On Creating Community And Queer Identity: A SHE TALKS Recap

Produced by #bossbabesATX, SHE TALKS is an ongoing discussion-based personal and professional development series, tackling topics from finances to intersectional feminism. Our SHE TALKS feature the perspectives of women and non-binary folks. All genders are welcome to attend.

In this SHE TALKS session, #bbatx programming #BBATX Project + Ops lead Illyana Bocanegra was joined by a panel of community members and thought leaders to discuss queer identity and the ways we can use language, art, poetry, dance and storytelling to create community spaces. The talk also featured a re-installment of portraits taken during our PRIDE 2018 collaboration with Unbounded Agency.

Many thanks to Good Snake Experiential Design Studio and Wine For The People for making this possible!


Photo by Whitney Devin

Photo by Whitney Devin

Illyana Bocanegra of #BBATX, the moderator
Illyana Bocanegra is a queer Latinx documentary video maker working in Austin, Texas and the project and ops lead for #bossbabesATX. Her involvement in the queer community comes with providing visibility and a space for self-expression.

Anita Obasi with Unbounded Agency
Obasi is the founder and Principal of Unbounded Agency, a firm in Texas that specializes in creative strategy and event curation. The agency takes special consideration towards projects that create visibility around traditionally underrepresented demographics, including LGBTQ and POC communities.

Alicia Weigel with interACT
Alicia Weigel is a policy, advocacy and campaign strategist for the progressive movement—changing the legislative landscape for marginalized populations in Texas and beyond. Her work as Policy and Advocacy Director for Deeds Not Words contributed to various state-level laws and city ordinances against sexual assault and human trafficking. In this role, Alicia traveled the country to speak on panels and at conferences, to lead corporate workshops in gender equity (Google, Facebook, etc.) and to train hundreds of high school and college students in legislative advocacy. Alicia also serves as an advisor for interACT, which employs legal and media strategies to advocate for the human rights of children born with intersex traits like her. Through this work and managing the campaign for the first out trans-woman candidate for City Council in the city of Austin, Alicia is committed to fostering intersectional advocacy in the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.

Sarah Marloff from Qmunity
Sarah Marloff has been the Austin Chronicle's Qmmunity Editor for nearly three years and has been writing for the paper’s news, film, and queer section since 2013. Sarah has dedicated her time at the Chronicle to making the alt-weekly as queer as humanly possible. A self-taught journalists with more than a decade of experiences, Sarah’s writing, which primarily focuses on ending rape culture, HIV advocacy, queer rights, and spotlighting queers and women in entertainment, has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and blogs on both coasts, including Washington D.C.’s City Paper and AfterEllen. When she’s not buried under a pile of deadlines, Sarah also throws events for queer women, trans folks, and the nonbinary community under Where the Girls Go ATX – a labor of love she picked up in D.C. as part of the queer blog and events promotion group Where The Girls Go. Recently, she’s taken on the role of moderator for queer panels having run one for this year’s Staple Independent Media Expo and Austin’s aGLIFF Film Festival last month.

Drew Riley, founder of Gender Unbound Fest and Gender Portraits
Drew Riley is a transgender woman in Austin, TX who creates the paintings and written stories that make up the Gender Portraits series. Riley was classically trained at the Gemini School of Visual Arts where she graduated with distinction in 2008. For five years, she was a concept artist and illustrator for a video games, movies, and animated films until she started working on the Gender Portraits project full-time in 2014. Riley conceived the Gender Portraits series in 2013 while working on a self portrait, Adolescence. Creating that portrait was the first time Riley had painted her true self, and seeing it completed was a profoundly emotional experience for her. Upon finishing, she decided that she would continue to paint other people like herself, and tell their stories her through art. Riley was driven to create something that did not exist when she was growing up in hopes to help others have an easier time finding themselves. Today, Riley is the executive director of Gender Portraits, a sponsored project of the Austin Creative Alliance. In addition to creating artwork that educates the general public on the complexities of the gender spectrum, she oversees a team of community volunteers to create validating community events like the Gender Unbound Art Fest. While the Gender Portraits project has expanded beyond her original art series, Riley still finds time to paint trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming people so that she can share their stories with the world.

Here are some takeaways and information to explore based on the night's conversation and the panelists' recommendations:

1.) We kicked off the conversation by discussing what the term queer means to each panelist. Queer is a reclaimed term and has a varied rate of acceptance in the community, but in general, the panel expressed a real acceptance of it.

  • To Sarah, the word queer means “living and loving beyond binaries.”

  • Drew believes the word queer to be all-encompassing. Before queer was reclaimed, other terms like gay, lesbian, bi could fall short once you break down both sex and gender.

  • For Alicia, the word queer gave her access to the community before the “i” for intersex was officially added to LGBTQIA. So few people know what intersex means. Alicia explained that as an intersex person, whether she dates a man or a woman, it’s a queer relationship.

  • Anita also expressed favor for how the term queer embraces any fluctuations and allows people to not feel obligated to a label.

2.) So, why are LGBTQIA+ spaces important? The panel echoed similar sentiments about how “coming out” can be such an emotionally taxing and lonely process, and so it’s important to have spaces where people are working through similar things as you. It can be really isolating without these spaces to congregate, talk, and listen. Drew shared that although she has been trans her whole life, she didn’t have a community until a few years ago, and she remembers the first time she walked into a space that had multiple people like her and she got physical chills.

3.) Still, there are some real challenges around how to curate these spaces.

