In prison, everything gets around by word of mouth, and that's how I first heard about Black and Pink.
When I was in segregation a few years ago, one of my LGBTQ friends had a few copies of the Black and Pink newspaper. At the time, I didn't know much about LGBTQ culture, because I had been raised in a conservative family. The newspaper talked about so many aspects of LGBTQ culture, featuring different people's perspectives, artwork, poetry, educational information, legal informationa little bit of everything. For me, connecting to the culture was the most important part, because I wasn't too sure how I could help others when I wasn't yet confident about my identity.
Reading the Black and Pink newspaper really helped me when I was young and depressed and bullied a lot. I had these feelings that everyone says are wrong, but reading the newspaper really helped, especially since all the stories were stories about people in prison, stories about what I was seeing every day. I started talking with people about themselves, their hopes and their dreams.
First, I started small, because there are so few resources in prison to figure out how to become an activist. I gave people emotional support, and I stood up for people inside. I wouldn't let any of my LGBTQ family be bullied. I'd invite people to join me doing something, like working out, and then we'd talk about ourselves, our thoughts and our feelings. Inside, it can be really risky to be open with other people. Yet without speaking with each other, it's impossible to start working to change the system.
Black and Pink is a special part of the LGBTQ community, reaching out to our extended LGBTQ familypeople who are locked up. Our community has a troubled history with the police and prisons, and in Black and Pink we are working to address that. Working for a world without prisons is a challenge that everybody should take up, because in this system, minorities aren't treated justly and the legal process isn't fair to many individuals. One way Black and Pink works toward a world in which no one is disposable is through our penpal program.
For LGBTQ people who are locked up, writing letters to our Black and Pink penpals is a really useful tool. A lot of people on the inside are cut off from their families, whether because of economics, because of distance, or because they are LGBTQ. Being isolated like that makes prison even more stressful. Having that relationship can change a person's life around. We always need new penpals on the outside and we match penpals on the third Monday of every month at 656 W. Barry Ave. in Chicago. Even now that I'm free, I'm still in contact with my penpal. I went through good times and bad times and she was there the whole time. I even gave up a few times, but she was my strength, she was my bond. She helped me focus on the big picture.
Right now, I'm helping to plan Black and Pink's second National Gathering, to celebrate 12 years of LGBTQ prison abolition work. This event will bring Black and Pink members from across the country to Chicago August 4-6. There will be a big celebration, award ceremony, and party the evening of Aug. 4 at CTU Hall, 1901 W. Carroll Ave, followed by workshops and planning for the next stage in Black and Pink's work.
For me, the National Gathering will be a chance to see how other chapters work. I see it as an important way for us to share ideas, see how each chapter is doing this work, meet new people, and make new friends. And of course there's the fun part: acknowledging all the people who have gone above and beyond, celebrating people who are really giving their love to our community.
Nobody should ever give up in any circumstance. I haven't. I enjoy being LGBTQ. I worked for it, and I love it. I want everybody to love themselves, in every culture and every country. That's what we fight for, and I'm a fighter.
For more information on the National Gathering, see www.blackandpink.org/bp12. To become a penpal, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Gabe Guzman is a community organizer with Black and Pink Chicago and an LGBTQ activist. Nicole Erin Morse is an organizer with Black and Pink Chicago and a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago.