Yelling The Good News: A Letter from SONG Co-Director Paulina Helm-Hernandez

Dear SONG political family, allies and friends,

Eleven years ago I said, “Yes!” to the most transformative experience of my young life. I said yes, alongside Caitlin Breedlove, to help nurture and guide a political home, organizing shop and kinship network for and by southern gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer folks called Southerners On New Ground.

We committed to fight alongside our kinfolk across the region because we not only believed in the vision of SONG’s co-founders, but we also believed in the excitement we saw reflected in people’s eyes as we traveled across countless southern towns and cities. All across the South, we saw our people gather to build kinship with, and we saw the growing number of people willing to transform the South one organizing fight at a time. These people, you all, became the powerful base of folks that make up the SONG kinship network and membership that flank and co-lead a range of local, state, regional and national coalitions, alliances and campaigns that are fighting for our people’s right to live, love and thrive.

Last year, I had the incredible gift of welcoming Mary Hooks as SONG’s new Co-Director and Roberto Tijerina as Deputy Director as Caitlin made room for a new phase of SONG leadership. I was also gifted with working alongside them and our incredible team of board, staff, fellows, members, member-leaders, co-founders and Forever SONG family in furthering SONG’s mission:  fortifying our base of leaders and political home as worthy of the sacrifices of our elders and worthy of the respect of our peers and future generations. Over time, I have only seen us all continue to grow and sharpen to do just THAT!

We took risks to further our demands across the South, we committed to grow our Free From Fear campaign arm, supported and seeded collaborative efforts and coalitions and alliances throughout the region including our shared work with the Transgender Law Center (TLC@SONG), AgitArte, Mijente, the Black Lives Matter network, the Movement 4 Black Lives, and many other kindred organizations that share our vision and values.  We connected SONG members and leaders to critical fights in their home states and towns and supported more members than ever in initiating local organizing, base building and campaign-driven work to intervene on the daily violence and social control many of us and our communities face. We’ve grown a kinship network committed to expanding safety and sanctuary for all people facing violence and repression and have curated local, regional and national spaces that center our culture, joy, resilience, gender and sexual liberation, and intergenerational magic that literally have made my queer life worth living.

It is with that pride and joy that I share with y’all my decision to step aside as the Co-Director of SONG. It is a decision made out of deep love, gratitude and commitment to SONG’s long term vision and my own longing to see that work furthered by the many hard working hands that have joined us over the last decade. I have recently felt more spiritually moved to formalize plans that honor the longstanding tradition of our elders to make room so that both new and seasoned leadership can take us to the next level.

It is not lost on me that this year is not what many of us would want it to be, politically or otherwise. I first heard of SONG in my own home state of North Carolina 20 years ago when two of SONG’s co-founders, Mandy Carter and Mab Segrest, marched in support of my very community: farmworkers and immigrants organizing against violence and injustices we experienced and for labor rights across rural NC.  What I saw and felt was the unfolding political unity love story that continues to humble me. That love story is self-evident in our daily work with communities fighting alongside each other and often risking what little we have to protect and defend each other. Twenty-four years after its inception, it is clear to me that SONG is needed in our region more than ever, and in some ways more, because the political power we have been building and the justice we have been demanding is more contested than ever.

Gathering across state lines to literally meet each other in the byways and organizing enclaves across the region, often in between long drives and short nights to share our longings and strategies for survival, in between deep laughs, ancestral wisdom, slow sad murmurs, raunchy queerness and more laughter is often what has laid the groundwork for a more liberated South.  Our work in word and deed has not only healed my own fragmentation wounds, but it has also led me to finding mentors, my closest comrades, friends and even my love Ashe, whom I had the gift of meeting at a SONG campout seven years ago.

My life has been profoundly changed by y’all:  the many hands that have built and guided this ship across often choppy waters, the many who have nurtured small whispers into mass chants, the many who have turned schemes and dreams into organizing fights and campaigns to win and build movement, and the many who have shared their love, resources, findings and wins with us. Your political imagination and generosity literally make our work possible, stronger and bolder. I look forward to catching up with many of you as I transition over the summer formally to Special Projects Director and narrow my focus to specific projects I support and have helped to seed, including the Tiger’s Eye Security Collective,  through the end of the year.

It is my hope that with your relentless love and support SONG continues to transform and morph into the kind of multiracial queer and trans southern organization that makes our region and people proud and that our movements need today, and tomorrow.  

To my blood and chosen family, my lesbian, queer, two-spirit and trans foremothers who have supported me in every small and big way:  my work is to honor you, your sacrifices and legacy.  I look forward to joining y’all on the road to justice in a different capacity, still talking shit, whispering secrets, and yelling the good news.

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