Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part One - Giving Tuesday Edition

Here is the first part of our list of ninety-nine things (places, groups, people, etc) that we like.  Our theme for today is Non-Profits and Charities, primarily because we want to make sure these folks get their names out there, but also because it is Giving Tuesday (#GivingTuesday) and apparently that means people are looking for worthy organizations to shower with cash today specifically.

Well look no further, below is a well-cultivated list of organizations doing good work in Chicago to make things better for us all.  We kept annotation to a minimum, but you are welcome and encouraged to click through to their websites and learn more about them.  Most of them fall into one of two categories: 1) "hey, we help queer people/youth live healthier and happier lives", 2)"hey, we help people gain access to food in the city, either growing it or just in general, yay."  Other than that, there are a couple wildcards.

1. Windy City Performing Arts - the organization in which Kristl and Rachel met, there is an SSAA chorus (Windy City Treble Quire) and a TTBB chorus (Windy City Gay Chorus) and the groups are having their combined concert this Saturday at 5pm and 8pm.

2. Felines and Canines -Edgewater-based no-kill shelter housing ~80 cats and ~20 dogs, they have a safe, beautiful space for animals, and a very high adoption rate.

3. Chicago House - Chicago House and Social Service Agency serves individuals and families who are disenfranchised by HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ marginalization, poverty, homelessness, and/or gender nonconformity by providing housing, employment services, medical linkage and retention services, HIV prevention services, legal services, and other supportive programs.

4. Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois - TJLP is a group of radical activists, social workers, and organizers who provide support, advocacy, and free, holistic advocacy and criminal legal services to poor and street-based transgender people in Illinois.

5. El Rescate - is a project of the Puerto Rican cultural center that provides identity-affirming housing to homeless LGBTQ youth, some being HIV positive, and support services to assist with their transition to independence.

6. ONE Northside - is a community action organization composed of community members (like churches and credit unions) as well as concerned individuals that work with lawmakers to make social change.

7. Project Fierce - Project Fierce Chicago is a grassroots collective of radical social workers, housing advocates, and young people who are working together to establish identity-affirming transitional housing in ChicagoProject Fierce’s mission is to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness in Chicago by providing transitional housing and support services to homeless LGBTQ young adults.

8. The Night Ministry - The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that works to provide housing, health care and human connection to members of our community struggling with poverty or homelessness. Through the Night Ministry's Health Outreach Bus, Youth Outreach Van, and Youth Shelter Network, they work on the ground in Chicago neighborhoods to reach adults, teens, pregnant and new moms who have nowhere else to go.

9. Howard Brown - Howard Brown Health Center exists to eliminate the disparities in health care experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through research, education and the provision of services that promote health and wellness.

10. Chicago Women’s Health Center - Chicago Women’s Health Center facilitates the empowerment of women and trans* people by providing access to health care and health education in a respectful environment where people pay what they can afford.

11. Greater Chicago Food Depository - The Food Depository, founded in 1979, makes a daily impact across Cook County with a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, mobile programs, children’s programs, older adult programs and innovative responses that address the root causes of hunger. Last year, the Food Depository distributed 67 million pounds of shelf-stable food, fresh produce, dairy products and meat, the equivalent of 154,000 meals every day.

12. Care for Real - They help those in the Edgewater community by providing food, clothing and counseling services to those in need. They have on-site food distribution, deliveries to the homebound, a free clothes closet and a case-management program to help clients connect with other services they may need.

13. Greenheart Transforms - Greenheart is a nonprofit committed to connecting people and planet to create a more peaceful and sustainable global community.

14. NeighborSpace - NeighborSpace is the only nonprofit urban land trust in Chicago that preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of dedicated community groups. We shoulder the responsibilities of property ownership so that community groups can focus on gardening. NeighborSpace-protected gardens give young and old alike an opportunity to get their hands in the earth and enjoy nature, right in their own neighborhoods.

15. Peterson Garden Project - hosts community gardens all over the northside of Chicago, recently opened a community kitchen in Edgewater.

16. Advocates for Urban Agriculture - Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA) is a coalition of individuals, organizations and businesses working to support and expand sustainable agriculture in the Chicago area, from home- and community-based growing to market gardens and small farms.

So, that's our curated list.  Did we miss any of your favorite organizations?  Are there sustainable or queer organizations that you feel absolutely should be on this list? Please leave a comment or let us know on Facebook or Twitter.  We are always excited to learn about more enlivened non-profits doing good work in Chicago.  Or maybe Chicago isn't your home city, but you want to let us know what is going on in Portland or New York.  Start the conversation.  We're listening!

Curious about part two of this series? Go ahead and click here to see it!

National Coming Out Day: Our Coming Out Stories


In honor of National Coming Out Day, we have decided to share condensed versions of our coming out processes with you.  Please enjoy!

Rachel: I started to come out to myself and my friends in the last year of college/first year of graduate school.  I definitely fell in love with a girl about the minute I hit puberty, but I didn't really understand that my feelings for her were more than "really wanting to be her best friend." I had many of these friendships that tore up my heart in a number of gruesome ways, until I started to realize that this condition was not going to disappear one morning and I would suddenly desire all things male.

Growing up in a very conservative (as I was growing up, I didn't feel particularly conservative, now I realize just how right of center I was) household, I was encouraged to avoid any form of sexual conduct, so it never occurred to either of my parents that I might be following their rules by pining after my female friends.  As I began the process of accepting myself, the looming specter of coming out to my parents and getting them to understand the process I've been through became more menacing.  I finally began to transform that amorphous fear into a reality I could face when Kristl and I became serious.  The fact that I was hiding a major part of my life from my parents was wearing on me, and I am terrible at lying, so it become nearly impossible for me to cover up the intimate relationship between us.

