The Time Has Been Come To Get Free: Announcing Roberto Tijerina as SONG’s Interim Co-Director

Roberto Tijerina
Roberto Tijerina

Dear SONG family and friends,

Twelve years ago, I unknowingly started a journey toward finding chosen family and a political home. As a queer man from an immigrant family, I was cutting my political teeth doing work around immigrant rights, language accessibility, and queer liberation in Chicago. I was given the opportunity to learn about the history and practice of Southern organizing at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee, and it was there that I learned about popular education and the legacy of Southern freedom fighters. It was also at Highlander that I came to know Southerners On New Ground. Suzanne Pharr and Pam McMichael, two of SONG’s co-founders, told me about the multiracial LGBTQ Southern organization they helped to start and its history of working across issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The SONG family expanded and Paulina Helm-Hernandez and Caitlin Breedlove, former SONG Co-Directors, showed me SONG’s commitment to find our people and to organize for our collective liberation. I knew I had found a political home and immediately threw down and became a member. My love for SONG only grew as I was invited to join the SONG Board of Directors and later the staff as Deputy Director.

After all these years, nothing is clearer to me now than the time has been come to get free and that SONG is one of the critical movement organizations committed to the joy and struggle of our liberation. I am happy to share my ongoing commitment to that joy and struggle and to build on the foundational leadership of those that have come before by serving as SONG’s Interim Co-Director. I’ll be working alongside Co-Director Mary Hooks, the whole SONG staff, our board, our members, our allies, and our coalition partners towards our shared vision:  a horizon we can touch and feel with our hands and our hearts to live free from fear.

At nearly 25 years old, our work as an organization has only gotten sharper and sharper to get to the heart of life or death issues for LGBTQ Southerners. The apparatus for criminalizing and caging our people is relentless in making a profit by denying people freedom. Those who wish to control our lives and our bodies have been given free reign by the state to police us on the basis of the color of our skin, our immigration status, or how we choose to express our gender and sexuality. These are the realities of this political moment and our past, but we remain steadfast, resistant, and hopeful in our vision for liberation in our lifetime.

Our hope comes from you all, the kinship network that shows us again and again your willingness to swim together in formation even if sometimes it is into uncharted territory with many unanswered questions and imperfect plans. We hear you when you engage SONG in conversations about alternatives to policing and defunding law enforcement agencies.  We see you when you shut down highways and set up deportation defense committees. We feel you when you engage in community based transformative justice practices or succeed in getting someone free from detention, deportation, jail, prison, and the hands of police. Together, we’re all working to push an agenda, led by multiracial LGBTQ grassroots organizing, that expands the definition of sanctuary, unravels the machine of police, ICE, courts, jails, and prisons, and is carried forth by our love for our people and our belief in the possibilities for our futures.

In every capacity that I have engaged in SONG work, I have been gifted with the best of those possibilities and of what home means: sharing of stories and liberatory visions over meals, engaging in principled struggle through challenging conversations on porches, showing up for each other when there was trouble at hand, and celebrating each other with dancing that went well into the night.

In recognition and honoring of the tradition of political generosity, I am committed to fortifying this organization that is a political home to many  and I look forward to working with you all in the year ahead to collectively realize SONG’s vision for Southern LGBTQ folk. That vision is rooted in the yearning to live free from fear, to not be isolated, and to claim our rightful place from urban centers and small towns to nightclubs and factories from the Gulf Coast and the mountains of Appalachia and I can’t think of any other political home and family I’d rather roll with into the future.

Roberto Tijerina

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