LGBT+ Archive Project of Louisiana Presents:
Third Annual Oracle Gala
"Puttin' on the Ritz: A Roaring Celebration at the Joy Theater"
Get your tickets HERE!
Don your glad rags, grab your giggle water and ankle on over for an evening of Jazz, gin, and jollies in support of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana and this year's Oracle Gala honoree, BreakOUT! as we celebrate the donation of their archival materials to Newcomb Archives & Vorhoff Library Special Collections. To read the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana's Board President Frank Perez's 2016
interview with Breakout! co-director, Wes Ware, see below.
Now, more than ever, we need your support to continue facilitating the collection and preservation of our community's history and culture. Join us at the Oracle Gala, and help us get our history out of the closet!
Admission is $50 per ticket or $40 for members only. Membership is just $5!
We are also seeking sponsors for the gala. Sponsorship required a minimum contribution of $750, and includes prominent logo placement on all promotional and marketing materials, as well as on two jumbo screens at the event, a VIP table for up to ten guests, open bar from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., complimentary champagne for the table, and goodie bags for each guest to take home. Click on "Sponsor Package" when buying your tickets.
Cocktail attire suggested, 1920s costume encouraged.
Frank Perez's 2016 Interview with Breakout! Co-Director, Wes Ware:
FP: Some people may not be familiar with BreakOUT! Tell us what the group is about.
WW: BreakOUT! a membership based organization made up of LGBTQ youth and is rooted in racial justice and transgender liberation. We understand that LGBTQ youth of color are disproportionately homeless, pushed out of schools, have difficulty obtaining employment, and targeted for arrest; we also understand that LGBTQ youth of color are the experts over the conditions of their own lives and know what they need to be safe in New Orleans.
All of our members are ages 13-25, LGBTQ, and impacted by the criminal justice system in some way. Most of our members are Black, gender non-conforming, transgender, or other youth of color including undocumented Latina youth.
We see the ways that entire communities, in particular LGBTQ youth of color, are pushed into the system in New Orleans- we call that criminalization- and we work to end that by building the power of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans through 3 main strategies: youth organizing, healing justice, and leadership development programs.
We run a youth organizing and leadership development program called the Building Our Power Institute, operate a small GED school called the Posh Academy, organize youth in schools through the New Orleans GSA Network (powered by BreakOUT!), and run youth-led campaigns.
FP: The group was founded in 2011. Can you tell us what prompted the group’s creation?
WW: BreakOUT! was started in large response to the Department of Justice coming to town to investigate the New Orleans Police Department in 2010. At the time, I was working with organizers in New Orleans who had been working on issues related to police brutality for a long time who eventually got the DOJ to come in to investigate the police shootings in the aftermath of the storm and levee failures. At the same time, I was working as the LGBTQ Project Director at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and organizing with LGBTQ youth who were locked up in the juvenile justice system. When the DOJ got here, they began holding community forums to learn more about community members’ interactions with the police. We got together all these young folks together at the Women With a Vision office – we didn’t know it at the time, but those meetings really became the first BreakOUT! meetings because young people weren’t just talking what was going on, they also started putting out demands. So in 2011, we applied for a fellowship and officially launched BreakOUT! as a project of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana with 5 Founding Members. We became our own independent organization shortly thereafter. From there, we just grew really fast. In just 5 years, we’ve grown to 5 times the size we were originally and we’re still growing. I have a Co-Director now and we have 6 staff total. I think that really speaks to the need for the organization and the power of our young people to get things done.
FP: The murder of Penny Proud was a seminal moment for the trans community in New Orleans. How did BreakOUT! respond?
WW: Yeah, we were actually in a staff meeting on February 10th, talking about releasing a public statement after 5 transgender young women, all people of color, were murdered in the U.S. less than two months into the New Year- the statement was going to launch a #BlackTransLivesMatter social media campaign. We were wrapping up the meeting though and one of our Organizers got the news that Penny Proud, a 21 year old transwoman had been found dead in New Orleans on Ursulines and Claiborne and already misgendered in the media (due to an initial police report that misgendered her.)
Penny wasn’t a member of our organization but she was still community and many of our members knew her and her life mattered. With the family’s blessing, we leveraged our power to make sure people knew that, that people knew her name.
