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Jace: Hello everyone and welcome back to 603 Stories, I’m your host,Jace Troie and I’m joined today by Linds Jakows. Today we’re going to be talking about community organizing in the lgbtq+ community and how that relates to mental health. So, before we jump in I just want to remind everyone that myself and those affiliated with the 603 Stories podcast are not necessarily mental health professionals but, we will have resources available either at the beginning or the end of the podcast. So, Linds, would you like to take a minute to jump in and tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Linds: Sure, my name is Linds Jakows. I use they/them pronouns, I live in Dover right now, I’ve been in New Hampshire for the past almost 7 years organizing on lots of good campaigns to make good trouble and I really love organizing people and bringing small groups of people together and growing movements to build power for queer people and all kinds of economic and social justice… So, I didn’t know I was going to end up in New Hampshire when I first started thinking about politics and organizing but, I really love the community that I’ve built out here.
Jace: Wonderful, I love that you say getting into good trouble. So, what inspired you to get involved with advocacy in the first place?
Linds: So, I grew up in Phoenix Arizona the first eighteen years of my life through high school and discovered that I was queer when I was 15. Pretty typical story, I kissed my best friend and had a light bulb go off and pretty quickly, came to terms with that myself, but I didn’t, you know, I have a big struggle internally with it but I knew that it was definitely not something that would fit with my dad’s conservative Catholicism and so I didn’t plan on coming out to him until much later when I was older and in a serious relationship. But, he did find out when I was 16 and he told me that I had to go to a Conservative Christian School if I wanted to go out of state for college. Hoping that that would straighten me out, which wasn’t the case at all. So, I ended up going to Pepperdine University which is associated with the Church of Christ where we weren’t allowed to have even an lgbtq student group on campus. So, I started organizing, sort of accidentally, just to get one recognized and I didn’t really know what I was doing was organizing, just gathering, you know, me and my queer friends and other supportive students to meet in library classrooms, people’s dorms… we spent a really long time trying to hash out at a club constitution and the proposal for the administration that we thought would, you know, be very, you know, well worded and, you know, I am realizing now that we should have just submitted anything. We were gonna get denied no matter what and the real work came after that. Pushing a petition that got 10,000 signatures, we reached out to a lot of local media in the LA area, got everything from the advocate to LA weekly to cover our denial of our student run group and it really grew from there; including alumni calling in and saying they were going to boycott donations. On one hand that was a really personal identity issue for me,wanting to- a group where, you know, I could really be myself and then talk about the things that matter to me but, on a bigger level it was also about a small group of administrators and the Board of Regions, top donors silencing everyone else on campus. Especially LGBTQ students and so, it really made me look at that bigger picture and realize that that’s the case on a lot of issues. A small group of people at the top silencing everyone else. And so, I knew that I wanted to work with students on a bunch of other issues to make sure that their voices were heard and I went on to run student voter registration drives and other campaigns after graduating.
Jace: Wow, so it sounds like this really started as, kind of like, a passion project for you, like, something that you needed for yourself and in the meantime you, kind of, found everyone else along the way that, like, also needed it and that’s really cool. It’s like, you attract what you need at the moment. So, I’m just wondering what do you do now? What’s your title and how have you turned this passion project into a career?
Linds: Yeah so, I’ve worked on a lot of different campaigns, moving across the country as I went. I worked with students in Westford Mass surrounded by environmental issues on college campuses a move to New Hampshire to take a job working to get big money out of politics, I am really proud of having manage the campaign that won transgender nondiscrimination protections in 2018, updated our state’s anti-discrimination law to include trans people in workplaces, housing and public spaces and currently I am an organizer with the One Fair Wage campaign, which is advocating for $15 an hour minimum wage with tips on top for tipped workers. And it started off doingsome part time field organizing here and recently moved up to full time and I’m helping out other states doing digital organizing there as well. So, as someone, I haven’t worked in the service industry myself, but I have worked low-wage retail jobs. Especially, you know, as I was going through Pepperdine, you know, making just above minimum wage in a really expensive place to live for college and yeah. I know a lot of folks in the service industry especially now, who are really struggling so, yeah, I believe everyone deserves at least $15 an hour and I’m working to get some of those stories to connect with our senetors to do the right thing, when that comes up for a vote this summer.
Jace: Wonderful, and how do you see mental health playing a part in all of this?
