By Greg Hernandez
Whether it’s a phonebank, a letter writing effort, or marching in the streets, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Resistance Squad has repeatedly been called into action over the past 12 months.
“I love the Resistance Squad,” member Jennifer Rivers said as squad members participated in the Keep the Dream Act Alive March in Westwood in February. “You get a call, something happens,and you’re there.”
The volunteer-based rapid response team was launched in the months after the 2016 presidential election when nerves were raw and spirits low. Since then, more than 800 volunteers have participated in the Squad’s various actions and activities.
“Our initial thought was: ‘How do we get all these ticked off people in one room?’” recalls Joey Hernandez, the Center’s policy and mobilization manager. “They are all types of people and they come from all different walks of life. They are scraping and grabbing the bits of time that they to volunteer for us.”
The squad, launched in March 2017, has worked to protect LGBT equality on issues related to immigration, health care, education,and foster care by participating in more than a dozen phone banks and numerous letter-writing campaigns. Members have also sent postcards to legislators on several occasions and staffed booths at various events.
“It actually helps me personally because I get so angry over whatever’s happening and I get to go and be with other people who are angry and that’s extremely helpful,” Rivers said. “Anger is a huge motivator right now. I love the people and I love to be involved. It’s really awesome.”
Hernandez and their team make every effort to make the most of the volunteers’ time.
“We have created a scenario where folks can just come in and make the calls, write the letters, work a table for a couple of hours,” Hernandez says. “We really just want to have them be able to engage in the work in the most direct ways possible.”
Connecting With Voters
In 2017, squad members had more than 7,000 conversations with voters across the country wholeft more than 700 voicemails with elected officials about saving the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“We always tell our callers, take the time to find out what’s happening with folks, be vulnerable so that they are vulnerable,” Hernandez says. “That can lead to some beautiful moments.”
Among them was one during a health care phone bank when a volunteer was on the line with someone with advanced multiple sclerosis who had benefited from the ACA and agreed to call lawmakers to register his concern.
“He physically didn’t have the capability of writing the phone numbers down quickly,” Hernandez recalls. “This volunteer took the time not only to have a meaningful conversation where they built an emotional connection with a voter but also spent two to three times longer than they usually would with anyone else to be able to help a voter overcome that physical barrier.”
Tired of “Social Media Rants”
Feeling the need to get involved post-election, Laura Wu joined the squad last May.
“You hear all these terrible things on the news about our government and what they are allowing to happen and you can feel so powerless,” Wu says. “It’s been really great coming here doing the phone banking and writing the letters and knowing that you’re actually making a positive impact on people’s lives and putting your money where your mouth is. Rolling up your sleeves and not just yelling at your Facebook friends.”
Fellow squad member Jason Black says he became involved because he got tired of “social media rants.”
“There was just this need I felt to do something other than crying into the wind,” Black says. “It’s been a very easy way to get involved and to feel like you’re doing something that benefits other people. You don’t feel like everyone’s got good intentions but nothing is really getting done.”
Rustie Rothstein, who volunteers an average of two days a month, says being part of Resistance Squad has given her a sense of community that she’s never had before.
“I had never gotten involved in the LGBT community and it’s been a change – it’s been nice,” she says. “When I came out, I went to pride parades and festivals in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. But it was just watching and not being involved in a public way or a group way. That’s why this has been so satisfying.”
Marching with Rothstein during the march in Westwood was Maria Melo, the Center’s policy and operations manager who was touched by the conversation she had with the squad member on that day.
“She has been an activist involved in many battles her whole life and mentioned how important it was to march with your community, to do it together, to not do it by yourself,” Melo says. “It was exciting to see in our group so many generations of LGBT folks mobilized together to fight for an issue that was important to all of us. We come together around activism.”
No Longer Only Reactive
The squads mission has grown from responding to attacks to also include expanding the rights of the LGBT community.They have done letter writing to advocate for the inclusion of more LGBT history in textbooks and also advocated for expanded programs and services for LGBT youth in foster care.
“When have started doing proactive letter writing campaigns to state legislators around the work we’re doing,it’s been incredible to be able to engage in policy work that directly impacts our clients,” Hernandez says. We had young people come downstairs from our Youth Center and write letters to their elected officials that said, ‘I need these things, I need these services. I need these programs to survive and thrive and live a healthy, equal, and complete life.’”
A leadership council has been formed from within members of the Resistance Squad comprised of what Hernandez describes as “some of our rock star volunteers” who have spent as much as 75 hours on actions.
About 20 members of the council have participated in a series of leadership development trainings and action planning.
“It’s really great to see folks being able to find their niche in activism,” Hernandez says. “There’s a lot of folks who have volunteered in other places but the fact that they’re able to be in a queer-inclusive space that is explicitly queer and to be able to get engaged in work is really great and I’m glad that we’re able to offer that space.”