I came out to my parents just over a year ago, and the conversation definitely changed the way we relate.  Now, every conversation has a barely concealed layer of tension, which occasionally surfaces in the form of my mother impatiently explaining scripture to me, and asking me what I am telling God. So, as far as being a candidate for the "It Gets Better" campaign, my application would be fairly incomplete.  My parents have not had any impressive breakthroughs or a-ha moments, but I am holding out hope for them. I do have supportive extended family members, and as you'll read below, Kristl's mom is more than willing to bring on a "second daughter."

Coming out was hugely important to my personal development.  I have nothing to hide from my parents or anyone else. It lifted a weight off my shoulders, and gave me the courage to move forward with marriage to my life partner and my best friend.

When I was in the third grade...I had a mullet and wore muscle tees.
When I was in the third grade...I had a mullet and wore muscle tees.

Kristl: Well, my coming out story is a little (a lot) different from Rachel's. I grew up in a liberal, rather non-religious family. I pretty much always knew I was interested in women, but didn't feel the need to "come out" unless I was actually in a serious relationship. That didn't happen until I was 27. A friend of a friend pursued me and I went with it. While it wasn't perfect by any stretch, I felt a much deeper connection than I'd felt with the few men that I'd dated. She was the first woman I dated and within a month or so, I felt compelled to officially come out to my mom. I was super nervous, even though my mom is incredibly progressive and open-minded. I called her on the phone and it went something like this:

Me, crying because I'm so nervous: "Mom, I'm dating someone and it's a woman."

Her, unable to understand me through the tears: "You're dating someone and you love him?"

Me: "No, it's a woman!"

Her: "Oh, that's okay, honey! You know, you don't need a man to have a family. Also, your sister and I were just talking about how we thought you might be gay."

Later that night, I spoke with my sister and told her what our mom had said, to which she responded, "Nope. We definitely never had that conversation. We definitely have not ever talked about your possible sexual preferences." Whatever happened, they are both totally on-board and could not be happier for me.

(Funny side-story: When my mom met Rachel for the first time, she liked her immediately and told her that she was like a second daughter to her. Um, what about my sister, your actual second daughter?!)

We're here and we're super queer.
We're here and we're super queer.

Rachel and I come from very different backgrounds and have had vastly different coming out experiences. We want to support everyone in their coming out processes and recognize that some people are unable to come out at all. We don't know how far-reaching this blog post will be, but if you're struggling with coming out and/or need someone to talk to, please feel free to email us at sustainablyqueer at gmail dot com.

What Makes Sustainability Queer

I think for many of our readers the use of the word "queer" in our site name and our handles on various social media venues goes without saying.  We're two seemingly female-bodied people in a romantic relationship; that is queer by most definitions of the word.  You can find dozens of definitions of the word queer, but for the sake of this discussion, I am thinking of the word in a wider understanding than in regards to gender or sexual politics.  Queer, as a pejorative or reclaimed term for an individual, indicates that one is not aligned with what society expects. A queer is at odds with the dominant culture.  David Halperin, in his book Saint Foucault, explains queer as "whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant."  Halperin is onto a definition of queer that has a wider scope than one about only sexuality and/or gender.

First though, for the sake of an example, being in a lesbian relationship makes us queer, because the majority of people in the culture are not lesbians or in lesbian relationships. We both identify as queer and choose queer as a blanket term because there are connotations with the word "lesbian" which do not correctly define our sexual and gender identities. Choosing to be queer rather than a certain label is a means of freedom of expression. No matter what you choose to do in life, folks will try to squish you into a box that already exists. To claim queerness is to defy boxes. Queerness says, I'm not really like most of you, and I am not required to explain or defend who I am.

How does this jive with sustainability? We see it fitting perfectly. If someone queer is "at odds with" the normal and the dominant, then doing so much as recycling could make you queer. The status quo for how to live in the United States is to consume as much as you can, as quickly as you can, with no regard to how your consumption is affecting anyone or anything else. It is normal to throw away anything you do not need; it is normal to take any and all prescription drugs without question; it is normal to be out of touch with nature and with your body; it is normal to base a person's worth on "what they do"; it is normal to unquestioningly do what a small collection of multinational companies tell us to do. Educated or not, it is so easy to fall into these patterns laid out in our society.

It is VERY queer to challenge these assumptions about how we should live. It is queer to live in contrast to the status quo. It is queer to recycle, to keep composting worms in the house, to spend hours a week in a kitchen garden, to try to eat no GMO and no conventionally grown vegetables (even there you can see the divide, when you choose vegetables, you choose between "conventional" and "organic", as if the inorganic practices by giant farms are "the way it's always been"). It is queer to try to replace factory produced chemical cleaning products with homemade alternatives. Is it queer to want to know what is in my food? Is it queer to want to have a waste-free existence? Is it queer to choose your clothing and household items based on where they were made and how humanely they were produced? Of course it is.

The list could go on. I think queerness begets queerness.  If I weren't gay, I may not be as inclined to go against the grain in other parts of my life. When you are born outside of the norm, it's easier to step back and look at all parts of your life. We are here to give you tools to make your lifestyle more queer, but we are also here as an indication that you can (and should) choose to be more queer. You can be as queer as you want to be. Personally, I feel all human beings are queer, they just don't know it yet. For now, though, we're focused on transforming the consumerist, disposable culture into something really queer. Kristl and I will do our best to keep you informed and to tell you about all our various queer activities so you can tag along.

This is the first time I've put my theory of queer sustainability to paper, so I'd love to hear your thoughts. I wouldn't call it fully-formed, but it is certainly a start. And those of you who have actually studied queer theory may have more insight and nuance when it comes to my interpretation. We're all in this together. We'll look forward to any comments, and thank you for reading!