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Uniting Communities Highlight: CAUSA

Posted by amyl at Apr 29, 2011 05:05 PM |

CAUSA's work is highlighted in this regular column in Street Roots, which features the organizations in the Uniting Communities project.

Almost a decade ago, Christian Baeff arrived in Oregon unable to speak the most basic English. He was 21 years old, struggling to stay in college and to find work in his native Buenos Aires, Argentina. His mother had an even tougher time finding a job. Together, they decided to search for new opportunities in the U.S. They borrowed money from a family friend for plane tickets and ended up in Salem, Oregon. 

It wasn’t easy settling into a new home in a new country. And for Christian, he struggled with his sexual identity on top of all the stresses that comes with building a new life in a foreign place. He came out as gay four years later and was lucky to have support from his family and friends in Oregon and Argentina.

Christian was fortunate that he could be his whole self in the communities he belonged to and he felt a desire to give back when the opportunity arose with CAUSA. CAUSA is Oregon’s statewide Latin@ immigrant rights coalition that works towards progressive policy changes by rallying their members all the way to the legislature.  

CAUSA has a history of standing in solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community as an ally to organizations fighting anti-gay ballot measures. But CAUSA felt like they could do more. 

“While that was really powerful work to do,” said CAUSA organizer Aeryca Steinbauer, “it created a sense of ‘we’re the straight Latino organization supporting white gay folks’ which wasn’t how it was.” 

In 2010, CAUSA joined the groundbreaking Uniting Communities, a project that supported organizations of color to have meaningful conversations about LGBTQ issues and to begin taking a stand on LGBTQ equality. 

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“When I was asked to volunteer for CAUSA to make the inclusion of the LGBTQ community a reality, I said YES right away,” said Christian. “I cared about the Uniting Communities project because it recognizes my multiple identities and the daily problems that I face.” Christian became the core volunteer for CAUSA and helped CAUSA to identify and address the connections between Latin@ and LGBTQ issues. 

Uniting Communities, a project of Western States Center, provided the space and support for CAUSA to examine how they could fully integrate and engage LGBTQ issues into every aspect of their work and community. The Center provided training to help CAUSA become more inclusive and to connect immigration rights work to struggles faced by LGBTQ people in their community. 

“Participating in the Uniting Communities project has really been about owning this work as part of who we are as an organization and community. It is our organizational values and who our leadership is,” said Aeryca. “This has been a really transformative process.” 

In 2010, Uniting Communities supported six organizations based in communities of color to advance LGBTQ equality. These organizations had the opportunity to learn about and encourage each others’ work. “We were able to connect with other groups to exchange ideas,” said Christian. “We all have the same passion and having a main organization like the Center to go to for support is crucial.”

The impact of Uniting Communities found its way through all of the work that CAUSA does, including the Leadership Development Program that trains Latin@ to become leaders. Because of Uniting Communities CAUSA created an environment where their members felt safe to came out as LGBTQ and be their whole selves.  

An informal group of Latin@ LBGTQ folks have started to come together. Christian attends the LGBTQ Latin@s and Friends group and said, “I have LGBTQ friends who are in need of support and that’s why we need a space to open ourselves and address our issues.” 

Organizations like CAUSA offer the Latin@, immigrant and LGBTQ communities with hope in that the multiple identities of their members will always be recognized—and that they are all in the struggle and fight for justice and equality. 

In the next few months, stories about Uniting Communities groups like Portland’s Black PFLAG and Indigenous Ways of Knowing will feature their journey in incorporating LGBTQ work in their communities of color. Stay tuned to learn about how your community groups are working to create social justice for all.

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This story was featured in a regular column in Portland's grassroots newspaper, Street Roots. The series highlights the work of our Uniting Communities project.

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