Finding Inspiration By Working With Gen Z
On the latest episode of Solidarity Is This, guest host Anna Castro talks about youth organizing and working with Gen Z with Juniperangelica Gia Loving, Director of Gender Justice Leadership Programs at GSA Network.
LEARN MORE ABOUT GSA NETWORK
GSA Network is a next-generation LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains queer, trans and allied youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities.
The Gender Justice Leadership Program (GJLP) are youth-led programs for trans and gender- nonconforming young people to build public understanding, empathy, and a movement for liberation through storytelling and media organizing.
I would love for younger people to be raised and really believe that whatever they think is their potential is their potential. And for folks to have the resources to be able to chase those dreams, right? That looks like maybe getting good at school and folks are getting our schools to have what they need. But I do think that’s what’s keeping me going throughout this last few years, but also just my own life is this idea that my kid can really know a world that is peace.
Juniperangelica Gia Loving
Anna Castro: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the vibrant world of social change agents, their campaigns, and their stories known as Solidarity Is This. I’m Anna Castro, your guest host this month and Manager of Solidarity Is at the Building Movement Project.
For our January 2022 podcast, my guest was Juniperangelica Gia Loving, associate director of Gender Justice Leadership Programs at GSA Network. When I tell you that this podcast made my jaded pandemic weary heart grow three sizes, I am not exaggerating. If you enjoy it, please subscribe and share it with others.
Gia is a true visionary. Her work for gender justice incorporates her own experiences as a transgender non-binary Latina, as well as the stories of young trans and non-binary people across the world. She is also the proud mama of one of the coolest kids around, Tiger.
In our conversation, we focused on what it’s like to build accessible non-profit spaces for youth. We moved into what it’s like to grow up in nonprofit spaces, move into leadership and recognize that we are no longer the same organizers who stepped into this work. As an activist and as a parent, Gia shared some beautiful words on the importance of intergenerational movement, building, building the world our youth deserve to grow up in and the gift that keeps on giving, listening.
Now onto the podcast with Gia Loving.
Thank you so much for being here, Gia. It is so wonderful to see you and hear your voice again. It is always a pleasure to spend some time with you and I’ve admired all of your work from afar and then had the pleasure of working with you at Transgender Law Center and getting to connect with the youth organizing base that you have developed. You are an incredible presence in that space. And so I want to kick off this conversation with you by asking you what was your entry point into activist work? I know you’ve probably had to share that story a lot of time. So I’m also curious about how that story has changed as you have taken on all of these different leadership roles?
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: That follow up was a good one. I was like, “I’m ready to give you my spill.” And then you were like, “But then I want it relevant.” I work for GSA Network and the Transgender Law Center and I started with both of the organizations through the youth programming, on the other side, right, of this work. Receiving the support and the programming. When I was in high school, I think my sophomore year, it was when I was trying to start my GSA club, really just to get a space for people like me. I had no idea who I was, but I knew I wasn’t on the football team. So I knew that much. So in that effort to get a GSA club, my school pushed back a little bit. And I had really just Googled what should I do?
And that’s when GSA Network popped up. I called, I asked for the resources and then they invited me to… They were having an activist camp that summer and they had open spots. So they were like, “Hey, do you want to come to our activist camp?” And so for myself at the time I was… It was about the third or fourth year since my family had become homeless. We were experiencing housing insecurity. We were living in motels. So for me, I had called for help with starting a GSA club and then what I heard was an offer for a weekend of housing, a weekend of free food, a weekend of other queers. So I was like, hell yeah, sign me up. So then I went to activist camp that summer, and then I think I just stayed within the work. And then since then I’ve grown what I meant to be involved in youth organizing, but also in trans power building.
Anna Castro: On that note, I’d love to know, as you went from someone that was receiving this programming to someone that is creating a curriculum, building up that energy and building up that community, what are some changes that you made? What are some things that you doubled down on? As a leader, how have shifted these spaces to make them more accessible, more inclusive and more welcoming to trans and queer youth?
