An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana…

An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana Kaplan Part 1)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment offers an intro to Outright’s work and their commitment to anti-racism. This is part one of a four-part interview series about Outright.

Can you give an introduction about what Outright Vermont is?

Outright Vermont is hope, equity, and power alongside LGBTQ+ youth. We are Vermont’s only youth-facing organization for queer, trans, non-binary, questioning, and allied folks. We help create peer connections for youth, strengthen families, and transform communities, systems, and schools. We are here for the joy and the comradery, the education and the rabble-rousing!

How long have you been at Outright Vermont, and what growth have you seen in your time there?

As an organization, Outright is now in its 32nd year! It started back in 1989 when a group of community members came together after recognizing the need to break the barriers of isolation and harm that were disproportionately impacting LGBTQ+ youth. I’ve been with the organization eight years now. Our North Star has always been to uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ youth while working to change the systems that create the most harm for young people. The ways in which we’ve done that and the stakeholders we’ve brought in have transformed over time. We’ve started working with youth as young as 3, and we’ve added family programming, because we recognize the connection between familial and community support and positive health outcomes for youth. We’ve grown tremendously in terms of our work with schools and gender and sexuality alliances (GSAs), which are peer-based support and activism groups within schools.

In your mission, you commit to anti-racist principles and practice. How have you incorporated that lens into your work?

It is a responsibility of all of ours to recognize the ways that white supremacy creates harm for everybody. Especially as a white leader in a state that’s 94% white; it’s in the air we breathe, but with different levels of impact on our QTBIPOC community. It’s important that we approach our work from an intersectional lens, especially as we have a platform to impact change with queer and trans youth, who are also black, brown, and indigenous. Our commitment to anti-racism is both internal and external. Program-wise, we’ve worked hard to ensure QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth have priority access to our week-long summer camp program. Thanks to the vision and leadership of staff of color, we established an equity fund a few years ago so as to create a deeper level of accessibility for community members who couldn’t otherwise attend. We know how important affinity spaces are; some of our work is to create QTBIPOC-only space, so youth can just be with each other without the whiteness that they have to navigate all the time. Some of that work looks like white folks being in conversation and accountable to each other and our QTBIPOC community members around what they need from their white peers. Camp is often the test-run for year-round programs, since we get a full week living together in intentionally crafted community, so we can see what’s needed and what works, and build from there.

In the past year, we created an Advisory group held by QTBIPOC community members, the purpose of which is to look at what’s needed in this moment according to youth, based on their experiences and expertise. They will guide the direction of what’s needed in terms of programming that’s specifically built for and with them at the center.

Part of our commitment is also to use the platforms we have to create space for learning and conversations around race and anti-racism, intersectionality, white supremacy, and harm repair. So when our Education team goes into schools and people ask for tips on how to create culture change to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, we also need to uplift the fact that queer and trans people are Black and Brown people. Racism intersects with classism intersects with homophobia and we can’t be siloed in these conversations, or we won’t achieve true liberation.

What’s true is that we are a work in progress. That’s part of the way that white supremacy culture is harmful to us all. We’re taught not to be vulnerable, we are taught to expect — especially as white folks — that we have all of the answers, often at the expense of folks of color. It’s not true, it’s not fair, and it robs us all of a richer, more meaningful existence. It’s our responsibility to engage in these conversations, and most especially with young people at an early age. We’re in a collective moment where it’s impossible to imagine how everybody gets to have their needs met if we’re not rooting these conversations in the systems of oppression that are enacting the harm.

Next Friday, we’ll delve into some of Outright’s programs and events, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has effected their work. Stay tuned for more!

An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.