Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ), founded in 2002, was among the first LGBTQ groups to advocate for equality by fighting systems that create poverty.
Now Cornell University Library is preserving and organizing the group’s records, to make their trailblazing policies and strategies available to researchers interested in the intersections of gender, sexuality, class and inequality.
“QEJ stood out as an organization which understood the complex issues of LGBTQ people facing the harshest discrimination based on sexual and gender identity,” said Brenda Marston, curator of the library’s Human Sexuality Collection, which is jointly managing the QEJ materials with the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives. “While affluent lesbian hockey moms and gay soccer dads may have been on posters for marriage equality, QEJ kept the spotlight on queer and transgender people whose immediate needs were safe shelter for the night.”
In New York City, QEJ, which closed in 2014 due to financial difficulties, spearheaded changes to local laws and policies affecting homeless transgender people and gave assistance to the city’s queer people in poverty. Its work policies and staff reflected its commitment to diversity in race, class, culture, gender identity, age, education and ability.
The QEJ archive consists of records of its goals and guiding principles, sources of funding, publicity and outreach efforts, and major projects. The group established and managed a shelter for queer people facing homelessness, as well as organizing an annual Amazingly Queer Race for Economic Justice – a scavenger hunt across the city to raise funds. These files give a detailed look at an organization devoted to equality.
“QEJ was part of a struggle not just for gender and sexual, but also economic liberation. These archives will help us understand how QEJ created change,” said Cheryl Beredo, director of the Kheel Center.
The organization’s projects continue through Jay’s House, a nonprofit shelter in Brooklyn, New York, and through Queer Survival Economies, an organizing and research initiative hosted initially at the Barnard College for Research on Women in New York City.
Organization of the QEJ archive was funded by the Paul Rapoport Foundation, founded through a bequest from Paul Rapoport ’62, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1987. The Rapoport Foundation – whose records are part of the Human Sexuality Collection – supported QEJ’s work while the group was active.
Melanie Lefkowitz is staff writer, editor and social media coordinator for Cornell University Library.