  • Alicia explained how important it is for the bigger communities within the LGBTQIA community to lift up and amplify the smaller, lesser known communities. “It is our duty to lift up orgs that have been even more  marginalized than us.”

  • Even when there are spaces and orgs, they don’t always have the resources or platforms to reach those looking for them. Drew explained how some of these orgs have been around since the 80s and the 90s and people don’t know about them. She encounters people all the time who are trans and in Austin and have no idea about the TGQ social that happens monthly.

  • Racism, transphobia, bi invisibility, and intersex unawareness still exist and when you host a queer party or event, you have to think of all segments of the community and how they will interact with and feel at that event.

“Even if you’re the most marginalized person in the room, it does not mean that you have all of the perspectives.” — Anita Obasi

4.) How can we support the spectrum of identities that make up the queer community?

  • Have tough conversations. We’re all human, it doesn’t really matter what your demographic is, you will always have a limitation to your perspective, and being open to that is so important. Even if you’re the most marginalized person in the room, it does not mean that you have all of the perspectives.

  • Be honest, and ask the hard questions. But first, do your homework. “There’s this thing called GOOGLE.” Drew explained. Don’t just read article headers and then force your opinion on someone. Read the whole article, listen to marginalized communities, and then SHOW UP for them.

  • Sarah encouraged the audience to be on the front line: “The only way we’re ever going to be a united community is if we stand up for one another.”

  • When you have an org or put on events, make sure that the people you’re representing are represented at the top (on the board, the committee, the planning team). Drew explained how she’s “been to queer spaces that were really just a capital G, lower case L, silent b, and basically an invisible everyone else.”

  • VOTE. Vote for LGBTQIA people and just VOTE in general.

“When we fail to show up and act for other people, why do we expect other people to show up for us?” — Drew Riley

5.) So what are some of the spaces people on the panel feel comfortable in Austin or nearby?

  • Anita: Cheer Up Charlies “There’s an energy there that’s unparalleled. It’s an everyone space.” Anita started her own agency, Unbounded. It’s not so much about creating a physical space as it is about turning physical spaces into queer spaces.

  • Alicia: #bossbabesATX also does this, taking over spaces and making them safe. Out Youth: it’s an org that’s been around for 28 years now, and queer youth can go there and be themselves, have counseling —counseling that even goes into schools.

  • Drew: TGQ Social, San Antonio Gender Association, in Houston Transgender Unity Committee, Houston Intersex Society.

  • Sarah: Allgo is amazing and they’ve been around for 30 years. Austin is basically vomiting queer festivals: Gender Unbound, Contrast Film Fest, Homo Arigato, Outsider Fest. Also, Lesbian Wedding, Guerrilla Queer Bar (which takes over straight spaces), and Fuego ATX.

6.) We then moved into audience questions, an an audience member asked for advice on how to self care as an LGBTQIA person.

  • Anita explained that “if anyone is being ignorant or in your face or demanding explanations, it is NOT your responsibility to be their teacher in that moment if you don’t have space for that. We can talk about this when I have time, not on your time.”

  • Create safe spaces for yourself. And that includes having a support system and friend group that don’t need anything from you.

  • Therapy. Alicia is a huge proponent for therapy—it’s important to have a place to go to unload everything.

  • When you get hate mail or unwanted, harmful comments or threats, learn how to filter your email and your Twitter account.

7.) For the white women on the panel, how do you support LGBTQIA people of color without having a savior complex?

  • Hire people of color. You don’t do it because it’s token, you do it because it’s just better. Alicia explained that in her line of work, “you can’t reach communities without representation from communities.”

  • Understand when it’s your turn to sit down. People often want Alicia to speak about her intersexuality, but she knows there are times where she is not the right person to represent on an issue or represent for a marginalized community of people.

  • Constantly check yourself. Drew explained that you can’t make assumptions. “Have friends that check you. It’s kind of like that saying behind every male feminist is a long line of exhausted women, behind every decision I’ve made is a long line of all of my friends of color who have told me I’m saying something stupid.”

“Racism is alive and well in Austin, it’s subtle in some ways, but being in Austin doesn’t excuse us from being vigilant, just because we’re a blue dot. It’s about owning your own ignorance.” — Anita Obasi

PS: Want more? We gathered some materials.

Read through some of the queer learning materials that were collected during the discussion from community members, and get inspired.


About #bossbabesATX: #bossbabesATX (#bbatx) is an online and offline space for women-identifying and nonbinary creatives, entrepreneurs and community organizers. Through event series, showcases and personal/professional development programs, we've provided a platform of visibility, outreach and financial opportunity to 1500+ Texas-based women and nonbinary creatives, entrepreneurs and community organizers. We make space to catalyze multi-industry coalitions, share our crafts, seek help and provide each other with practical and emotional resources. There is power in our shared experiences. We were named "Best Bossy Babes" of 2015 by The Austin Chronicle, were selected by The White House to attend the United State of Women Summit in June 2016 and inducted into the City of Austin's Hall of Fame in 2017. Learn more at bossbabes.org/bossbabesatx

Our events prioritize the voices of self-identifying women and nonbinary folks. We are not gender-discriminant; all are welcome to attend. This production has been made possible in part by presenting partners Resplendent Hospitality.

About Good Snake Experiential Design Studio: Good Snake provides creative direction and consulting services on projects that can use a little color. They also host a podcast on design and design-adjacent topics and lead courses on traditional sign painting methodology. Click here to learn more about how they work.

This recap was compiled by #bbatx committee member Kelsey Lawrence. Check out our upcoming SHE TALKS at bossbabes.org/events.

Jane Claire HerveyComment