gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and biological sex. We still live in a society that has deep fear about those who do not prescribe to “traditional” views of gender and sexual orientation. LGBT people are murdered every day because of who they are. And, at the intersection of Race and Gender and Sexual Orientation, we have even deeper problems – as half of the LGBTQ+ people who were murdered last year were transgender women of color. According to the Anti-Violence Project, around half of the slayings this year appear to be hate-motivated violence. In the case of the transgender victims, many are initially misidentified and mis-gendered by both police and media reports. While we may have just won marriage equality, we still have so many hurdles to overcome. Throughout history, there have been few victories for social justice without a considerable push back from its opponents. In the case of the marriage equality act, we have seen a massive push for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation hitting floors of legislative bodies across the nation [Arkansas passed SB 202, and narrowly avoided HB 1228]. The fight for collective liberation is one that is never ending. Forgetting that would be a tragedy.
What’s an important issue facing the LGBT community that we aren’t addressing as well as we should?
Almost every issue facing LGBTQ+ people is not addressed as well as it should. Housing discrimination, employment discrimination, hate-crime protections, non-discrimination ordinances, and more. One of the biggest problems faced by LGBTQ+ Youth is that they are often put out of their own homes with nowhere to go, and then even the shelters they find themselves at will either kick them out because they find out they are LGBTQ+ or they are harassed, hurt, or even killed by other members of the shelter. LGBTQ+ Youth, particularly Youth of Color, are one of the most vulnerable populations that is one of the most underserved. Arkansas, however, has an incredible homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ Youth that is one of the biggest of its kind. It’s called Lucie’s Place, and if you would like to support their hard work, go here to make a donation!
What inspires your activism?
Stories. Stories of triumph. Stories that make you go, yes, we can, and we will win. I am deeply motivated by the stories and strengths of individuals. In my work, it is part of my job to draw out personal stories from those I work with so that through those stories we can all better understand what it means to be human and what each of our identities do to make our experiences unique. Hearing personal stories from others can work to put a face to an issue, to make an issue something deeper than an article or buzzwords, but rather someone you know and care about sharing their struggle with you. These stories drive me. While many of these stories are fraught with injustice and tragedy, they are also often filled with triumph, strength, liberation, and determination. These stories show me how much strength we have, how much we can overcome, and how we can all work harder to do better.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give LGBT allies to be better and stronger allies?
Don’t be afraid of resistance. Don’t be afraid of losing friends, family, coworkers, etc. Instead, take that trepidation and use it as fuel to start that uncomfortable conversation at the dinner table, in the car, or in the classroom. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re supposed to say, or if you’re doing it right. Often times, we must fail miserably in order to succeed spectacularly. By trying, you will learn what to say, you will learn what works, and you will grow better at changing hearts and minds. My biggest piece of advice is this: meet people where they are at. If your uncle doesn’t know words like heteronormativity or heterosexism, think about starting at a different level. Ask them, how do you feel about this? Why do you feel that way? Remember, your goal is to not put people on the defensive, or even to necessarily move them right then and there. When people become defensive, it becomes almost impossible to move them. It is always more effective to meet them where they are at, and plant seeds in the cracks.
Also, as an ally, always temper your passion with education and patience. Listen to LGBTQ+ activists who have so much to say about these issues. Check out Black Girl Dangerous. Read up on Queer Theory. And remember, you always have more to understand.
What’s one simple action that readers could do today that would positively impact the LGBT community?
First of all, educate yourself more. Beyond that, you can start that hard conversation with a relative or friend. Make a commitment to yourself that you will never stand by idly as someone is put down or hurt because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or biological sex. Go and donate your money to local organizations that serve LGBTQ+ people in your area. Research old and/or emerging policies that effect the LGBTQ+ community, and call your representatives to let your voice be heard.
Biological evolution takes millennia to work out even the smallest of problems. Cultural evolution isn’t much different. In order for us to evolve beyond heterosexism and cissexism, we must raise the collective consciousness of our species one conversation at a time.
ABOUT JUST COMMUNTIES OF ARKANSAS:
Just Communities of Arkansas builds communities—through education, celebration and advocacy—where every person is valued, every voice is heard, and everyone has a chance to succeed.
We provide the groundwork for transformative shifts in thought; enhancing the work of government agencies, academia, media, businesses, community advocates, philanthropists, and congregations. We train youth and adults to include and understand one another in order to breed positive change on individual, societal, and ultimately systemic levels.
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