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: After I graduated high school and I had also transitioned out of GSA Networks youth programming, I had the opportunity to continue through… They’re building alumni program, but also at the same time was when we were creating or when TLC and GSA Network were partnering together to create the Truth Project. Right. Which was really just our initial response to supporting trans youth holistically, building out a program specifically for trans youth by trans youth to support folks in sharing their stories, but also be supported on all the other impacts. So I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be brought on to staff and help lead that. And that was… I think it first opportunity to really build out not only what the organizations thought we needed to respond to the moment in 20, I think 2015, but also it was an opportunity for me to take my expertise or whatever they saw on me and bring it into the programming.
Yeah. I think early in my organizing it, on the staff side, I really felt a pressure to create a replica of what I had seen around me. I had seen programming that worked for all the other younger, queer, white students. I felt a pressure to make something as polished and as nice and as palatable as what I was seeing, but I think what truth really stuck with me, not truth, the program, but truth within myself, what my truth really stuck with me was I never forgot how I got involved. I never forgot why I needed programming. And that always challenged me to really ask myself, would your younger self be able to be part of this right now. And if the answer is no, if she cannot commit to this, if she cannot get to wherever you’re hosting this thing.
If she cannot even find application because she didn’t have a computer. All those things I think have challenged me to make my whatever project I’m working on as accessible as possible and not just having that be a lofty goal, but really just a realized question of how do we make the black and brown queers that we want in our programming, be able to see the work, be able to join the work and also stay in the work.
I think a lot of the improvements I’ve been trying to community really cultivate and shape along with my co-conspirators is really not only how do we reach folks that the pandemic has opened the doors to in terms of technology and online access, but also how do we keep folks involved, right? How do we acknowledge that people need that immediate support? And then also how do we make it [inaudible 00:06:33] enough for them to stay involved, continue working on their leadership and grow in ways that they didn’t think was possible. Some of us are just looking for food and housing and then we end up having a whole career. And that I think is what I want for anyone who wants it.
Anna Castro: I really love that vision that is the understanding that you have to unlearn bits of white supremacist culture that are very pervasive in a nonprofit, progressive e-spaces. Oftentimes the things that we want to create that mirror our experiences, or at least take into account, our experiences don’t exist yet. And so when we’re trying to think through this is what success looks like for this, we’re talking about something that hasn’t yet happened. We’re thinking through what that success could look like. We may not know what it looks like, but we know what it feels like.
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: I was reading one of my journal, I was reading something that I had written a minute ago and I was appreciating the perspective that I had just because it had been something that was a few months ago or more. I actually, I think more than more like a few years ago, but it was talking about… When I was first getting into organizing, there was something that I was clinging onto, which is this idea of… My mom has always been very real with me, has always been very honest with me and has never really beat around the bush. So when I started to get into organizing it and started to learn all these really core, life changing, things about the world that I was like, “Oh my God, this is what’s happening?”
And I was also bringing that information home and trying to digest it with someone. And my mom was the closest one in the motel room that we lived in. So there are moments where she would just really flat outside like, “If you want me to be part of this conversation, you need to invite me in a way that brings me into it. Don’t talk down to me.” I feel like my mom really challenged me to not only bring home information that was relevant, right? And timely for the time we did have together, but also in a way that was… That’s everyone who I wanted in the conversation. And I think in the same way that my kid has challenged me to also know what I mean, because I would have to essentially translate it so he can comprehend it as an eight-year-old.
I think early on, I held onto that in my work and it’s transformed in different ways and it’s shown up in different ways over the years. But I think looking back, I’m still holding onto that. I’m still holding on the challenge around making sure that my work never leaves the people who it’s impacted. I think even as I worked toward my own sense of basic in security, this challenge remains how can my work still serve that younger sense of self who didn’t have access to resources who was lucky enough to find a network for that day’s needs.
