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Queer Ancestors Project to unveil anthology

by Alex Madison

Meliza Banales with Queer Ancestors Project students work on "Tender: Queer Ancestors Project Anthology," which will be unveiled Saturday. Photo: Courtesy Celeste Chan
Meliza Banales with Queer Ancestors Project students work on "Tender: Queer Ancestors Project Anthology," which will be unveiled Saturday. Photo: Courtesy Celeste Chan  

No matter how far the LGBT community has come in terms of equality and acceptance, safe spaces and understanding the struggles and resistance of LGBT ancestors will always be incredibly important to the continued progress of the community, said Celeste Chan.

Chan, a queer Asian-American femme, is the director of the first creative writing program through the Queer Ancestors Project, which has been around since 2010. The free, nine-month program that launched in September 2017, took 20 youth, ages 18-24, on a journey back in time to explore the stories of LGBT people before them and, in turn, an exploration of themselves.

"Queer and trans people have been deliberately cut off from their history and from their own sense of power and agency," Chan told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent phone interview. "I want queer and trans youth to know that queer culture is itself a history of resistance. During these Trump times, when it seems like history is going backward, it is more and more necessary for us to know what we're capable of and to know we have a history behind us."

On Saturday, May 19, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Strut, the men's health center in the Castro, the program will celebrate its conclusion and unveil "Tender: Queer Ancestors Project Anthology," a collection of poems, essays, stories, and visual art by the 20 participating Bay Area artists. The event will include readings from the artists and a festive environment.

The participants met twice a week at various locations throughout the city, including the San Francisco LGBT Community Center and SOMArts, to explore LGBT texts, become inspired, share experiences, and, of course, write. As guiding texts for the program, Chan chose stories of LGBT resistance focusing on marginalized communities like Leslie Feinberg's "Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman," a jaunt through the history of gender expression and rebellion. And James Baldwin's "My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation," which Chan said speaks to the issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement today.

Chan said she wanted the participants to be able to find an ancestor they could relate to.

"For young people who have been written out of history, it's a powerful act to go back and connect and say 'wait, people like me have always existed and don't just exist in hate crimes and homeless statistics,'" Chan said. "I want them to know they are a part of history too and their own stories and lives matter."

Throughout the nine months, Chan witnessed change in each of the young artists. She watched as the group became closer and more vulnerable as they shared their struggles with one another. Aside from the challenges that come with being a young LGBT adult, some of the artists are also struggling with homelessness and living in one of the most expensive places in the country, Chan said.

A safe space to express and bond with other LGBTs was somewhat of a life-changing experience for two members of the program, Isabel D. Trevino and Sho Nakashima.

For Trevino, 23, who did not give an identity, the experience not only improved her creative writing skills, but was eye-opening when it came to discovering more about her own community. Trevino came out to her family about a year ago and said the Queer Ancestors Project helped guide her through the emotions associated with that.

"The whole QAP thing has helped me therapeutically," Trevino, who is a health psychology major at California State University, East Bay, said. "Having a program with individuals who understand your problems is very important and brings awareness and wokeness to individuals who feel hopeless or like they have nowhere to go."

Trevino's personal experiences as a young LGBT person were the inspiration for her five-page fictionalized story in the QAP anthology called, "Liquid Courage." The story follows a young girl who abuses drugs and alcohol in order to express her feelings for another woman.

Nakashima's personal experiences also inspired their two poems featured in the anthology. Nakashima, 24, who identifies as genderqueer and prefers they/them pronouns, moved to San Francisco from their hometown in Michigan less than a year ago, a place where they said it was very hard to find queer, safe spaces.

They talked about the way the program has redefined their definition of what it means to be queer and the importance of queer spaces and history.

"I've expanded and grown in so many ways," they said about the program. "As queer and trans people we are constantly expanding our own definitions of what it means to be queer."

Their poems: "Quarantine Room" and "Uji Uji" surround obstacles they faced in their life as an LGBT person. Having a space that fosters conversations about resistance and inspiring queer and trans leaders was a process they called, "empowering."

The 20 youth, Chan, and community members alike will reunite for the Strut event celebrating the anthology, published by Foglifter, an LGBT publishing company that publishes an LGBT literary journal in San Francisco. The event will also celebrate the closing of the Queer Ancestors Project print exhibition, which has been on display since January. The event is free and open to the public. Strut is located at 470 Castro Street.

The next creative writing program is open to LGBT youth and will run August though December and again January through May. The program is funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission's WritersCorps program. Applications for the first round are due July 15 by 5 p.m. Contact Chan at for more information.

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