We put out a statement and organized a march and got about 100 people out there on pretty short notice but there still felt like there was all this silence in New Orleans. Of all the media requests BreakOUT! received following her death, only 2 were from local reporters. I don’t think Ambush ever mentioned her name. And then after Penny, two more transgender people were murdered in the U.S., raising the number to 8 murders in just under 2 months. So it was about Penny, and it was also about all those other lives and the lack of outrage or even visibility of the issue and the fact that transwomen of color were being (and continue to be) murdered at alarming rates and unable to walk down the street without fear and yet- silence. So we said, you know what? That’s fine. We’ll make our own media. And we’ll do it so big, we can’t be ignored.
So we launched #MakePennyProud and put up a billboard on Broad St. on top of Art Egg Studios, where our office is. We estimate that about 400,000 people drive by it. At first, it said “10 transgender women have been murdered so far in 2015. Invest in jobs, housing, and education to keep us safe. #BlackTransLivesMatter #MakePennyProud.” But in November of last year, we had to update it. Now it says 22.
We can’t talk about trans murders without acknowledging the systemic issues and barriers transgender people face- it’s both street violence and state violence that is fueling this and it has to stop. Our community often wonders, “Am I next?” and that’s a sobering thing- that youth are wondering this- meanwhile we’re seeing such a backlash with all these transgender bathroom bills that are even further criminalizing us for our sheer existence. And yet, we think we’ve come so far as a community…
FP: Tell us about the Trans Week of Action.
WW: The Trans Week of Action was in response to a call put out by the National Transgender March of Resilience. In November, we hosted a big march with over 200 people from Armstrong Park to City Hall for a die-in, press conference, and a special delivery to the Mayor of a Platform for a Safer City, a platform that was signed by allied organizations locally and nationally. It coincided with the national Transgender Day of Remembrance. We coordinated to make sure our event would be in compliment to other events happening in the city like memorials and educational events. We also hosted a celebration and graduation party for our members who graduated the Building Our Power Institute that week and held a healing drum circle with the Congo Square Preservation Society. It was a really amazing week because we lifted up the resiliency of trans people and the resistance of trans people and fought for what our communities need while also mourning the loss of so many people (including two of our own youth members this year to health disparities). We had so many amazing allies out there who understand that none of us will be free until all of us are free- from undocumented workers with the Congress of Day Laborers to the Black Youth Project 100 to VAYLA.
FP: You recently partnered with other groups around the nation to produce the Get Your Rights Toolkit. Tell us about that.
WW: There are a lot of LGBTQ youth groups around the country that are made up of predominately youth of color who have experienced police violence. They haven’t gotten a lot of attention, especially during all the marriage hoop-la, but they’ve always been here doing the work that the LGBTQ movement was founded on. So a few years ago, some of our members and members from the other organizations were at a conference and decided that they should all be linked up together so we launched the Get Yr Rights Network with this organization in New York called Streetwise and Safe. We got over 30 network members, all LGBTQ youth organizations doing Know Your Rights work around the country, and released a resource website of strategies for staying safe on the streets. You can see it at www.getyrrights.org It’s geared toward LGBTQ youth and organizers, but even the Department of Justice has used it because there are lots of policy papers on there.
Then, we gathered information about all these different campaigns that have happened around the country and released the Get Yr Rights Campaign Toolkit so local youth organizations could launch their own campaigns for increased police accountability. And then after that, we released the Curriculum that is a Know Your Rights training for LGBTQ youth with fun games and exercises to teach young people their rights. The work actually then took us to Washington, D.C. where our Co-Director has been doing a lot of work with federal policing policies, along with a lot of national LGBTQ organizations. She’s there like every other month these days trying to push stuff through before the election.
FP: You’ve recently begun an outreach into area high schools. How is that going?
WW: BreakOUT! just recently started organizing all the GSA’s (Gay-Straight Alliances) in the schools in New Orleans. So far, we’ve identified about 8 different GSA’s, but there are 23 different high schools in New Orleans so we have a long way to go. Plus, our school system in New Orleans is the first almost all-charter school system in the country, so it’s very difficult to organize. Young people are changing schools all the time, there is no centralized place to go with issues about dress codes at prom or expulsions or anything like that.
It’s going well so far though. We have a GSA Organizer on staff and also the Southeast Regional GSA Office is located inside of our office at BreakOUT! so we can stay up-to-date on things that the national office is doing.
FP: What is in the future for BreakOUT!?
WW: Does anyone want to buy us a house?