Anna Castro: I love what you’re saying, because I feel like this is something that we can lose sight of. It’s the fact that the person that you were when you entered into doing movement work may not be that the person that you are currently in the sense of your circumstances may have changed. You may be experiencing more traditional stability. Like you’re talking about having income, a salary, sick days, insurance, all of these things, which… I also remember having that same feeling of I am making more money than either of my parents ever made in their lives. And that was when I first started working in nonprofits and I was what would be considered these days like a troubled nonprofit salary. That was still way more money than I had ever even thought of having. What has been your experience of advocating for this accessibility in these spaces? Right now in the world of youth organizing, what are some of the challenges that you still see out there in terms of creating spaces that are inclusive and accessible to all kinds of youth.
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: And that is a million dollar unfunded question. I think that back to the challenge that I’ve always had for myself around making sure that our work not only is reachable to the folks who we’re trying to serve, but also retainable. I think part of that has started to just answer the questions [inaudible 00:10:56] doesn’t exist, should already [inaudible 00:10:59] and we can make exist. Right. I think a little bit of what we talked about earlier around success looking like something that we don’t see right now, I have appreciated the support. And I think the trust of our organizations and trans youth leadership and saying this is what we need. And by this, we mean we need to pay folks for their time because even if we’re under 18, our time is still valuable, both in capitalism sense, but also just in our own sense, in our own everyday life.
We also need to make sure that folks are able to get to our programmings and not only get there, but also show up as the complete selves. That means that our space should be inviting on the identity level, but also they should be not hungry and they should also not be thinking about where they’re going to sleep that night. Right. So things like that and integrating those questions into how we serve our one on one youth leadership development programs, but also for our more general programming, also thinking about how we can create a virtual space that also answers all these questions that also validates people’s lived experiences, even if that might not be totally relevant to the topic, right. Even if we’re talking about trans power, all these other subtopics are still very timely and have been on people’s hearts, even if, maybe they’re not part of the quote unquote agenda.
Anna Castro: Gia, you bring up this really amazing body of work that is being developed around creating spaces that are welcoming, inclusive, like you said, allow someone to be their full selves in service of the work that they are doing. Seeing the benefit of ensuring that someone is able to bring in their experiences, being able to bring in their wisdom, their expertise to a space. And alongside that, I feel like that there’s actually this counter trope to this that is encapsulated, I think most recently in a New York Times article, there was something about meet the 37 year olds who are afraid of the 23 year olds that work for them that really highlights that there’s also this big discomfort between how younger generations perceive what a healthy workplace looks like versus how other people perceive that.
And other generations perceive the demands that are being made of our workspaces, very specifically our movement spaces. And so I wanted to ask you that because I think there’s no one better to ask about what it looks like to build intergenerational power than a youth organizer. And then we’ve had a lot of elders weigh in on this too, but I want to ask you, what do you think about this tension that people keep bringing up.
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: I love the question on so many levels. And I think over the years I’ve learned so much just about how important, how valuable, how precious, and also how timely I think listening to each other is. I think a lot of the conversations I’m seeing online from social movement for justice, but also just high school drama. All of it I’m seeing, they can be helped a little bit by listening to each other. And I’ll admit I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best at listening. I think that it’s something I’ve been working on over the years in particular, just actually training myself to appreciate listening. And part of that I think is being able to have learned just exactly the power that building relationships, regardless of age, regardless of race, regardless of identity, this building relationships has on any kind of goals, right?
Whether we’re trying to build solidarity in moving spaces, whether I’m trying to work on my relationship at home with my boyfriend, all these places, the more I pour into the relationships, the more I pour into listening to this person and actually hearing them and actually asking them questions instead of already having responses ready. All this kind of relationship building has been so magical. And I feel like I wasn’t given this as like a, “Hey, you should invest in relationship building and it’ll help you in all the areas of your life.” It was more like, “We don’t have time for that.” You need to get the work done and a social might happen or you might be able to talk about it on the side, but where’s the work kind of thing.
