BRATTLEBORO—The final stages of planning are underway for Out in the Open, the annual summit for rural LGBTQ folks, which takes place this year from Nov. 9 through 11.
This year, the event will offer three full days of workshops, field trips, and discussions related to working, living, and thriving as a small-town queer person. There’s also a dance party.
For Green Mountain Crossroads, the nonprofit community and advocacy group that has organized the summit, a lot has been happening.
In the last year, after steady growth, GMC is expanding its reach to support rural and small-town LGBTQ people beyond southeastern Vermont.
In the beginning of October, the organization not only moved its headquarters to its own office space in the Cotton Mill, but the nonprofit hired a development director and welcomed a new member to its board of directors. Plans are in the works to further expand the board.
HB Lozito, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, nears their fifth anniversary leading GMC, which was founded by Alex and Debbie Potter in 2012.
At first, the position at GMC was very part-time. “I sometimes had two extra jobs,” Lozito said.
Thanks to steady, year-round fundraising, and grant and private foundation money, last summer GMC was able to expand Lozito’s position to full-time. Within a few months, GMC was able to move from a desk in Lozito’s home to a Main Street office space shared with HELM Construction Solutions.
“We can do so much more with an office and a full-time person,” Lozito said.
Although the arrangement with HELM was beneficial, both entities needed more space, Lozito said. And they realized it just as GMC received a grant to fund a development director, so it was crucial the office had space for that person to sit.
“Finding a new space was a challenge,” Lozito said. “Downtown office space is really expensive and not accessible. At the Cotton Mill, even though the freight elevator is on the other side of the building from us, at least we have it.”
The move happened just in time for Aurelie Richards to begin working with GMC.
Richards revealed that after seeing the job’s announcement, “I think I applied within an hour.”
The long-time volunteer with GMC said she appreciated the organization’s unique, intentional approach to supporting rural, queer people.
“Aurelie was already rooted into the community,” Lozito said.
For the last two years, Richards has helped GMC with events, workshops, and social events, including volunteering as a coordinator for the Trans Femme Chill Club, a regular meeting “open to trans feminine spectrum people with the purpose of focusing on both socializing and support.”
The club, Richards said, quickly “started growing — sometimes we’d get 12 to 15 people. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that, for some attendees, it’s the first time they’ve been in a room full of trans women. Some women feel a lot of loneliness, hiding in the woods, and here they can experience not necessarily a traditional support group, but a place of casual, informal support.”
“Wherever you are in your process, whatever your age, here’s a space to unpack this experience,” said Richards, who noted one attendee recently came out as a trans woman to her spouse and family, and was supported by them — at 70 years old.
By any statistical measure, there has never been a safe moment in our nation’s history for one to live as an out trans person. “Transgender people face extraordinary levels of physical and sexual violence, whether on the streets, at school or work, at home, or at the hands of government officials,” according to the website of the National center for Transgender Equality. “More than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color.”
However, with recent political developments coming from the upper reaches of the federal government — including a Department of Health and Human Services memo recently obtained by The New York Times calling for a roll-back of recognitions and federal civil rights protections of people who are transgender — GMC’s work is taking on a new urgency.
“Just because everyone’s mom is now talking about trans people” doesn’t mean such people are any safer, said Lozito.
In fact, sometimes it’s the opposite. Visibility brings more vulnerability when it’s not matched with a rise in accessibility to power, they noted.
“Onward and upward,” said Richards, who also said that upon hearing the news about the DHHS memo, “I gave myself a day to be really sad and angry, then I pulled myself together.”
“There are all the ways I’m being told I legally don’t exist, then here are all the ways I can plug in and be connected through GMC,” Richards said. “I’m always looking forward to the Out in the Open Summit anyway, but now I really gotta be with my people.”
As Richards settles in to her new development duties, she’s already looking ahead.
“We’ve got some big ideas for development plans in the coming year,” she said. “We have a great group of volunteers and donors who provide resilient, personal, grassroots support. So, how do we expand that? How do we get more people excited about the work we do, to get the message out about and to rural queer people?”
Lozito pointed out that with Richards’s professional support and the cadre of volunteers, “we’re looking at a geographical expansion, doing more regional work.”
“And I get to organize all that into a geeky database!” Richards said, noting she likes that her job is a combination of “social and nerdy work.”
“I’m already noticing the difference with having someone do development,” Lozito said. “It’s the first time we ever hired someone who wasn’t me.”
This step will allow Lozito and the board of directors to get GMC to a place where it’s sustainable and doesn’t need to rely on grant funding.
“We’re looking at long-term planning, which is a new thing for us,” Lozito said, cautioning community members not to think that GMC won’t need to do any more fundraising.
“Now is the best time to support us. We want to build on this momentum of growth to keep going,” Lozito said, noting that taking the organization to its next level will require continued community funding.
New board member
Having a solid, hard-working board of directors helps, Lozito said, and GMC recently added a sixth board member, Eli Coughlin-Galbraith, to its roster, with two more potentially joining.
“Our board is incredible. They do a lot,” said Lozito, noting that members aid with programming, fundraising, and planning.
Starting earlier this year, GMC staff and board members began refocusing their efforts to ask, What do we do best that’s different from other organizations?
“We want every rural LGBTQ person to be a political force for combating oppression and have a deep understanding of the forces that oppress people, and that we are all tied together in our liberation,” Lozito said. “This spreads across all political movements. So, how can we do more of this?”
Part of that strategy, Lozito said, is taking the GMC show on the road, either directly when possible, or by developing “toolkits” for other groups to use, “so we don’t have to be everywhere.”
In mid-November, GMC will bring approximately 75 members of the LGBTQ community to Brattleboro for the 4th-annual Out in the Open Summit. That event has seen growth, too. The first summit, held at the Marlboro Graduate Center, had 35 attendees, “and it was everyone I know personally,” Lozito said.
The following year, the summit and its 50 participants moved to the Broad Brook Grange.
Last year, GMC moved the event to the Hilltop Montessori school, which allowed for more simultaneous workshops in an accessible venue.
GMC has no plan for increasing the number of attendees; 75 people — the number who came last year as well — “is the right size for having a community,” Lozito said.
But this year, Lozito noted, summit attendees are coming from California, Oklahoma, New York, and New Jersey. In the past, most people at the event have come from New England states.
The 2018 summit will also offer an additional day of programming, which allows for longer presentations, including some half- and full-day workshops.
As of press time, Lozito confirmed there are still some open spots at the summit, “but you must register to come!”
“We want people to have time to go deep. It’s often the only time for some rural LGBTQ people to be together,” Lozito said.
In these politically wrought times for LGBTQ people, “we are prioritizing,” said Lozito, “especially trans and people-of-color communities.”
“We need space to heal with each other. It’s been hard lately, and it’s been hard for centuries. We rely on each other to take care of each other.
“This is a community of resilience, and that’s a thing queer people know how to do really well.”