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PODCASTS Crossroads Fund's 'Queering Left' tackles queerness, activism
by Julia Hale

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Crossroads Fund—a Chicago-based foundation that supports organizations working toward racial, social and economic justice—has introduced a new multimedia project called "Queering Left."

The podcast— created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots—is set to have eight to 10 episodes, with one episode dropping each month. "[We want] to take up this year-long space," said Emmanuel Garcia, one of the co-hosts of the show. Queering Left will feature a different queer organizer each month, and most of the organizers featured will be part of organizations that have had some kind of relationship with Crossroads Fund in the past.

"[Crossroads Fund] started over 37 years ago, and we were one of the first funders of what is now the Center on Halsted," said Garcia. "We no longer fund the Center because they don't fit our criteria, they're a lot larger, [but] we see that investing in community organizing early on could create a different possibility than what we envision today. When we think about 'transformative' organizing, that's one of the ways that we think about it," he said. "[We're] trying to go back to some of the groups that we funded early on and [see] how that work evolved over time."

"[Queering Left] is about highlighting the 50th anniversary of Stonewall," said Garcia. "We wanted to document the history of radical queer organizing here in Chicago because Stonewall isn't over; that radical tradition continues today. We see it in organizing work for immigrant rights, worker rights. All of those things are at the intersection of queer and trans identities."

"In thinking about how we wanted to document it, it was kind of natural to think about doing it in audio form," he said. "Accessibility was a big piece for us in thinking about how to disseminate the information. We wanted people to be able to listen to it, to read it, to visually have other ways of consuming the information. So, all of the audio has a transcription and we'll also provide resources [to] different things that people mention [in the podcast]." For example, if an organizer were to mention a poster they worked on or a speech that inspired them, Crossroads would include a picture of the poster or a link to the speech upon the release of that podcast. "It's very multimedia," said Garcia. "The multimedia aspect of it [relates] to the accessibility. [We want] to also provide a 360 approach to storytelling."

While the organizers being interviewed will all be queer, the organizations they're associated with might not be a queer-focused organization itself. "When we think about 'queer organizing, it's very specific to LGBT issues," said Garcia. "One thing that we know from our funding [and] our work is that there are a lot of [queer] organizers and activists who are in different movements; immigrant movements, workers' rights movements, gender-based violence movements. There's a rich participation by queer organizers in those issues." The purpose of Queering Left is not to simply talk about those organizing for queer rights, but to focus on the intersection of being queer and being a leftist organizer, whatever the cause may be.

Identifying as "queer," in and of itself, is a radical political act, according to Garcia. "I won't say that the [queer] identity is more or less than [gay and lesbian] identities, [but] 'queer' is still a very politically-charged identity. It's definitely an identity that's more to the radical left than it is in the center. You have someone who's the 'first gay president,' or the 'first lesbian mayor,' but they're definitely not people who are identifying within this politic of what it means to be queer," he said. "Because it's a word that we've taken back as a community, [it] is something that has a political connotation to it."

"We often talk about the queer identity as generational; that young people took the word 'queer' back and that older generations of gay and lesbian people don't identify with the word," said Garcia. "There were movements in the '70s and '80s [that] were taking back the word 'queer,' [people] who did identify as queer. That tradition of queer organizing has existed long before what we're seeing today."

Garcia, the development and communications manager at Crossroads Fund, is one of two hosts of the Queering Left podcast, with former Crossroads Executive Director Jeanne Kracher being the other. With Kracher being with the foundation for almost two decades before retiring in June, Garcia said she added a historical perspective to the podcast. "She's been able to see the landscape of LGBT organizing, but also all types of organizing work in the city," said Garcia.

The first episode, posted on the Crossroads website July 24, features the co-founders of the Immigrant Youth Justice League ( IYJL ): Tania Unzueta and Rey Wences. ( The audio is also available on Spotify, iTunes and Stitcher. ) "We often talk about organizing work in this third-person way," said Garcia. "Often, we see a protestor out in action or we see a campaign in this visual that's not about the actual story of the person. This is really an opportunity to give the mic directly to those people to tell their stories in the ways that they want to tell their stories."

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