Yeah. So I think that’s a question I’ll ask myself is where is the work? If all of that feels good is relationship building. Right. And I think through listening to my elders, through listening to my kid, through listening to solid therapists, people who are doing healing justice organizing like the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. I feel like all these different ways I’ve been receiving the wisdom around actually the work really is in the surviving and the thriving. We’re not just saying that as a tagline, we’re saying that because in those moments, when we’re experiencing that trans joy, that is our mission being accomplished. And while we don’t have that permanently, it is important to enjoy those moments, remember those moments and then build toward that over and over and over again. And I think that when I talk about this, it all makes sense in my mind. And I know that maybe it’ll look different when we put it into a grant report, but this is really a question around what is the work? Where do we value the work? And capitalism is not going to point us in the right direction. If it was going to it would’ve been that a long time ago.
Anna Castro: No, I love that because you literally hit on something that I talk about all time, which is solidarity is so much about relationship building. And you said listening, listening is such a key component of solidarity, of building relationships. And it doesn’t matter who you’re interacting with, actually being able to pour that energy into listening actively, not for the sake of, let me respond to you, not for the sake of we’re going to have a debate, not for the sake of working on the strategy plan, but of I legitimately care about you and want to hear you. I think that’s so beautiful the way that that has just shown up in your work and you pointing out very rightly so that, where do you write that in, in the campaign strategy report, in the funder report, in the all of that, when that is what makes everything, all of it actually work and going on that, I wanted to ask you over the past, however, God, I don’t even know how much time has passed, but since March 2020, so much has changed because of the pandemic.
We had the uprisings and defense of black life. We’ve had a crisis in quote unquote democracy, and there have been ongoing attacks on trans youth. There’s just been so much that has fundamentally changed how we interact with each other to the point where the idea of a vaccine or masks is political. And I wanted to ask you, how have you seen this affect our youth and specifically trans and queer youth. What do you think the effect of all of these crises has been on a population who right now should be going through the beautiful, messy, embarrassing, formative years, but they look just so drastically different than they may have in the past.
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: The real questions about the real impact on real lives, on real bodies. Right. I think that the past few years has been the chaos that we all know it to be and has been I think in so many ways, I’ve heard people talk about it as a portal. And I really do think that it’s cool. This might be a choice point in history. And I think history is always a choice, there’s always a choice point. Where are we in this moment in history? But I think right now what young people are able to see is not only feeling the truth around what does it feel like to not have our needs met, but also to watch lives become uncovered, right? Watch the systems that they’re learning about in US history class or government class, and to see it actively not working. Right.
I can’t imagine what the teachers are talking about in terms of three branches of government while like 45 was president. The irony that folks are seeing on such a honest level, I think has set folks up to not only, I think it just pushes us to the realization that if anyone’s going to save ourselves it’s going to be us. There’s just no way around it. The idea of the government or the idea of institutions supporting us while young people are actively experiencing being push out, being criminalized, being removed, I think just puts us in a position to make that a point of activation, to make this a point where young people are taught that they not only deserve to have all their needs met of their dreams, but then also they have that power to make that possible, that they have the power to make that possible now because the systems are failing folks every day.
Anna Castro: And the idea of we are going to be the ones to save ourselves. What does that mean for what comes next? Because the pandemic is not over yet. And here I am in Texas and the Texas legislature is just made it their mission to abdicate from their responsibilities to target folks in this state. What comes next after this? How do we get to this place of being able to imagine what abundance looks like and liberation could look like and mutual support could look like?
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: I was listening to another podcast and I think it was like Toshi [Reagon 00:20:54], who was talking about what it means to sit with a question around like damn, the government’s really failing us. The government has always failed us, right? Really sitting with the question and we’re like, damn our people don’t have what they need. Sitting with that hurt and then figuring out what’s next. And I remember them talking about how in that moment is when it’s really up to the community to be everything that the community needs, to get really good at all the kind of systems, whether that’s healing each other and supporting each other, whether that’s supporting each other’s bodies and whether that’s supporting each other’s minds and helping each other learn, all these different systems that we have acknowledged that are broken, but we continue to have to work under, why don’t we try to start building those within our communities.
