The Bay Area's Safetyfest Queers Anti-Violence Activism

safetyfest 2010 promo! from CUAV on Vimeo.

Folks in the Bay Area are in for a ten-day treat this month with the community focused Safetyfest, a “celebration of all the fierce ways queer and trans people in the Bay Area stay safe and strut our stuff.” Beginning on April 8th, this cooperative effort will bring together anti-violence artists and activists from groups like Community United Against Violence (CUAV), Mangos With Chili, The Bikery, EL/LA, and the Self-Defense for Self Determination collective to provide innovative workshops and community building events focused on LGBTQ safety. Part fun and part fundraiser, all of the offerings at Safetyfest are either free or sliding scale, and no one will be turned away.

I spoke with festival planner and performer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha about the inception of Safetyfest and why people should attend this groundbreaking event.

What sparked the idea for Safetyfest?
Last year, CUAV staff made the decision to move from a traditional nonprofit model to a collective model that focused more on community-oriented and community accountability strategies against violence. They wanted to move away from the model of “our eight staff will save the Bay from all forms of queer and trans violence,” which is unsustainable in many ways, and towards a model that’s about educating and organizing with the whole community to intervene in and organize against violence and build safer relationships. CUAV still does all the stuff they’ve always done, like running a hotline that LGBTQ survivors of hate or domestic violence can call for support, but they’re also kicking off new work where folks from the community come in and brainstorm how we could respond to situations involving violence.

At the same time as this change was taking place, Governor Arnold Swartzenegger’s administration completely eliminated all state funding for domestic violence and anti-violence services in California, so CUAV, like a lot of amazing anti-violence orgs, has needed to step up their fundraising. With Safetyfest, they decided to kill two birds with one stone by having an amazing festival focusing on queer and trans safety from violence.

As a community-created event, there are a lot of groups involved in planning Safetyfest. Can you tell me about them?
The great thing about Safetyfest is that folks from many different queer and trans communities in the Bay Area have come together to share the various ways they build queer and trans safety from violence. Offhand, some groups include the Self-Defense for Self Determination collective, a crew of queer and trans people of color who teach self-defense skills; EL/LA, an amazing group of trans Latinas doing HIV prevention and community organizing, who are organizing the closing party; and The Bikery, a community nonprofit bike shop in Fruitvale that is sponsoring a radical Oakland history biking tour. There are also tons of individual community members who are creating events and workshops, like Maisha Johnson, who’s doing a queer writing workshop and open mic at Modern Times Books, a long-standing independent bookstore in the Mission District, and Dottie Lux, who’s doing a burlesque workshop. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mangos With Chili, the queer and trans people of color performance collective that I am the co-artistic director of, which is throwing the launch party.

Sharing tools to end violence against queer and trans people is at the heart of Safetyfest. What are some of those tools?
Self defense: not just knowing how to break some asshole’s knees, but also knowing what your boundaries are and how to negotiate sex with your lovers and hookups! Community accountability skills to deal with partner abuse and sexual assault in our communities without necessarily relying on the cops! Writing as healing! Love letter writing to queer elders of color! Acupuncture! Burlesque! Raising money and awareness about folks like the NJ 4, four young Black lesbians who were jailed for defending themselves against a homophobic hate crime. Renata Hill is getting out in the next two months and the kissing/spanking booth at Freedom Dreams (Safetyfest’s opening party) is going to raise money for her release fund! Basically, all the ways we come together to support each other, protect each other, and help each other heal from and kick ass against violence and oppression!

How can Bitch readers lend their support to Safetyfest?
Come out to our many events, spread the word by posting links to the Safetyfest blog and Facebook events pages on your social media sites, volunteer, and give money, either at any event or through CUAV’s website. Safetyfest will have everything from self-defense lessons to several bangin’ parties to how to negotiate sex workshops to concrete community accountability skills to safer BDSM tips. The event is focused on queer and trans folks, but is open to straight allies for reals! Take what you learn back to your fam and communities–and keep spreading the safety revolution!

by Mandy Van Deven
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