In their short and important book, simply titled Mutual Aid, Dean Spade reminds us of what “working with joy” can look like: “We need each other badly to share what is hard about the overwhelming suffering in the world and the challenge of doing work for change in dangerous conditions.” I was reminded of this by this last story. If you are pausing now because the stakes of the last alert far outweigh and, in fact, throw shade on the requests of the first two, then you are not alone. I remember moving to respond to all three notifications that came across my screen. I took the house call first because justice is what love looks like in public.4
Tiz and I had started a low-barrier mutual aid fund in March of 2020 to get care to those in direct need of it. I cast about thinking of how I could help in this, my second pandemic, having witnessed the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the ’80s and ’90s. Tiz, organizer of the LGBTQ Pop-Up Center of Carrboro, and I immediately thought of one another, as we had been connected through their organizing of a local Queer Family dinner—one that I attended for a time when I had stepchildren and what could be called a family in the conventional sense. Days before stay-at-home orders were in effect, I went into our local co-op, where Tiz worked, and we found one another, saying in unison: “People are going to be struggling and some will die. What can we do?”
From there, we got a bank account with the help of Glenn Brooks, also a member of the Lumbee Nation. He got our plan for anti-racist, queer-affirming work and set us up with what we needed; another banker on the other side of town gave invaluable advice for how to establish our organization with the state in the most expedient way. We had several conversations about the fund being low-barrier, which means that we provide direct aid to a list of recipients vetted by the organizers without need of an application. Our work is with the most vulnerable members of the QTIPOC community, whose immigration status, lack of a stable address, sex work, or inability to access the kinds of technology necessary to fill out an application impact their quest to find legitimate forms of aid. We believe that #WeKeepUsSafe and that community members know best how to support themselves and their immediate families when their very existence is threatened. We found out through direct government payments that this kind of aid transforms the choices that many folks have before them; economists found that such direct payments had positive outcomes for our economy.5
Having a low-barrier fund requires more work upfront to build community and build trust in that community. We know one another and are tasked with uplifting one another where and when possible and telling some hard truths when the need arises. But something else happened in the interim that neither of us could have anticipated—this mutual aid work, this being in community fostered trust, which then blossomed a deep form of love unlike what either of us have known in community. We are more than comrades, more than friends, more than family. We have stabilized more than ten queer households in the almost two years that we have been running the fund. We have redistributed over $100K in wealth to our communities. We are a web of coexisting interdependent beings making our way across the changing landscape of this state. We are creating ways to be together that do not follow a conventional path—this mutual aid work is mutual. We sustain one another, we stand in intergenerational solidarity, we redistribute wealth beyond capital, and remain fully present to one another, practicing small acts of justice as love in public.
This essay first appeared in the Sanctuary Issue (vol. 28, no. 2: Summer 2022).
Sharon P. Holland is Townsend Ludington Distinguished Professor and chair of American studies. She works across the fields of queer, feminist, and critical race/ethnic studies and is the author of four books. Her new project, an other: a black feminist consideration of animal life, is under contract with Duke University Press. Sharon + Tiz met at Tiz’s co-op in 2018, when Tiz recognized a kindred queer spirit and invited Sharon to their local Queer Family Dinner. When the pandemic hit, they sprang into action and the QTIPOC Survival Fund was born.
Tiz Giordano is an independent community organizer and essential grocery worker. Since 2016, they have facilitated almost $150,000 in survival funds for community members. They also played an important role in the historic 2019 #TransferKanauticaNow campaign, a grassroots coalition of activists + organizations who worked together to get transgender North Carolinian Kanautica Zayre Brown, wrongly incarcerated in a men’s prison, transferred to gender-appropriate housing.