Uniting the Struggles for Liberation in New Orleans

Wesley Ware and Arely Westley

BreakOUT!, a Schott partner in New Orleans dedicated to ending criminalization of LGBTQ youth, released the Vice to ICE Toolkit, a resource on organizing across intersections of identities, including race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, country of origin, and language. The guide was released in English and Spanish last week in partnership with the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice Congress of Day Laborers.

Vice to ICE is the name we use to underscore the struggles for liberation, as well as the intentional building with those whose lives are at the intersections of undocumented status and LGBTQ identity in communities throughout New Orleans.

Now, more than ever, as LGBTQ communities celebrate Pride all over the country against the backdrop of continued mass deportation and incarceration of LGBTQ undocumented youth of color, we need bold strategies for building deep, meaningful relationships across language and across and within all our communities, focused on winning liberation in the South.

The toolkit has been a labor of love. It includes contributions from Southerners on New Ground and the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, while drawing inspiration from years of organizing in New Orleans. It provides conversation starters that groups can use to break down language barriers, workshop curriculums for political education that can be used with different immigrant or LGBTQ bases, and testimonies from LGBTQ immigrant youth.

The partnership between BreakOUT! and the Congress of Day Laborers began in 2011 as our two membership organizations took note of the rampant profiling within the city. Vice officers were targeting young black transgender women and profiling them as sex workers. The police began raiding hotels where many LGBTQ youth of color lived and charging them with solicitation of crimes against nature.

In addition, law enforcement increasingly profiled Spanish speakers, stopping them on the street and in their cars and began using Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as translators. ICE agents were also increasingly being called on to translate during domestic violence calls, and they began conducting huge sweeps and raids of Latinx people who were clearly being targeted to uncover undocumented status.

BreakOUT! and the Congress of Day Laborers were both quite accustomed to our members sharing stories of New Orleans life in intimate settings. And together, we quickly identified a common language of justice and a shared purpose to fight for liberation. We fought and won on numerous fronts. For example, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) now has a policy that prohibits profiling on the basis of gender identity, thanks to BreakOUT!’s We Deserve Better campaign. Furthermore, the NOPD is no longer allowed to collaborate with ICE, thanks to the Congress of Day Laborers’ Right to Remain campaign.

Ultimately, it was through these shared struggles and, finally, victories, that we came to recognize that our struggles for LGBTQ liberation, the human right to move freely, and the fight against criminalization are inherently and inextricably linked. It was out of that recognition that the VICE to Ice toolkit was born. As we move now to organize against the city’s proposed $40 million security plan, which we know will serve to lock up and surveil our members’ communities, it is more important than ever to link the fight for sanctuary with the fight for safety for all of our communities. And to truly win these battles, it will take all of us pushing together.

Maria Amaya, a member-leader with the Congress of Day Laborers characterized it best when she said recently, “The victories that we have won are vulnerable. Protecting them depends on our communities’ unity and willingness to keep pushing at the local level. This October, New Orleans will hold primaries for mayor, sheriff, and five out of six city council seats. Our communities’ struggles for liberation share common threads and it’s essential that we unite during moments like these to ensure that our political voice will be heard.”

Download the VICE TO ICE toolkit here, and share its lessons with your community.

Wesley Ware is co-director and Arely Westley is VICE to ICE organizer of Youth BreakOUT!