“Meeting of the eXtremophiles” – A Seminar on Intersectionality and Alliances in Youth Activism
In Biology an eXtremophile is a creature that lives under impossible circumstances. For us an eXtremophile is a person who is facing different forms of discriminations and is fighting them. The term has been taken into a new context by Vicente Rodriguez aka Magneto. In the first week of December 2015, 23 young eXtremophiles from eight European countries came together in Berlin to share their experiences on intersectionality and alliance-building.
In the beginning, we established a common ground on various power structures:
Heteronormativity is the assumption that everyone is either male or female and heterosexual. This norm shapes our gender identity, sexual orientation and gender assignment. For example, ‘cis-gender’ describes the gender of a person who agrees with the gender they were assigned at birth. Within the power structure of racism, white people are the norm. We focused on racism against Roma with topics like school segregation, hate speech and restriction of movement. Ableism is the judgement on the physical and psychic abilities of a person. For example, if an event is not accessible by a wheelchair it excludes people who use a wheelchair. Classism describes that middle and upper class is the norm. This creates the tendency to rank people by their economic status, job status, family and education.
The term “intersectionality” was introduced in the 1970ies by Kimberley W. Crenshaw, an African-American feminist in the USA. She showed how black women suffer from discrimination differently from black men and white women because they face both racism and sexism. The feminist movement did not see racism and the Civil Rights Movement did not see sexism, therefore the struggle of black women was invisible. Intersectionality shows that power structures are interconnected.
Five guests and experts on intersectionality gave us a deeper understanding on how to realise the concept into practice.
Our team member Georgiana Lincan, Roma Feminist and member of the NGO E-Romnja in Romania, showed how Roma women are experiencing racism differently than Roma men and sexism differently than white women. E-Romnja aims to empower Roma women. As grass roots work, the Roma women in her community come together weekly and fight for their rights. They are working on access to medical care. They organized pap tests for the women. They fought for better infrastructure and achieved that the streets in their community were paved. The women are fighting to be heard with their own voice inside and outside of the community.
From Paris we invited Anina Ciuciu, activist from the partner organisation of Phiren Amenca, “La Voix des Rroms”. She talked about the importance to consider class, race and gender when fighting against injustice. For la Voix des Rroms it is important to work on a grass roots level with the Roma communities who are living in camps. The boxing club Yag Bari offers free sports and cultural activities to increase self-esteem for the youngsters. Anina points out that alliances have become very important for the fight. In 2015, a Roma camp in Paris was evicted. The solidarity in the banlieue between Roma, Black people and Muslims created a great bond to support each other and to fight against state oppression.
Our guests Emy Fem and KAy Garnellen, sex workers and activists, talked about their intersecting experiences as trans*sex-workers. Sex work is often strongly stigmatized and not seen as a profession. Many sex-workers cannot talk openly about their jobs, because of the feared reactions of family, friends and society. Éva Ádám, Roma activist and social worker in “Frauentreff Olga”, a supporting organisation for female sex workers in Berlin, spoke about the intersections of migrant Roma sex workers. They have to fight discrimination because of language barriers, no access to health insurance and experiencing violence from their clients. Especially for trans* sexworkers from countries where a transition is not covered by the medical system sex work means a solution to earn the needed money, but also the high risk to suffer multiple discrimination.
When we visited GLADT e.V., we learned how an NGO could work intersectionally. Because of racist experiences in the white queer community, queer Turkish migrants founded the NGO in 1997 in Berlin. Salma, a young professional working for GLADT, explained their community based work. This means that the team of GLADT are all LGBT*QI* who are facing racism. Their experiences help them to council other people with similar intersecting experience regarding legal advice, health issues, coming-out questions and cases of discrimination. Salma asked us: “Why do people come to an NGO and why not? Who feels comfortable in which space?” For example, employment politics of NGOs often do not see personal experience as an important knowledge to do certain work, but rather a formal education. For trans* people doing their transition or people who migrated a CV without gaps is often impossible. To be aware of the complexity of everyone’s identity and experiences makes the work of GLADT intersectional.
After learning how different forms of discrimination intersect and (re)produce specific patterns of exclusion, we looked at our own organizations. How do power structures shape our decision making? And who does what kind of work? We shared and developed ideas how to implement an intersectional perspective by figuring out the needs of the community, building alliances with other NGOs to fight multiple discrimination and using the learned tools and methods.
The eXtremophiles will apply an intersectional approach in follow-up projects: The idea came up to build a no hate speech campaign and online network for young Roma to share their experiences and strategies against hate speech. Additionally, we collected ideas for the European Youth Event in Strasbourg 2016: a performance and discussion with a queer Roma activists about coming-out inside and outside the own community to raise awareness on intersectional discrimination.
For your next project keep in mind the tips of Salma from GLADT: “Before you start a project on intersectionality: Ask yourself, what is your motivation? Take your time to prepare and educate yourself. Ask the community what they need. Talk to them instead of about them. Do it slowly, human and with fun!”
Thanks to the eXtremophiles for sharing their experience and knowledge and the amazing contributions. Especially to the language interpreters, the creators of the open space sessions and everyone who created a wonderful atmosphere in the free time.
Written by Tina Heise and revised by Pia Hartmer
The project is supported by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European