A Message to Corporations like Planet Granite: Free Belay Lessons Won't Cut It, We Need Anti-Police Brutality Advocacy in Honor of Pride
What are you doing to contribute to anti-police brutality advocacy, the fight for Black, Trans, and Queer human rights, and the issue of gentrification and poverty? These issues are inseparable with Pride and if you want to truly honor the celebration of Pride during the month of June how are you addressing these issues?
When I worked at Planet Granite Portland as it first opened five years ago in 2014, we went through several trainings, and Renee Deangelis and Jeff Ceccacci indoctrinated us into what they called the “PG Vibe.” Their definition of this “vibe” was something along the lines of friendly, warm, welcoming, casual, but professional. The intention was to make everyone feel welcome, like a family. Well, everyone grows up in different families, and what do “values” and “vibes” mean at a corporation that pays their employees less than a living wage with no health benefits?
My time at Planet Granite was tenuous. Difficult. It woke me up to how white men have the power to silence anyone who speaks out against them. It woke me up to how corporations are only in it for the money and nothing else.
I did not feel welcome or part of the family anymore after I wrote an essay that criticized rampant sexism I experienced at the gym. At this time in my life I was advocating a feminism that was very white-centering. I have learned and grown a lot since then, but this experience taught me something important. If I was pushing against instilled, oppressive norms as a cishet, upper-middle class, white woman and getting silenced and gaslit, what does that mean for womxn who hold more marginalized identities than myself? If I didn’t feel comfortable, safe, heard, or seen in this environment -- in this culture of their “PG Vibe” -- how could someone who holds less privilege?
I was eventually pushed out. It was not a place I wanted to work because of the culture. After some time away, I returned as a patron and I have been climbing there as a member of the gym for a few years. Yesterday, as I was walking out, I exclaimed, “Happy Pride!” And an employee asked me, “What organizations would you suggest we partner with this month?” I immediately thought of my friends who run amazing organizations: Anne Marie Santos from PDX Climbers of Color, and Mercy Shammah from Wild Diversity. I also immediately thought about racial justice advocates like Ericka Hart who speaks frequently about the way corporations will jump on the rainbow-washing bandwagon without offering actual, tangible support for the most impacted communities that Pride represents. Planet Granite has the opportunity all year round to partner with these organizations, as well as other Black, Trans, Queer communities in Portland -- the communities of which Pride celebrates -- but just now, for this one month, because it’s Pride, they want to perform solidarity? Where have you been the other 11 months?
The employee I was talking with said they want to offer a free belay lesson and climbing day. There are several things disturbing to me about this conversation and question. For white people who are clueless about Pride, I present as a safe and comfortable person to talk to about these things. As a cis white woman, I know white people are going to find me more approachable and listen to me more than a Black trans womxn who fights for Pride every day, who lives the reality of the injustices that Black trans womxn face. This is white supremacy. The fact that the employees at Planet Granite do not have Black, Trans, Queer womxn in leadership positions, and are asking a cis white woman who frequents their gym is a problem because it means the most impacted communities that they claim they want to serve on this one day of free belay lessons are not already taking up space in their climbing gym. Black trans womxn are not coming to the climbing gym on the regular. Black trans womxn are not working behind the front desk, are not teaching the belay lessons, are not in management, and they are not climbing the walls.
No, it’s not because they don’t want to. We see lots of white men at the climbing gym not because white men are the majority of the people who like to climb. We see lots of white men, and white people in general, at the climbing gym because the space is not welcoming to anyone who is not white. We could argue that the space is actually just not welcoming for anyone, but white people are accustomed to white culture -- a level of toxicity and inauthenticity, so we know how to exist in these performative, Truman Show spaces.
This is a message for specifically Planet Granite because I climb there, but this applies to all corporations: your space is inherently violent. Your space is inherently not a safe space. This is not an attack on any individual who works at Planet Granite. This is not a criticism of the folx who work there for a paycheck. This is not an attack on the people who are patrons of the gym. But this is an interrogation of everyone, including myself, who frequent these spaces and the culture we create by existing in that space. This is a call to action for my fellow white people of the gym, the white people in management, the white people who work there: interrogate your inherent racism, transphobia, homophobia and work against it. Say those words out loud and discuss them. They are not dirty words. They are lived realities. Action that is performative, like a free one-day belay lesson during Pride month, is only serving to uphold the current status quo. Planet Granite will look like an “ally,” will get some pats on the back, call it “baby steps,” and then go back to business as usual. It is not good enough.
Business as usual for Planet Granite is charging exorbitant fees of entry instead of incorporating a sliding scale to ensure all demographics and folx from various economic backgrounds can access the gym. The business as usual “PG Vibe” is complaining about the houseless population down the street instead of inviting them in for free showers and climb sessions. Business as usual for PG is a team of upper management that get paid in excess, while hiring employees without offering living wage and health benefits because that’s bad for business. The “PG Vibe” is hiring employees that won’t talk back when their hours are cut to keep them just out of health benefit reach. The “PG Vibe” is throwing up a Black Lives Matter Sign in the window, but not educating your management team, staff, or your patrons, about white supremacy culture, or about police brutality and how this coincides with your geographic location in a city.
