Intersectionality at #NESAWG2018: Reflections from a non-binary young person

by Larkin Christie

Larkin Christie is a non-binary 17 year old activist and writer. They co-founded Youth Rise Together in 2017 and are a core member of Western MA Showing Up for Racial Justice. You can follow them on twitter @larcoooon to find out more about what they are up to.

I’m a teen activist, but I’m not specifically focused on food justice issues. So why have I attended the NESAWG It Takes a Region Conference for the last two years? Partly because I grew up on a family farm. It wasn’t a business, more of homestead. We talked a lot about food: where our food came from, other people’s access to food, and local agriculture. I care a lot about food in different communities. But mainly I come to NESAWG because I understand that intersectionality is incredibly important to any movement. I try to take opportunities to be immersed in and knowledgeable about as many different issues as possible with a  focus on a racial justice, youth activism and LGBTQ+ issues. But I attend conferences and meetings, and take action on issues including housing, healthcare, electoral politics, and food because I know it’s needed. I know we all need to be completely tangled and connected, just as the issues are in real life.

Let’s start with a basic overview of the conference. Hundreds of people gathered for 3 days of discussions of agriculture, food and sustainability. We were farmers, non-profit workers, activists, students, advocates, policy makers, and so much more! We came together because we believe that we can work towards a more equitable and just food system. There were workshops on the dairy industry, on immigration rights, on restructuring economy, on urban agriculture initiatives, among many other things. I found the conference incredibly uplifting and inspiring. I love hearing what other people are working on successfully. Especially at this conference, often solutions are creative and innovative. Getting to hear about all this makes me so excited to go back to my communities and keep making change.

I want to highlight two issues that are important and extremely relevant to me and talk about what NESAWG is doing to be inclusive, welcoming, and intersectional and what they can work on. One of these issues, youth rights, NESAWG is doing really well with. I want to highlight what that looks like for me at these conferences. The other issue is gender. I want to talk about my experience coming to the conference as a non-binary person and give some strategies for NESAWG to make the conference more welcoming to people like me. This reflection is going to be laid out in respect to two identities I hold and how NESAWG did at making me feel heard and respected in those identities.

On NESAWG centering youth:

Things that were really great:

  • Having young people on plenaries. This was so important for me. Sometimes, people like to say that young people are the future, but we are also the present. We should be represented by people who are familiar with our experiences because they are living them right now. I love hearing what other young people are doing and it also pushes the adults around us to be more inclusive and thoughtful in their language and their actions.
  • Workshops taught by youth and adults collaborating. There doesn’t need to be any sort separation just because of age. I loved workshops where people of all ages were leading together. It wasn’t made a big deal, just stated as a fact that everyone was leading, in equally valued roles. It made it clear that we can’t let anyone fall through the cracks. We need to be listening and lifting everyone up.

Things that need work:

  • Youth caucus. It’s so important to have spaces for us to connect within our intersections. I did not attend the youth caucus this year but I talked to youth participant and panelist Ingabire Adam, and I am including her reflection. What I learned was that the idea of youth caucus was important, but the way it was facilitated was not optimal. Ingabire offers us some suggestions on improving a youth caucus for future years.

“I was excited to be there but the youth caucus was poorly facilitated. I was expecting to have interactive activities and us youth getting to know each other but [it didn’t] quite happen that way. We walked in a room and sat around in a circle and started saying our names one by one and our organization and then the facilitator asked whose first time [it was] at NESAWG. [The] majority of the youth raised their hands, and then she asked what would you like to see change in the conference next year. We had only been at the conference for a day and a half and [for] many youth, it was their first time so the room was quiet for a while.

We had youth walk in the room and decide to sit in their own group and they were on their phones. The Youth Caucus wasn't interactive at all and I tried to jump in and include everyone in the circle but that worked [only] for a while. Then after a few minutes people started walking out. The person facilitating was still asking questions about what the youth would like to see in the future but there was barely anybody answering.

I would go on but I will finish by saying I liked the way the youth caucus was done before. And also [I recommend having] some activities for the youth caucus next year, more interactive ones.”

Based on Ingabire’s reflection, here are a few ways that people planning for next year could make the youth caucus more interactive, involved and beneficial to the participants and the conference as a whole:

  1. Break into small groups, it’s such a good way to get people talking more openly.
  2. Ask about the work people are doing in their communities and how that’s going.
  3. Let people talk about their struggles and their wins.
  4. Ask participants how they could contribute to the caucus in future years: What resources could you bring? What would you like to learn from others? Get people thinking about their individual impact and ability to contribute.

On NESAWG centering trans and gender non-conforming participants:

Things that need work:

  • Have us on panels! Just the way NESAWG has done with other marginalized groups, center trans and gender non-conforming folks. Make sure we are on the board, panels, and represented leading sessions.
  • Bring up gender at the beginning of the conference. Lift up the fact that gender does not equal sex and that gender isn’t binary. Give a brief explanation of the importance of sharing pronouns and then encourage everyone to write their pronouns on their nametags right then. I really appreciated seeing the space for pronouns, but a lot of people didn’t use it, and I think with a little intention it could be better amplified.
  • Make sharing pronouns a part of the culture. Ask plenary speakers to share pronouns. Start workshops the same way. If there is going to be a go around to share anything else (names, states) in your session, add pronouns to the list. It doesn’t take much time but it makes me and others feel so much more heard.
  • Find some way to bring trans and gender non-conforming participants together. Maybe a table at a meal, or a workshop, or a caucus, but some way to say, “Here’s what we’re working on and loving and struggling with in relation to this work and our shared identity.”
  • Highlight work people are doing around the intersection of gender and food justice. What are groups doing to uplift the experiences of trans youth through food? What about trans people having access to health resources (including food!) that help them stay well? Reach out and find people doing this work and make sure they have space at the conference.

NESAWG is doing such important work to build the culture we want for tomorrow. I want to close by thanking everyone who attended and who is doing this work everyday.

Editor's note: NESAWG welcomes reflections from folks whose identities are often marginalized in food movement spaces by dominant social groups. Many thanks to Larkin and Ingabrie for candidly sharing their thoughts with us so we can do better! Want to write a reflection about your experience? Email conference@nesawg.org.