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April 10, 2013

Building an Inclusive Movement

I was excited about the Move to End Violence initiative the moment I heard about it - 3 years ago. I have been craving the chance to engage in deep conversations that will lead us to the social and cultural change necessary to end violence against women and girls. I have wanted to articulate what it looks like to live and work at the intersections and how to practice working at those intersections. I have been trying to create the space in my life to build a learning community. And now I have been given the opportunity to be a Movement Maker. While this opportunity is not my starting point, nor my ending place, I feel it is a definite highlight as I continue to create change in the world.

This particular path started in 1988 at a very important turning point in my life. I landed my dream job at the Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS) in San Francisco. As a young Asian lesbian feminist just out of college, having studied Sociology and Women’s Studies, I ask you what other job could be more of a perfect fit?  I joined the amazing cast of two other staff to help Asian women and their children leave violence behind and feel safe. At that time I thought it was about interrupting violence in women’s lives but I would soon learn it was also about my own transformation.

It was early in the story of AWS so I had the chance to do a little bit of everything! I took care of children, answered crisis calls, shopped for the house, started a volunteer program, and so much more. Most importantly I sat at the kitchen table sharing food and stories. I believed I was there to change the lives of other women.

On this 10 year journey I began to understand and name the violence I experienced in a college relationship. She pursued me relentlessly. I was flattered. She saved me from my “fashion failures”. I was thankful. The constant questioning about where I was meant she really cared. When she accused me of hiding her weed I began to think something was off. When she shared how she almost ran over her other girlfriend I got nervous. The night she tried to strangle me I knew something was wrong. By then my confidence and belief in myself had already been depleted. I didn’t trust myself to know what was right and what was wrong. When I finally left her I weighed 98 pounds and I was seriously considering suicide.

Because of this experience I deeply understood the women and children who came to the shelter and called on our crisis line. Because of this I became a strong advocate and passionate activist. But it also forced me to see the missing analysis in our primarily heterosexual framework and strategies. And in turn this drove my passion for making visible the violence in same gender relationships. I used this experience to mobilize community discussions and to start Queer Asian Women’s Services at the Asian Women’s Shelter, now called Queer Asian Women and Transgender Support.

At the Building Movement 2012 Convening we were still struggling to find inclusive language and an analysis that encompasses our diverse experiences of violence in our lives. This is just one of the many conversations I wish to have. I hope that just as I am craving meaningful conversations that lead to clarity, change, and an inclusive movement you are too and together we will make the space, time and commitment to make it happen.

Art by lizar_tistry