Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega and you're listening to The Takeaway. We just heard about the broad slate of anti-trans legislation introduced around the country, and many of those states are in the South, including the state of Georgia.
Well, for Pride Month, I've partnered with PFLAG, the nation's largest family and ally organization, to bring important conversations on how queer and trans people of color are bringing change to their communities. In the series called What Makes Pride, we feature activists, artists, and movement makers.
According to the movement advancement project, one in three LGBTQ+ people live in the US South, more than any other region of the country and more than 4 in 10 LGBTQ+ people in the South are people of color. Although the onslaught of antiqueer legislation have a distinctively Southern flavor, so does the ongoing and effective organizing of queer and trans-Black folk and people of color.
One of those organizers joined me for the What Makes Pride project and also joins me now. Taylor Alexander is an artist and director of the Atlanta-based Southern Fried Queer Pride, a nonprofit organization empowering Southern queer and trans people of color through the arts. Taylor, so great to have you on The Takeaway.
Taylor Alexander: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to speak with you. Yes, Harris. [chuckles]
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm thrilled to talk with you. We had this opportunity to speak a bit about your work for the PFLAG What Makes Pride campaign, but I really wanted to revisit because I'm so enamored of what you're up to. Let's just start with, what is it that Southern Fried Queer Pride does?
Taylor Alexander: We do so many things, but really I feel like what we provide here in the city and across the South is spaces and opportunities for people to create mirrors in the community so that they can see themselves reflected and also their other community members are reflected. Even though it is 2021, Atlanta is a major metropolitan city and LGBTQ capital, if you will.
Sometimes it's hard to find spaces that people who experience life like us can be seen and feel validated. I think what SFQP does is that we create places and spaces where anybody can access them that are intentionally diverse and intentionally inclusive. I still say that's radical because we get to own and operate those spaces. We get to have the final say of how things are moderated. I think that's really the biggest platform and the biggest takeaway that SFQP gives to the community.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It also feels radical to me because you quite intentionally state as a collective that you're pushing back against these confining narratives of stigma, statistics, and struggle, and instead, really thinking more broadly about what the whole human lived experience is at these intersections. What are some of the ways that you do that kind of resistance work?
Taylor Alexander: Well, I think at the crux of who we are as an organization, of course, is using the arts to build community and fight against these narratives and these notions. We started off, of course, as fighting against the idea that being from the South and being queer and trans didn't align, that you couldn't be both at the same time and happy.
What we do is that often we just uplift the narratives and the people that are already here, our history of resistance, our icons, our legends, our own versions of the Stonewall uprisings. We have such a vibrant, beautiful history here in Atlanta and across the South and that's really what we're trying to uplift against that narrative.
This looks like a multitude of ways, whether it's working with the local ballroom house communities here in Atlanta to put on the Atlanta Is Burning Ball in 2018 and highlighting Black excellence in the ballroom scene or creating spaces where Black trans people can see themselves reflected and have discussions and narratives that are beneficial and helpful to them and their community.
It looks like a myriad different ways, but it always goes back to making sure that the people that are being pushed to the side and further marginalized are the people leading those conversations and creating that kind of change.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about the arts as central, of course, as you know from our earlier conversation, I am all into night work. Let's listen to a clip of it. It's a song that you released actually back in 2017.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I really do wish our listeners could watch the music video along with us, but, Taylor, describe to us what that song is about and the ways that it is doing some of the work you were just discussing.
Taylor Alexander: Absolutely. I wrote that song out of frustration being a nightlife entertainer. I'm a drag performer here in the city. I've been performing for almost 10 years, and when I was writing that song it came from a certain different few places. One was constantly being pigeonholed as the one Black entertainer on cast.
One other aspect was, I'm doing all this work, I'm performing, three, four nights a week. I'm out here networking, and I feel like sometimes people just consume my art as just like fun and, sure, it does have fun aspects, it is entertainment, but it's also a labor of love. It's also a full-time job. I just wanted to feel the energy and the love that I put into drag and into music and into performing reflected back at me from show directors, from audience members, and things like that.
When it ties into the message of using the arts to build that sense of community, I think it ties into so many different aspects of that. 'When I go out each time it always hurts because you never put me first', that's one of the lyrics of the hook of the song. That really just speaks to just basic respect for artists period, especially working artists.
Some of us have multiple jobs and multiple hustles to make things work, but it also just brings back to the notion that entertainers and artists are creating culture that everybody consumes. As much as we are consuming that culture we also have to respect the creators of that culture because without them we wouldn't have that entertainment or that culture to consume.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you talk about consumption and culture and some level of gratitude and respect, I've also been thinking about the context of the past national election. Two senate races and a presidential race that had all eyes focused on Atlanta, on Georgia, on the voters there, and particularly on voters and organizers of color, but often the national language leaving out BIPOC, queer, and trans folks who were part of that organizing and efforts. How is a more traditional politics also connected to the culture work that you're doing?
Taylor Alexander: I think that in terms of the organizing work and culture work that happens in Atlanta, Black and brown organizers, queer and trans organizers work 24/7, 365 around the clock even when there is not an election cycle. Even when these people that we have elected sit in their positions in their offices after they've been elected and then go back and forth on promises that they've made to those communities.
I think what really stuck out in these past few elections is that suddenly all these eyes and attention were on Georgia and were on Atlanta and on these organizers who, despite the narrative, have always been organizing and putting their energy into mobilizing the people. Sometimes they were erased from the truth, erased from the real narrative of who was driving change here in Georgia and Atlanta.
I really feel like last year we really saw those people who have been doing the work get their flowers and I just hope that energy, that respect can be reciprocated and can be continued so we don't have to consistently fight this narrative that we're only active when there's an election cycle. I hope that people realize this is an ongoing 24/7 community organizing spirit that we have here in Atlanta.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about that reciprocal sense of respect in order to do that 24/7, 365 organizing, I know that you all have been working at Southern Fried Queer Pride to fund a Black queer-owned community space. Can you tell us how that's going?
Taylor Alexander: Ever since we started as an organization we wanted to have a community space. Contrary to popular belief, even though Atlanta is a LGBTQ capital in this country, we lack a lot of staple resources and spaces that other big metropolitan queer and trans cities have. Namely, a community center. We don't have that here in Atlanta.
A lot of people don't understand that community centers offer not only resources, but also accessible spaces for queer and trans people of all ages to get resources, to find community, to express themselves. It's something that large LGBTQ communities and even small ones need to have a home point.
Last year in 2020 actually, we launched a fundraising campaign for the space and in less than a year, we raised $130,000. This Pride Month, we are relaunching that campaign to continue fundraising because a part of this goal is to make sure that we own the space, because as artists, as marginalized people here in the city, we're constantly being gentrified out of our neighborhoods, we're being pushed out because a lot of us don't own that property. We want to make sure these roots that we're setting down stay there. We're super excited, and we definitely think that we can make this a reality hopefully by early 2022.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Taylor Alexander, Executive Director of the Atlanta-based Southern Fried Queer Pride. You can hear more of an interview with me and Taylor on the PFLAG series, What Makes Pride, every Tuesday in the month of June at pflag.org. Taylor, thank you so much for joining us on The Takeaway.
Taylor Alexander: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.
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