Meet Your Neighbor: Lighthouse Foundation

Meet Your Neighbor: Lighthouse Foundation

(Special thanks to Karlyn Meyer for her time and insights)

In its first year of existence, the Lighthouse Foundation has driven several successful initiatives ranging from assertive advocacy to developing a mutual aid fund to benefit the black LGTBQ+ community. Recently, I spoke with Board President Karlyn Meyer (my old colleague from the Chicago Nerd Social Club) about the Foundation's origins, its philosophy, and this Friday's Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) online fundraiser on Facebook.

Can you provide some background on the Lighthouse Foundation?

Lighthouse Foundation (LF) grew out of a community need observed by members of a church. The organizers who have gone on to form the Foundation met through Lighthouse Church UCC, which is a predominately Black, predominately queer and LGBTQIA-affirming faith community led by LF’s Executive Director, Jamie Frazier. So one year ago, there were a number of racist incidents involving Boystown businesses, and they all came to light in relatively quick succession. This hit some major intersections for us as a church, so we did some organizing in response; but at the same time, we did a lot of listening. In the process, we learned two things. One was the sheer depth of macro- and microaggressions, threats to safety, and deep unwelcome experienced by Black queer Chicagoans in Boystown (and beyond). The other was how many people outside the church community supported our work and wanted to join us in this movement. So we launched a nonsectarian nonprofit to move our social-justice work forward.

What motivated you to get involved with the Lighthouse Foundation? What keeps you going?

I’d been a member of Lighthouse Church for almost as long as it’s been around; I love its unapologetic focus on justice and celebration of diversity. So the formation of the Lighthouse Foundation has been a clear and logical application of the values that brought us all together in the first place.

Can you provide some insight into the inner workings of the Foundation – how does it interface with the community? (Both the Lakeview/Boys Town neighborhood as well as specifically the Black LGTBQ+ community)

Lighthouse Foundation has a bifurcated structure. Part one is our caucuses: groups that represent a cross-section of identities within the Chicagoland Black LGBTQ+ community. For example, we have a trans caucus and a 50+ caucus, each led and facilitated by a member of that group. The caucuses raise issues to our leadership--they let us know what they need and what they’re interested in, and provide programming as well. The second part is our direct-action organizing arm, CARE: the Coalition of Allies for Racial Equity. CARE is open to both individuals and organizations--anyone committed to the pursuit of justice for Black LGBTQ+ people. The caucuses are more behind the scenes, with CARE doing the public work.

Our leadership consists of a nine-member strategy team that is primarily Black and queer and includes white “accomplices” (a more active term used in favor of “allies”). Our team includes organizers, clergy, and professionals of many kinds, all sharing a passion for Black queer justice, with Jamie as our Executive Director.

The Foundation has taken a very active stance in advocating for the Black LGTBQ community in Chicago, from security issues at Center on Halsted to creating a Black Queer Mutual Aid Fund in the wake of COVID-19. What are the key issues that Black LGTBQ individuals in Chicago, and what are the challenges in organizing around those issues?

With Black Chicagoans disproportionately affected by COVID-19, disproportionately serving as frontline workers, and many out of work and facing housing insecurity, an immediate need in the pandemic was for financial assistance. With our roots in the Black queer community and our familiarity with the high barrier and inaccessibility of many aid programs, we decided to create the Black Queer Mutual Aid Fund of Chicagoland. Our initial plan was to distribute $100 microgrants, but support of the fund has allowed us to increase this amount. This is completely digital, which is especially helpful because a major challenge in organizing during the pandemic is our inability to gather. We’re thankful that we’ve been able to launch this and other initiatives since going virtual, and that we’ve been able to extend our reach and participation in CARE.

Recently, the Foundation released a guide for white individuals and institutions to assertively help the Foundation. What can we do on a day-to-day basis that moves beyond simply posting hashtags and graphics? How can we make an impact on a smaller scale?

One of the items in that email is a live webinar we just hosted, called Antiracism for White Folks. You’ll find the recording on our Facebook page, and I encourage anyone who is asking this question to watch it. This webinar was run by white members of our strategy team--and I think that’s significant, for two reasons. One is that it’s important for white folks to talk to each other when it comes to the work of antiracism; that education is labor that’s often requested of people of color. But on the flip side, it’s incredibly important to defer to people of color and follow their lead when it comes to working with them for their liberation. I love that Lighthouse Foundation addresses both of these things: It provides spaces where non-Black/non-queer folks can receive that education, clarity, and instruction; and it does so under the direction and agency of Black queer people.

Another very concrete thing people can do is financially support our organization, so we can continue providing trainings like it, mutual aid, programming, and organizing wins. You can donate through the website of our fiscal sponsor, PHIMC, at https://www.phimc.org/donate.

Raks Geek is holding a June 26th online fundraiser to benefit the Lighthouse Foundation. Can you describe some of your other partnerships/collaborations with community organizations?

We’re excited about Raks Geek and grateful that they are providing entertainment that can be experienced at home during the pandemic. Our other partnerships and collaborations have been rich and varied. For example, we’ve worked with public health organizations like Howard Brown for our campaigns; and we’re partnering with the Census for part of our upcoming Black Queer Pride (online) celebration over the 4th of July weekend. But another thing our partnerships look like is our organizational members within CARE. One thing I appreciate about LF is that it’s both nonsectarian and, due to its origins, works with a number of faith communities. Churches have a great deal of power that we’ve all seen used to actively harm LGBTQIA people and maintain racist structures. As progressive churches seek to redress these harms, Lighthouse Foundation serves as a partner to help them take aim at those structures where they continue to be erected; and it provides tools for individuals and nonprofits to deepen their commitment to dismantling them as well.

Finally, do you have anything to tell us that we didn’t think to ask?

We had to adjust our 2020 strategy pretty profoundly in light of the pandemic, and we’re now going strong on digital organizing, programming, and education. If you’d like to be involved with Lighthouse Foundation, your involvement can happen from your laptop, wherever you are. You can join as an individual, on behalf of your faith community, or as the representative of a nonprofit. And if that’s not for you, but you’ve still read this far, we appreciate your time and welcome your support through phimc.org/donate.

Thanks for the chat, Gordon!

We would like to thank Karlyn Meyer for her time and insight, and invite you to leave your comments below or join us via Facebook page. And as always, thanks for reading!

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