Business as usual for PG is staying quiet about gentrification, and the history of the stolen land that their buildings resides on, which for us in Portland, Oregon is the traditional territory of the Chinook, Molalla, Multnomah, Tualatin-Kalapuya, Kathlamet, and Clackamas peoples.
To the Planet Granite management, specifically the men who silenced me, Jeff Ceccacci and Josh Haynes, who I have still not received an apology from, who still have taken zero action towards accountability and reconciliation for the way they gaslit me, to Renee Deangelis, the CEO of Planet Granite, a fellow white woman who stood silently by and watched me be silenced and gaslit, to Micky Lloyd, who started PG with the intention “to help protect the spaces we love and to share it with underserved communities that may not have easy access to these special places,” -- what are you doing for Black Trans womxn, the most underserved community, the community that started Pride, who celebrate their resistance and thriving existence during this month of June, the month we are currently in, in which your company suddenly wants to take part in? Where is your celebration and solidarity on the other 364 days of the year?
If you are not interrogating why Black Trans womxn are not signing up for memberships, are not leading team meetings, are not teaching the belay lessons themselves, etc, then it is clear that you are only in it to keep yourselves in power and in comfort, and you are not really trying to be in solidarity with those who created Pride. If you are not working to make tangible, actual changes to your so-called “PG Vibe” then you are doing nothing in the name of Pride.
What is Planet Granite doing to be in solidarity with the Black, Queer, Trans communities when they experience police brutality, abuse, and violence? What are you doing to create bathrooms that are safe(r) for all bodies? Why are your competitions still gendered and divided into categories of “Male” and “Female”? If you are trying to be in solidarity with those who Pride celebrates, you will change everything about Planet Granite, from the gendered bathrooms, to your gendered competitions, to the way you hire, to the way you manage, treat, and speak to your employees and patrons, and that is just the beginning. There is so much more. Are you informing yourselves, your employees, your patrons about the foundation of Pride, about the leaders of Pride, and the history of Pride?
Jewel Cadet, the Associate Director of Programs at The Center for Anti-Violence Education, reminds us via their Instagram account that Stonewall was a riot started by Black and Brown trans womxn. For Pride this year in 2019, 50 years post-Stonewall, Cadet organized and moderated a panel called Black Queer and Trans Lives Matter: The Future of Anti-Police Brutality Movements. Cadet invited Kiara St. James of NY Transgender Advocacy Group, David Johns of National Black Justice Coalition, Kei Williams of Black Lives Matter, leading Queer and Trans Black radical organizers to discuss the evolution of Black Lives Matter movements against police harassment and violence. She opened with saying the names of of Black Trans womxn who have been murdered, as well as uplifted the work of Elle Hearns, the founder of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. If your organization, corporation, or company is not honoring and uplifting the lives of Black Queer and Trans people 365 days a year, and you’re not considering your impact on the Black Queer and Trans communities in your area, then you are not honoring Pride.
Cadet asked the panelists, “What’s one word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of police?” Kiara St. James responded with saying, “Often times as a Black trans woman and my relationship with the police they are not there to protect me and folx who come from my community, and I would say that they are not an ally. I know there are some good police officers out there…” But for the most part, the police do not protect Black trans womxn. Jewel Cadet reinforced that police are the enemy.
Kei Williams shared that they are always concerned about their safety, “When I think about police I think of abolition, abolish all the way, unnecessary. We don’t need them because they don’t at all create safety in our community, in our world.” Jewel Cadet spoke about how Pride erases the very people who made it happen. “There is also an erasure of the understanding that it was a fight back against police who were continually harassing spaces that Black Queer and Trans people were creating for themselves. And I think about how heavily policed Pride is, and will always be, because that is the way that it always is. When we gather we are policed.”
Cadet posed the question to the panel, “What kind of harassment do Black Queer and Trans people face from police? What are the important stories and patterns for us to know about?” Williams responded with explaining how the NYPD target Black Trans womxn who they believe to be sex workers. “If you are a Black trans womxn, or trans womxn of color, and you are found with condoms on you that is evidence and cause for arrest. That is just baseless...just evidence of sexual protection that anybody else would be carrying. There is a criminalization of that protection. The criminalization of the protection of your body and how you manage your body, which is a huge thing that police often do with everybody, but specifically with Black trans and queer folx because there is no sense of humanity. There is no seeing a person. There is a seeing of a criminal, a sex worker, and all the names that we don’t like to use anymore so I won’t give them power by saying them in this space.”