Linds: Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely struggled with my own mental health and feeling just really alone. At first at Pepperdine and not having that support system and not finding my niche and people that I felt safe around at first was really hard and I didn’t necessarily know how to get past that. And there have been other times with organizing when I first moved to Western Mass and I was working for an organization that, you know, paid people like $24,000 a year to work like 80 hour weeks and I couldn’t afford a car at the time so I was, I was really struggling, you know, having to take multiple buses to all of the campuses that I was at and just working non-stop, round-the-clock, and I felt like I was too busy to realize how depressed I was at the time. Then, you know, just struggling to go through the motions, like that. So, I’ve definitely realized that I needed to take the breaks in between campaigns and take other jobs that are, you know, maybe not as focused on like the big long-term social change but, are a little bit slower paced and give me a little bit more balance. So, yeah, but it’s definitely been a process and you know I realized I was non-binary when I was in Western Mass and then quickly moved to New Hampshire where I didn’t know anybody and that non-binary was something that was much less easily understood and I again didn’t really have that support network but, I started going to therapy. I started going to a group therapy for trans and non-binary people that started to really grow and got on medication eventually for anxiety and depression and yeah. It’s definitely been a journey but, I think that, you know, It’s given me more focus and, you know, the kind of work-life balance that I need and, you know, what kind of community can support me too.
Jace: Seriously, work-life balance is so, so important and I’m glad that you’re finding ways to maintain your mental stability through all of this social change that you’re doing for others. It’s good to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself as well. So, where do you see policy and mental health intersecting in your life? Would you like to go into any of the bills that you’ve worked on recently?
Linds: Sure! So, one of the bills that I worked on earlier this year was a bill that would ban transgender girls and women at the high school and college level from participating in any athletics on women’s and girls teams. Which is not a stand-alone bill that’s just in New Hampshire, our opposition has introduced bills like that in many states all across the country and many of them specifically target transgirls and women.
Jace: I was gonna say, It’s interesting that it’s not targeting transmen as well.
Linds: Exactly, yeah, some of them do but but, in New Hampshire yeah, it was just transgirls and women. I really encourage anybody who hasn’t, who is not trans themselves and havent thought about the issue, there’s a really great documentary called Changing the Game that just came to Hulu, that follows three young athletes in high school. There’s one trans man and two transgirls who are competeing. It also features some fun little cameos from the Freedom New Hampshire Campaign, it follows Sarah Huckman who was on her cross country ski team in high school and she’s from New hampshire and shes really active in the non-discrimination campaign. So, there’s a couple of shots, you know, that focus on some of our press conferences and yeah. I’m there kicking off a press conference in the documentary and there’s lots of other really strong advocated from New Hampshire that make some little cameos in the film. So, we did a screening of that through Red River theater when that bill was making its way through the legislature this spring and 200 people came out to view that virtually and then watched a panel that was moderated by myself, with Chris Mosure who was, I believe was the first transgender athlete to qualify for the olympic trials, who executive produced the film and Leiberman from and organization called Athlete Ally that works on LGBTQ inclusivity in sports and then Sarah and Emmett who are New Hampshire folks who have competed here in high school and college. So, it was really great to have a Q&A with some local people and make the case for ending that bill once and for all in New Hampshire
Jace: Wonderful, s,o could you also tell us just a little bit about HB544 which is the Divisive Concepts bill?
Linds: Sure, before I get to that though, I do want to let people know that the Trans Youth and Sports Bill proposed ban was retained by the committee and so they will have some kind of study session this summer to bring it back up again and they will still need to hear from people that they need to solidly kill that bill once and for all. So, the best way to stay in touch with that effort is to go to transactionnh.org, might be .com, but I’m pretty sure it’s .org, transactionNH and sign up for the email list there and that’ll keep you updated about opportunities to call the Senators on that committee when they bring that bill up again this summer. It’s not, it’s not fully dead yet.
Jace: That’s wonderful information to have, thank you so much.
Linds: Sure, you asked about the divisive concepts bill so, unfortunately, I’m sure other people have spoken about this, but it’s in our state budget right now. Language banning any conversation or teaching about systemic racism, sexism, other isms of course in state contracts, grants and training programmes. So, not just, like, schools, any kind of programs or organization that gets state funding.
Jace: And just to give a little background and history for our listeners, the Divisive Concepts Bill is a bill that defines and prohibits the dissemination of certain divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants and training programs and so I guess off of that I just want to ask have you ever been discouraged in your organizing because bills like this that aren’t aren’t passing or that are being shot down it can feel like a real blow to the community and I just wanted to know how organizers handle that?
Linds: Yeah, it can be really tough. Yeah, I feel like I’ve been discouraged on just about every campaign that I’ve worked on at some point so, yeah. It can sometimes feel like you’re just hitting your head against the wall. If you talk to 100 people and only a handful of them get it but, the one thing that, you know, I try to come back to is, you know, there’s always people that are not going to agree with you and you want to spend the most time with the people that do and equipping them with the tools that they need to take action and, you know, building their confidence and helping them build their communities that are going to support them through that process. So, those are the moments that give me hope and that I try to come back to when I’ve gotten a lot of rejection. Whether it’s from regular people that I’m trying to organize or legislators that just don’t get it and are frustrating.
