Kevin Lee-Y Green looked small, even contained, in a small Zoom window, but this image was belied by a broad smile and belly laughs that broke up the conversation as he explained the origin of Techmoja Dance and Theatre Company, a studio based in Wilmington, North Carolina that serves the coastal regions of North and South Carolina. Green said he and his mother started Techmoja “as a rebellion” after recognizing a need for Black-owned arts organizations in the area. In 2008, Techmoja was born to create a safe space to “empower and tell the stories of people of color,” through movement, Green said.
Techmoja was one of a group of 21 recipients of this year’s Queer Mobilization Fund (QMF), one of Southern Vision Alliance’s Frontline Funds created in response to NC House Bill 2 (HB2), or the bathroom bill. HB2 prevented trans people from using some public facilities that aligned with their gender identity.
Even though HB2 has been repealed, other legislation continues to limit the rights of queer and trans people. At least 31 states have introduced bills that would prevent trans athletes from competing in sports that match their gender identity. In addition, 20 states have introduced bills that prohibit or restrict gender-affirming care for minors.
QMF has since shifted its focus from mobilizing groups who opposed HB2 to support grassroots-level organizations, mostly in North Carolina, with funds of up to $5,000 to organizations that participate in a variety of project types. This year, the QMF gave out $93,000 to projects that range from podcasting to non-profits offering medical and mental health services to queer and trans people of color. Asher Skeen, Queer Mobilization Fund associate, said the QMF focuses on projects with a healing justice element, saying that healing is different for everyone.
“We’re looking at something that allows power to go back into the hands of people who have been historically marginalized,” Skeen said.
Techmoja received funding for a project known as “Quiet As It’s Kept,” (QAIK) a “dance project that explores the intersection of historical sexual trauma, southern culture and silence in the African-American community.”
Of the five to six stories that will be told throughout “Quiet As It’s Kept,” Green said two of them intersect with queerness. Green said he is excited about this project because it will allow non-LGBTQ+ folks to better understand queer stories about people of color.
“They’ll sit through the whole piece and see the other side. What happens to LGBTQ+ experiences in this work…this is a moment to bridge that gap of misunderstanding,” he said.
Green acknowledged the piece’s potentially triggering subject matter and said that “QAIK” also addresses “the idea of how survivors support each other.” After the production, he said, there will be a conversation in which medical professionals and trauma organizations will be there to support participants.
In addition to arts projects, the QMF funds healthcare projects like The Queer Doula Network. Based in Greer, South Carolina, the Queer Doula Network is a collection of birth workers that provide affirming care to the LGBTQ+ community.
“There’s not a lot of birth work happening for queer and trans communities,” Skeen said.
The Queer Doula Network was founded and organized by Kortney Lapeyrolerie as a “directory of queer, full-spectrum providers for queer individuals seeking support during reproductive journeys.”
Lapeyrolerie said that finding LGBTQ+ affirming care can be difficult since birth work has been built mostly around experiences of white, cis-gender women, or women who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
“If providers cannot respect someone on the basic level of their identity, they are also less likely to respect major aspects such as consent during birth, responding to clients when they alert a provider to complications and reducing tension in the birthing space which eases labor,” she said.
In addition to networking, Lapeyrolerie said the organization seeks “to provide educational content around LGBTQIA+ inclusion in birth work and reproductive spaces.”
QMF gave the organization funds to host a six-day workshop titled “Queer Doula Network Series #1: From Body to Community Planning,” that covered topics from awareness about endometriosis to raising culturally competent families.
“I intended to create more LGBTQIA+ representation in birth worth education, especially QTBIPOC [queer, trans, Black, indigenous people of color] representation,” Lapeyrolerie explained.
QMF funds allowed Lapeyrolerie to hire LGBTQ+ facilitators, many of whom are also part of the Queer Doula Network, to conduct the workshop. She said the pandemic forced many birth workers to expand their skill sets, and birth work education was one way they pivoted.
“I also hired a Black lesbian instructional designer to help guide folks who had never or rarely created and facilitated presentations previously,” she said.
Lapeyrolerie said that participants expressed “appreciation for talking about reproduction in an inclusive way where folks don’t have to worry about a facilitator not including their identity” while they learn about birth and how to make the right choices for themselves.
Skeen said that the Queer Mobilization Fund is looking at expanding.
“I think we’d really love to see more of this money being directed into more rural parts of the Southeast,” he said.
In the future, Skeen said that the QMF is also thinking about reevaluating their operations and creating a funding priority around the arts.
“I love seeing how organizers and community come together in a way that isn’t necessarily like on the ground, fighting with policy or fighting for visibility…just like finding a space that is safe and healing and affirming. I think that’s huge,” Skeen expressed.
As Green’s perpetual smile shone through the blue light of his phone, he pointed out that projects supported by the Queer Mobilization Fund are meant to reflect the communities of BIPOC and queer and trans folks.
“We pretty much are holding up a mirror and reflecting back so that way, when people watch a performance, they realize their stories are there,” he said.
Rae Johnson (she/they) is a journalist and creator from Southeastern Kentucky who currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She is expected to graduate with a master’s degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in August 2021. For more stories from Rae, follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @raej_33