Sex work decriminalization is a racial justice issue, and it is an issue that impacts those who started Pride. If a company or corporation wants to celebrate Pride, they need to educate themselves on, and advocate for, sex worker issues and anti-police brutality. Our society needs to focus on how we can alleviate impoverished conditions, which often force Black, Trans and Queer womxn into sex work. Instead of criminalizing the choices made in order to survive, we need to offer people resources and safer means to cope with addiction -- something all races and backgrounds of folx deal with, yet mass incarceration exponentially impacts Black and Brown communities.
The Black, Queer, and Trans communities are targets of police brutality, abuse, and harassment. Companies and corporations who claim to want to participate in, and celebrate Pride, should care about the issues that impact those who started and maintain Pride. If you are a corporation or company, think about how you can use your resources and position of power to hire and pay for consultation from the most marginalized and impacted communities. Ask, “What can we do to help?” And then actually listen and do as they say. Impact Northwest is one example of a great organization that helps companies create an equitable work culture. You need to do more than offer a free belay lesson at the climbing gym for a few hours during the month of June otherwise your action is a performative optical illusion of diversity and inclusion, it is only beneficial to your company, it is meaningless, and it instills no lasting change. What can your company do to change the culture of your space, so that it’s safe(r) for Black, Queer, Trans womxn?
Kei Williams said to the panel, “One of the things I shared with Elle Hearns, a dynamic Black trans woman who was on the panel the other night who is the founder of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which is directly for Black trans womxn, Black GNC and queer folx too. Not only to talk about Marsha’s legacy, but also amplify her and the resistance she did against policing.” It is crucial that if your company engages with anything Pride that education about the history of Pride is at the top of your to-do list.
Netflix created a documentary about Marsha P. Johnson from stolen content and intellectual property originally created, researched, archived, and digitized by Tourmaline. If you watch the film, send Tourmaline money, and keep in mind the violence and erasure that went into making that Netflix film. David Johns reveals, “Tourmaline is a friend, we went to Columbia together. Tourmaline... spent years developing a documentary film about the experience of Marsha P. Johnson only to have a lot of her intellectual property stolen. And then published as a documentary that exists now on Netflix. And what’s interesting is that...The spirit of black womanhood is one of both resistance and ‘I’m going to get it done anyways.’ You should check her out. Find ways to support her. In spite of her doing that which we are told to do -- right -- talking about the politics of respectability, she’s got ivy league degrees…” her work is still stolen and her presence and influence erased.
Cadet explains, “...I think we study Black icons specifically during Black history month, right, that’s when all the icons come out, but very rarely do we think about Black icons who are Queer and Trans and who are living, and who have past, and who people may not know and I think that’s critical. In a room of mixed company we need people to be googling who are these people? How can we venmo/cash app them? How can we donate to these organizations? Because maybe you didn’t know, but now you know.”
In closing, Cadet shared, “I asked for only Black queer and trans folks to participate. I told white people to be silent and witness. My question to the people was, ‘what do we need to focus on as we step into the next 50 years?’ The panelists are not the only ones with knowledge. Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker blessed us with her vision.”
In Kiara St. James’ words about Tanya Walker, “...she’s a living icon and she’s in this room. She’s also one of the cofounders of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group. Walker is a US military veteran. Tanya is a Black trans woman, but back in the day she was a Black trans woman attending Staten Island University where she was harassed and she had to quit. But before that she led a protest to support a cis white lesbian who was harassed in Staten Island. So, she really has a track record of being one of our living legends.”
Walker shared her thoughts with the group: “Where we are going in the next 50 years is educating our youth. Black history in schools. These kids don’t know anything about Black history. All they know is rap music, garbage music. They’re not really musicians like they used to be. There’s a big disconnect. There’s no intergenerational spaces. The older people don’t know what the younger people are going through, and the younger people don’t know what the older people are going through. We have to create all those spaces. Financial literacy. People don’t even know about finances. We don’t know about money. The Black church is not helping us. The cross is not helping us. We have to wake up and do what’s right for our own people as well. We know what white people have done, we know the history of slavery and things like that. But what are we doing for our community?”
White people need to financially support Black, Queer and Trans Organizers. Addressing the panelists Jewel Cadet said, “You don’t get to go home and turn off your blackness, and you don’t get to go home and turn off your Queerness, you don’t go home and turn off your trans and GNC-ness, this is who you are every day. And where other folx get to turn off and you don’t get to do that. On your way here you experienced harassment and i just want to highlight that.” White, straight and cis allies get to turn off and tune out if we want to, but for Black trans folx this is not the reality. Their reality is the work.
Companies and corporations like Planet Granite can start with donating significant money to organizations like the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, or organizations local to their area like Wild Diversity, PDX Climbers of Color, and the Q Center in Portland, Oregon. To Micky Lloyd: if you want to stand by your word of supporting and uplifting the most impacted and underserved communities, now is the time to put some real community action behind your words.