And I think all around are examples of communities already doing this right, already bringing in, not only throughout our movement’s history, like with the Black Panthers, right? Starting breakfast programs and schools, but also just what that looks like today. Right? And that that’s all possible today. I think an example at the Trans Law Center, right, is our trans agenda for liberation, clearly outlines exactly what that can look like, what building a new world looks like, what investing in all these systems that are run by our community for our community look like. And I think all of that creative work is happening now. I was going to say happening next, but it’s happening now. And I’m excited for younger folks to always be invited to that conversation around how we cannot lose that naive imagination from childhood and how we can truly just hold onto it and use that to get ourselves out of the mess that we’re inheriting.
Anna Castro: You’re so right. Because it’s literally the inheritance of this that I feel is so very, to me, it’s like particularly poignant looking at how youth climate justice activists approach this work, how native youth organizers approach this work. They are so explicitly saying as well as trans youth are so explicitly saying it is life or death right now. And we choose life and we choose love and we choose building with each other.
Juniperangelica Gia Loving: Sometimes I’m hanging out with my kid and I think something happens and I react to the moment and then I look at him after I’m like, “Okay girl, I know you’re racking, but you also need to check on your kid.” I look at him and then I’m watching for his reaction and then I don’t see it. And then I’m like, “Didn’t you see what just happened?” Whatever that may be. Right. And then I realize my kid is being raised in a different world than I was really. Even if we’re not that far off an age, I think his upbringing has allowed him to just imagine new things because he’s experiencing different things. Sometimes I’ll admit that I get a little jealous, I’m like, “Oh my God, how does it feel to be raised like this?”
Like as if I was really craving that when I was younger, this moment around a world of violence, feeling natural, feeling like, yes, this is just almost for granted. Seeing that possible for my kid, I think is what I’m driven by to just be the norm. I would love for younger people to be raised and really believe that whatever they think is their potential is their potential. And for folks to have the resources to be able to chase those dreams, right? That looks like maybe getting good at school and folks are getting our schools to have what they need. But I do think that’s what’s keeping me going throughout this last few years, but also just my own life is this idea that my kid can really know a world that is peace.
Anna Castro: Thank you so much, Gia. That was beautiful. And it was a pleasure listening to you. You’re a real visionary. No, you’re a real visionary. And I just felt really transported by some of the things that you said.
In our conversation, Gia focused on the power listening can have in movement conflict. Listening is critical to building strong relationships and to building strong movements. It’s not always easy. We may not always like what we hear, but it’s how we unearth connections and strengthen commonalities. My conversation with Gia reminded me of the moments in movement work that I’ve experienced true joy. The joy of learning someone has been released from jail or immigration detention, the joy of passing legislation that will ensure someone has the right to vote restored, the joy of winning a landmark settlement that ensures people will be reunited with their families after deportation.
In those memories, I am not alone. I am surrounded by my amazing coworkers, friends and people who fought for their lives and won because together we win. Was there conflict involved in that work? Absolutely. On the other side of it, I can reflect on how it sharpened my political analysis, made me a better supervisor and a well-rounded advocate whose work doesn’t stop at the win. Here are a few questions to guide your own listening practice. First, what are some of the assumptions that I bring into my work? Why? How can I make room for more curiosity or knowledge sharing?
The second group of questions is about listening. How am I practicing listening with my coworkers, with my supervisors, with the people I supervise, with the community members centered in our work, with our partner organizations, and with my coalition? The rewards are clear. The rewards of listening are the ancestral wisdom we share when we build bridges between communities. The rewards are the power we have when we worked collaboratively together and the joy we feel when we secure wins for our community. Until next time, I wish you the love and support you deserve. I’m Anna Castro. See you on these digital streets.