Taking Space for Rest and Joy

By Indi Schoenherr, Advocacy Fellow, ACLU of Vermont 

A version of these remarks was delivered at People’s Pride in Burlington on June 25, 2022. Join the ACLU of Vermont and Vermont's LGBTQIA+ community at the Pride Center of Vermont's Pride Festival & Parade on September 18th.

Vermont celebrated its first Pride 39 years ago, creating a path for us to be together today. This is a joyful moment. We have come far in our fight for the rights and lives of LGBTQIA+ people. At the same time, we haven’t gotten far enough.

I am in awe of all the people who advocated relentlessly to ensure that members of the LGBTQIA+ community were allowed to take up space in spaces that were not meant for us. To the original marchers and activists for queer liberation in Vermont and across the nation, I want to say thank you – because as a queer individual, I would not have this space today if not for their courage.

The ACLU of Vermont has long been working alongside LGBTQIA+ activists to ensure that we have access to the rights guaranteed us in the Constitution. In 1989, we helped mobilize members to testify at a public hearing on anti-discrimination legislation to protect the civil rights of gay men and lesbians. Ten years later we filed an amicus brief to the Vermont Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage. Flash forward to today, when the ACLU is bringing together activists and advocates to protect the rights of trans youth, including their access to gender-affirming care.

We will continue alongside community leaders and organizers to challenge white/heteronormative/cisgender-normative culture and protect the rights of trans and queer people no matter what. As Marsha P. Johnson, the queer liberation advocate, said, “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

A thread I have found in this struggle is connection. The conditions and pressure of this society against LGBTQIA+ people have given us no other option but to create space for each other and to connect with our fellow community members. It is a beautiful thing to emerge from something so oppressive and painful. This connection is what keeps me going and is what offers me hope in the darkest of times.

I want to share two things that I love about my queerness. First, my pronouns are they and them. To me, this is an intentional acknowledgment to my ancestors and to the queer and trans people who came before me. Their dreams and visions are what allow for me to stand in front of y’all in this capacity. My pronouns serve as a constant reminder of the connection I have to them, and that without them I would not be me.

Second, my queerness holds space for me to care for myself and for my community. The poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for the self is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” Queer lives are sacred, and caring for the self is sacred. I want this to be a reminder that to sustain ourselves in this struggle, we must care for ourselves – and one another.

We know that this struggle is not over. We are reminded daily about the attacks on trans people, especially Black trans women. We are reminded daily when people choose to remain unbothered when we’re literally out here fighting for our lives and the lives of those we love. Maybe some of y’all can relate to holding the duality of pain and joy from being queer.

There is pain and yet there is also joy. Joy because of the connection and community we have together due to shared stories and experiences. I want to share an offering before I leave, and you can take it or leave it. My offering is: take space for rest and joy because they are what will sustain us in connection, community, and on our journey towards liberation.

I invite you all to take a deep breath in and out, holding this moment to connect with those who are around you. To connect to the trans and queer people who came before us and laid the foundation in which we reside and continue our fight. They created space for this pride to exist, so that we could celebrate our pride, the pride of those we love, the pride of those we have lost, and the pride of all the queer generations to come.