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Queer Detainee Empowerment Project

Stories of Impact

A large crowd of people stand with their fists raised, carrying banners that read "Queer Detainee Empowerment Project" and "We Are Stronger Together."
Courtesy of QDEP

Since its inception in January of 2014, the Queer Detainee Empowerment project (QDEP) has evolved its reach to go beyond addressing the lack of services that caused its creation: “We’re also asking, ‘How can QDEP’s mission as an abolitionist organization serve and truly empower folks who have been detained or are in detention currently?’” QDEP Community Organizing Coordinator Lermxn Montoya said.

As the immigration landscape in the United States continues to ebb and flow in both volume and regulation, QDEP has had to adapt to best meet the needs of marginalized detainees. From the Trump administration, to COVID-19, to Title 42, immigration continues to be a dangerous and uncertain endeavor for many.

A large group of people stand in front of table with flyers and posters that read things like "STOP Deportations" and "Abolish ICE."
Courtesy of QDEP

“QDEP’s main goal is to really help immigrants who are in detention and who are outside of detention to be more fitted and rooted in New York to become the best version of themselves and to have the American Dream,” Richard Wilson, QDEP’s Member Support Coordinator, explained. “We want to ensure that irrespective of the language barrier, they can access services without fear of discrimination and prejudice to help them navigate the system.”

QDEP’s work has had such a profound impact on its members that most migrants actually hear about the organization before they even start their migration journeys. From Latin America and the Caribbean, all the way to West Africa and Ukraine, informal networks of communication between migrants help individuals tip them off to the kind of resources that could be available to them once they arrive in New York.

QDEP’s main goal is to really help immigrants who are in detention and who are outside of detention to be more fitted and rooted in New York to become the best version of themselves and to have the American Dream. Richard Wilson, Member Support Coordinator

Wilson, who actually participated in the leadership program, found it invaluable not only in learning hard skills, but in finding the strength to be a leader in the movement. “The program helped me to understand how to do campaigns, how to give information, how to access information and put together plans,” they recalled. “It also boosts your confidence for those who have confidence issues [when it comes to] public speaking.”

Brooklyn Org’s support has played an important role in ensuring QDEP’s stability as an organization – Montoya says its funding has been most useful in helping to keep the lights on. “There’s just so many aspects that go into funding an organization that make it hard to even  get to the point where we’re providing services,” they explained. Backing from BKO has also helped to grow member involvement in important actions at the capital and in community conversations through honorariums. Moving forward, Montoya added that they’d “love to see more of our members being paid for their time and for [sharing their] experiences.”

A large crowd cheers and raises their fists behind a large orange banner that reads "Protect Queer & Trans Asylum Seekers."
Courtesy of QDEP

As New York continues to usher in its newest residents, it’s important that QDEP doesn’t lose its momentum. To do so, they’re looking to secure their own 501c3 designation after operating under a fiscal sponsor since launch. “We’ve had conversations about how that status will give us more freedom to do more of the advocacy and policy work that we would love to see reflected,” Montoya said. “[We’d also] feel more comfortable interrogating systems of power, calling out elected officials and really rallying up support in the Capitol.”

Wilson also shared that they’d like to see QDEP’s member services to be more holistic. “[We want to provide] housing solutions, legal services, and make these things easier to access,” they said. In light of its lofty aspirations, at its core, QDEP’s true mission goes even deeper, desiring a change in the political landscape that supports liberation for everyone. Montoya reminds us that we all benefit from a world in which everyone is safe – both in their physical space and to be their truest selves: “Our members are an amazing group of people with so much life and so much love.”

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