It’s Wednesday afternoon and Kieran Chase is full of nervous excitment for the upcoming Catalyst Transgender Leadership weekend retreat. So far, thirty-seven transgender Oregonians have completed the program since its inception. And, given the small number of transgender people in Oregon, this is a big deal. This time around they’ll be bringing a baker’s dozen of emerging leaders together near Mt. Hood for the second of four retreats over the course of the year-long program. Each individual will spend time planning direct action projects that are personally meaningful and also advance justice, rights and equity in the day-to-day lives of transgender Oregonians, as well as greater understanding of the diversity of their experiences as a vulnerable population.
Lessons learned from grassroots organizing in the areas of environmentalism, food insecurity, and youth development inform the work Chase does today. Their work with Basic Rights Oregon uses an intersectional approach to build a strong, vibrant and powerful progressive movement for LGBTQ+ equality in Oregon. Sometimes in partnership or in tandem with like-minded coalitions, fundamentally, their agenda is about advancing equity for trans people, particularly where those issues intersect with racial justice, immigrant rights, reproductive justice and more.
Given, their very first organizing job was five months long, required sixty to seventy hours of work weekly and paid just $300 a month, advocacy around financial accessibility and fair pay in nonprofit careers is another area Chase is extremely passionate about. “The folks who should be doing [nonprofit] work are the people who’ve been most directly impacted by injustice...The folks who have been directly impacted by the systems we’re fighting against are the people who are going to come with solutions in mind...and will talk about what needs to be happening. They’re the ones nonprofits need to be seeking out...and nonprofits need to pay living wages to get the talent to make the changes they want to see.
Like clockwork, Chase receives five to seven calls or messages each day from LGBTQ+ folks in need of assistance. Each faces challenges unique to their circumstances, like crisis related to health, housing, employer and familial relationships among others. Connecting those in need to direct-action resources, particularly those in rural areas with few resources is especially meaningful, they say.
A first-generation college student from rural western Nebraska, as a young person with an ambiguous gender presentation, they were subjected to discrimination and abuse common among LGBTQ+ youth living in small convervative towns. So they understand feeling isolated in a community with little to no resources, and seemingly no other trans people to relate to. Yet over the years, Chase has come to realize they weren’t alone. It turns out, there were and are others they weren’t aware of. And as their stories -- some triumphant, some tragic as a result of bullying and suicide--began to come out, the courage of these trans teens and adolescents have both inspired and galvanized Chase in their push to build a world where all LGBTQ+ people can see a future for themselves. “[They] stepped out of the closet and into their power [and demanded] recognition and respect from their peers and institutions. That’s huge.”
Bottom Line for Portland: Chase is the lead on Catalyst a free, year-long leadership development program for a selected cohort of 15-20 transgender people living throughout Oregon. They’ve led more than 50 equity trainings, reaching 3,000 people across private and nonprofit agencies, municipal government and other organizations and communities throughout Oregon.
By Tiara Darnell