Last week, I visited Colorado Springs for a conference. Although I live in Colorado and enjoy visiting many parts of the state, I usually avoid going to CO springs because of its strong roots of fundamental evangelicalism that are evident everywhere you turn, and honestly, it terrifies me. But I made an exception to attend a sustainability conference and visit with old friends. At said conference, the owner of the establishment stood up and loudly said to the crowd, among whom many are visibly queer people, “...we have bathrooms for WO-MEN and MEN,” gesturing to one side of the room and the other as they said it. “Is that ok with ya’ll?” Silence. It was definitely not ok with the vast majority of us.
Only 2 days later a devastating massacre occurred right down the street targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
I cannot understate the connection between what happened on Saturday and the rhetoric and hateful propaganda of the religious right that is plastered all around CO springs. Despite this harsh environment, Queer people were trying to carve out a safe space for themselves - and even there they were hunted down.
While I have many privileges as a white woman in America and now live in a community where I feel safe and supported, I have a firsthand understanding of the violence that can come from these religiously-based beliefs, and there are many people growing up within these spaces that have no safety or refuge. I grew up in a religious community where being queer or deviating slightly from the expected norms of your assigned gender could earn you discipline or other forms of violence, even for children. I saw it, I experienced it, and I felt the ripples of this aggression throughout my community without having it directly named. My eyes were opened by having queer friends in the church and compassionate queer friends and teachers outside our community; physical, emotional, and spiritual violence against the LGBTQ+ community is what led me to leave the church. I left as quietly as I could for my own mental health, and it took me years to come to terms with some of the things I witnessed and connect them to the broader picture of what is going on in the US now.
WHO IS AFFECTED?
30-40% of Americans today identify as evangelical christians and many more probably grew up within this hurtful ideology but, often through an extremely painful process, managed to leave. That means as many as one out of every two queer kids might be growing up being told that their very existence is wrong, that they deserve to be eternally punished for even thinking about sexuality outside of “traditional mariage.” If you are growing up, or have grown up, in this context, you may feel isolated and not know who you can trust. If you grew up in a liberal and/or secular community, please take a moment to let that sink in; what would it be like? It’s miraculous that so many people have survived and thrived in spite of this environment.
The trauma that came out of my experiences has meant I’ve rarely talked about this publicly, but have worked hard behind the scenes to help create safe spaces for people who, like myself, found themselves outside the norms of christian expectations. At tonlé, that manifests in our workplace as well as the products we create; we try to offer safe jobs and design clothing for those who are often excluded by the larger fashion industry. In turn, our queer and trans community of friends, creators, makers, wearers, and supporters have contributed so much to tonlé and loved and championed us, taught us, and helped us to grow. For that I am forever grateful.
Religious extremism and its far reaching impact in the US government is largely responsible for many forms of violence against the LGBTQ+ community. In the US, we are able to vote for or against the policy makers who uphold these views, but abroad, people with far less power and privilege have been targeted for decades. For example, in countries like Cambodia, religious anti-sex work NGOs forcefully remove people from their jobs and often practice (force) conversion therapy. Years ago, white christian missionsaries brought a radical form of Christianity to Uganda that led to laws that punish being Gay by death, still enforced today. These are just a few examples, but it’s important to remember how wide-reaching white america's condemnation of sexuality is, especially that which does not conform to their puritanical, evangelical crusade.
Christian supremacy is largely at the root of many of these problems, and change will require a reassessment of our family and political dynamics. I don’t like to state this so bluntly, but the disturbing intersection of hate crimes and christian nationalism compels me to do so. The fundamental beliefs that fuel much of the republican base to vote for hateful policies and politicians alike perpetuate these hurtful systems.
WHAT WE CAN DO
When we consider our actions, the politicians we support, the causes we send money to, and the language we use every day, we must consider that all of these small actions can have vast implications, especially for those who have less power and privilege. This fight extends far beyond our own community or state, our own country even.
While it’s important to create safe spaces within our communities, unfortunately the people who are being the most harmed by anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric are within religious groups. We must address the harm done at systemic levels in order to make those communities more safe, especially for kids and marginalized folks who are unable to leave for any number of reasons.
Through this historically high shopping week, tonlé annually commits to a redistribution of our sales to a cause that values creating safe spaces for those who have been most harmed by the destructive systems we live within. This year, we’ll be redistributing 15% of funds from sales to the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, which is aimed at changing laws that legally allow publicly funded religious schools to discriminate against queer, trans, and non-binary students. In doing so, they are working to create safe spaces by some of those most vulnerable to being targeted by the religious right.
We would also like to offer a small gift to our community - we will be giving out 50 $100 gift cards to be paid forward to friends and family in the trans and non-binary community who are in need of a little extra love and care this season.
There are 3 ways you can support the community this week with us:
- Nominate: a trans or non-binary person who might be in need of a little extra love and support. We’ll send them a $100 gift card on your behalf or anonymously.
- Buy-One-Give-One: If you’d like to help this initiative go even further and have the means to do so, for every $100 gift card you purchase we will match that gift to forward another $100 gift card. Purchase your $100 gift card then send us a DM or email with the email address of the person you’d like a second gift card to go to. This helps us to continue also providing a safe and supportive work environment to our team which includes many queer and trans people.
- Purchase: 11/21-11/29, get 15% off with the coupon code giftforward2022. For every purchase made on our online platform this week, 15% of all income will be redistributed to the organization the Religious Exemption Accountability Project.
To my queer and trans friends, family, and team: I wish you peace. I wish you rest. I wish you safety. I wish you justice.
To any who have the capacity to do so, I hope that you continue to create a safe space for our community where it is most needed.
-RF, cocreator of tonlé