Rural, low-income LGBTQ people need the Equality Act. I am living proof.

June 14, 2020: Protesters hold BLM and a rainbow fist sign at the All Black Lives Matter march in Hollywood
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As we continue to talk about the Equality Act, which seeks to expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect LGBTQ people in employment, housing, access to services and public accommodations, and more, we must look at the impact on low-income queer people, who are so often invisible and left out of the conversation.

I am living proof. I live in Pasco County, Florida, where the median annual income is less than $20,000. I was raised here, and I am proud to be a grassroots activist in this community. I am the child of a single mother who survived working service industry jobs, and through grit, luck, and the kindness of this community, managed to raise my three siblings and me and make a home here for us.

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This rural community was a crucible for my identity as a queer, non-binary kid. In many ways, it stifled my development. But it also held the key to my radicalization.

My entry into community involvement was my poverty. When we needed to utilize a local food bank, I learned about mutual aid. We started volunteering there each week, I imagine because it felt better for my mother to accept this help if we were “working for it.”

The food bank became one of the few constants in my life. This space introduced me to a perennial archetype of communities of poverty: tenacious women that are the backbone of the community. Despite the hardships, despite the world taking so much, they stand and protect the vulnerable, ensuring the children survive.

As I developed into an out and proud community leader, I began to appreciate the power of my visible queerness. I found purpose in living my truth. I was also able to find kindness for my protectors, these women who were concerned about my well-being, often cautioning me to tone down my queerness.

We had some hard, yet necessary conversations about how I was living my life unapologetically, and why doing so was essential to my well-being. I learned to utilize my privilege as a person assigned male at birth to educate those around me and amplify messages vital to liberation.

I am now primarily focused on increasingly creating space for BIPOC, POC, and disabled communities. I am helping to develop Black, Indigenous, Latina women and Latine non-binary and gender non-conforming folks to run for office and represent their communities.

I am also fortunate enough to serve as Vice President of Pasco Pride. We advocate for ourselves and intersectionality within our rural county. This work is so important because of the direct nature of its impact. It’s tremendously important to inform and empower marginalized members of my communities and those I stand in solidarity with to take action in our mission for liberation.

Poverty is the most significant hindrance of these efforts. Pasco citizens of all stripes are dealing with its effects. Whether it be our massive unhoused population,  overwhelming food insecurity, or access to health care, this community must advocate for basic needs – and also must be heard when they do so.

The highly fundamental work we should be taking action on is mutual aid and connecting folks with the resources they need to survive. But in a community like ours, that is easier said than done, especially by LGBTQ members who are nearly invisible in the larger LGBTQ media and culture.

When discrimination is a genuine obstacle in the spaces and institutions intended to help us, our ability to work towards liberation is severely limited. The Equality Act can help change that, but we must be part of the conversation.

A federal law that includes protections against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation would impact communities like ours tremendously. The rights and liberties outlined in the Equality Act are the floor, not the ceiling, but grassroots activists would at least have an even playing field.

The Equality Act would give us a higher degree of agency and self-determination. As rural activists, we would be able to act with more confidence knowing we had the power and support of federal law to protect us in employment, accommodations and all the other areas the current bill includes.

The reward of having federal nondiscrimination protections would benefit those most in need. Our vision is a world free from the oppression of people who don’t represent us, constantly debating our human rights.

With inclusive federal protections, we wouldn’t have to wait on piecemeal equality or state by state equality. We would have equal protection under the law at last, no matter who we are or where we live.

Our community must do the organizing, advocacy and hard work of advocating for protections for all LGBTQ Americans. This is our time and this is our chance.

Ant Avila is a long time grassroots activist from Pasco County, Florida. They are passionate about connecting folks with the tools of their liberation through education, and community investments.

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