Jace: So, how do you take care of your team in that moment? What are some things that you do to, kind of, keep the energy positive and keep everyone passionate about the work that they do?
Linds: Yeah, I think it’s important to have social spaces where you’re not just focusing on the organizing project but, you’re getting to know people as people and what’s important to them and what they have going on in their lives outside of organizing and, you know, to… to just check in and provide a lot of spaces where, you know, you’re asking for people for feedback. Like, how did that go? What Ideas do you have for making the next event go better? And not always, you know, sometimes I feel like, you know, I always have to come up with the answer or like what comes next, but often others have ideas that I never would have thought of in my own little bubble too. So, I think just creating the space where everybody’s voices can be heard and people feel really actively listened to.
Jace: Next up I want to ask how you take care of yourself in the midst of taking care of others? Because this can be a very draining job, for sure, especially when it feels like you’re fighting for something that you’re passionate about. So, how do you prioritize self care?
Linds: Yeah, it’s definitely a process I don’t pretend to have the perfect, the perfect answer. The perfect thing, you know, to pass along to people but, I learned a lot from a book by Adrienne Maree Brown called Pleasure Activism, that is really about, like, getting past all the grunt work and the obligation that can weigh us down in organizing and really centering pleasure and joy and the things that like make us feel whole and connected to people and knowing that that will help the rest of the work go the way that it’s supposed to go and make people feel whole and empowered and good in the process of being our whole selves and also being in these movements. So, yeah, I definitely, i find a lot of my friends are also organizers and so sometimes that can be good to have space to talk about that in a way that other people understand but, I’m also trying to be mindful of boundaries and sometimes it can be like all we talk about is work and, you know, don’t make that time to have spaces where we don’t talk about organizing and work, um, as much. But, through especially the Freedom New Hampshire Campaign, just hearing, like, from people that I only knew a little bit or didn’t know at all who reached out and said, you know, my- I have a grandchild or child who is trans and this work is so meaningful and is giving them so much hope. That really lifts me up in this work. And that campaign I especially felt really supported and listened to by the national folks that were supporting the campaign, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes national organizations have agendas and don’t listen closely to what works on the local level as well.
Jace: For sure, how has being part of a community that does work around lgbtq+ issues improved your mental health or changed your outlook on policy?
Linds: I got a lot more confidence from you know part of the nondiscrimination campaign requiring me to regularly say “hello I’m Linds, I’m non-binary, I use they/them pronouns” and I got a lot more comfortable with that having to do that all day every day. So, that definitely built my confidence on a personal level. It was also really cool to see people that didn’t have that support community, start to build that through our events and action days, you know, especially people that had experienced a lot of discrimination or maybe lost a child to suicide or other really tough situations. I also found a lot of… of strength through the Slam Free or Die poetry community in Manchester and going there and writing some really personal poems about gender and queerness and seeing that reflected back at me and and meeting a lot of poets through that community that expressed being non-binary and in a whole bunch of different ways and that really made me so much more comfortable with the fact that non-binary doesn’t have to look one way and it can look a million ways and yeah. Yeah, that definitely improved my mental health and, you know, not feeling like I was the only one and, you know, not doing it right.
Jace: This is why community is so important. They always wrap around you when you need them right? And lastly if you could snap your fingers and change one thing to make things better for the lgbtq + community, what would it be?
Linds: I think they’re absolutely needs to be more services that help people when they’re experiencing discrimination. You know we passed this law in 2018 that, on the books, out lawed discrimination based on gender identity but, of course, that is still happening and of course a lot of people don’t have the time or money or mental ability to to sue an employer or a landlord or whoever else might discriminate against them. And I’m still hearing so many people come to me and say “I don’t know what to do”, and sometimes I try to direct them to something like New Hampshire legal aid but not everybody is, is even up for, you know, for working with the free lawyer like that. So, if I could wave a magic wand I would create some entity that would be able to help and support people through that process including helping them find, you know, free or close to free housing in the meantime or, you know, help place them with trans friendly employer. Whatever else they need while they’re figuring that out. Mental health support I think it’s something that’s also really lacking especially in, you know, with people who are in real emergency situations getting getting beds and so I think there needs to be a lot more strong resources for people.
Jace: Wonderful, well, thank you, Linds, for taking the time today to talk with us about your own personal story and also the work that you’ve been doing on all these bills.
Linds: Yeah! Thanks for having me. I’m excited to hear this podcast and I hope that people can connect to these stories so, really glad you’re doing this work.
Jace: And just to reiterate on a few things that you said before we go, so that people have time to write it down if they want: house bill 198, the trans Youth and sports bill, has been retained for the summer and one way you can get involved is to go to transactionNH.org, sign up for the email and they’ll send you emails to find out how you can help in further ways. And also if you have time check out the documentary on Hulu Changing the Game. Thank you so much Linds.