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QWOC+ Boston is a group that promotes diversity by creating and sustaining safe spaces for LGBT people of color in the Greater Boston area.
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Response to Request for MIXOLOGY Venue Change

Posted By QWOC+ Boston on May 4th, 2009

Recently, a QWOC+ Boston member, Amelia Chew, posted on the facebook wall for the Mixology event on May 14th alerting the community at large of a serious issue surrounding OM Lounge’s management’s violation of labor laws;  per the cited testimony, the owners of OM Lounge  are guilty of wage theft against Asian and Latino immigrant workers (as recently as last year!), and so alongside the allegation of the facebook user’s experience advocating for these workers came a request to change the venue for OM Lounge. The latter part of this post details our response to Amee Chew and states the reasons why the organizers for this event have come to our decision to refuse this request.

As the QWOC+ Boston organizers and event admins had received no notice of this disturbing circumstance or venue request change beforehand from Amee (note: Amee also sent an email to the facebook alias simultaneously as she posted on the facebook wall), there was some disappointment expressed internally (and even externally – a few viewers of the event post wrote to QWOC+ asking if we’d know about the labor law violations and if we’d already refused to consider the request to change the events’ venue) at the manner at which this issue was presented – publicly, without first reaching out directly to any of the volunteers/organizers of QWOC+ Boston or waiting for an email response from us before posting publicly on facebook.

The event organizers have considered the allegations in greater detail and put forth a response to the community member’s request to change the venue via the email response below; we are in agreement it seems, from Amy’s follow-up response, that it is in the best interest of our community to always raise our voices concerning cross-issues of social justice, but also, and in acknowledgement of other people’s passions, personal causes, and social justice work, to learn to work together on them as well, presenting a more unified stance and stronger network of advocacy. We are after all, individual people, sisters, brothers, volunteers, and peers, before we are ‘activists’ and/or ‘organizers’.

Incidentally, the organizers of QWOC+ Boston would like to take this opportunity to make clear that if any member of the community is concerned about an event, a social injustice issue, or would like to see ‘more of something’ in Boston via QWOC+ Boston’s programming, we encourage you to reach out to us at volunteer@qwocboston.org and show up to any one of our OPEN meetings to talk about your interests and/or how you’d like to contribute to help make Boston a better place for us all.

If you are asking volunteers – individuals with complex lives – to be accountable to the multiple number of communities to which we all belong as triple minorities under QWOC+ Boston’s mantra, then you simply must do the same and acknowledge that you also make up QWOC+ Boston. We have no membership rules or fees, and most of our events are free because we’d like to create and sustain social spaces that are accessible to as many people as possible. An invitation to become a volunteer as part of our social group is a unique “opportunity” to connect with others like yourself, build the interpersonal connections that are necessary to convince others in turn that whatever cause you are passionate about is worth fighting for.

Below is the original post, followed by QWOC+ Boston’s response (and decision); both Amee and a few of her peers in this request have agreed to volunteer at QWOC+ Boston and work with us to advocate for more inclusive social change, and acknowledge our inability to change the venue of the event or cancel it. Please feel free to post your comments and thoughts via this blog. We also strongly encourage community members who are interested in working with us to promote awareness of cross-cultural issues to join us as volunteers and organizers. Email volunteer@qwocboston.org for more details about how to get involved!

————–

Monday May 4, 2009

cc: admins@qwocboston.org

Dear Amy,

QWOC+ Boston’s Response to Change the Venue of “Mixology” on May 14th

Thank you for your continued support of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) and for bringing this very important issue to our attention. We are very proud of the activist community we serve, and are confident that community members’ voices (like yours) will always help keep us informed about incidents like this. So, even though we operate more distinctly as a social networking group (vs. a publicly accountable 501c), we are always VERY interested and open to feedback from the community members that support QWOC+ Boston.

As we are volunteer-run and do not receive recurring funding, it is both a blessing and a curse that QWOC+ Boston’s sustainability relies on the collaborative efforts and relationships we’ve built between other local social groups, non-profits, promoters, and, more pertinently, venues. The questionable character of the OM Lounge owners, based on the anecdote that you’ve sent, is very upsetting to us. Many of the organizers are of color, from immigrant families, and thus, were personally touched (and infuriated) by this revelation. However, the timing for a more proactive response couldn’t be worse; we already signed the event contract with OM, many print fliers and email announcements have gone out for the event, which is just 10 days away, and we know from direct experience producing events of this kind that we’ll be unable to find an alternate venue – one that is queer-friendly, open to a large group of people of color, willing to give us a space for free – on such short notice. Moreover, MIXOLOGY is our first overtly trans-inclusive event of the year – part of our 2009 initiative to reach out to more trans people in the of color/ally community – and thus, is an extremely important event to us as a group. For these reasons, we cannot acquiesce to any requests to change the venue, nor will we entertain the only other alternative course of action, which would be to cancel the event.

Incidentally, there are many establishments in the Greater Boston area that are guilty of some social injustice or the other. With the limited resources the QWOC+ Boston core organizers have at our disposal, if we tried to take on every single social issue that affect us as minorities, the hard truth is simply this: we would have no where to go and we’d be playing a passive role in contributing to the social isolation that already exists for queer women of color in the Greater Boston area. Searching for viable spaces to host QWOC+ Boston social events is no easy feat for community members that volunteer their time to organizing for QWOC+ Boston; most venues are not that supportive of small social groups, and require large dollar amounts in down payments and/or costly room reservations for social events; many more are homophobic and recoil at the thought of giving their establishment an unwanted ‘reputation’ by hosting us; and lots more are overtly racist via their strict dress codes and/or conduct (e.g. no hats, no sneakers, no baggy jeans, no hip-hop music etc). The list is endless. However, if through your work, you’ve become well-informed of social-injustice-free venues that are better-suited to host QWOC+ events, we whole-heartedly invite you to join us as part of our organizer committee for 2009 and play a more proactive role in the planning and producing of our events.

We hope that it goes without saying that, in the future, if you have any insights to share with us, we encourage you to reach out to us directly before setting the stage for a public protest. We believe it is in all our interests to engage in dialogue around important issues such as this one and work together with concerned community members to present a more unified stance on oppression and social injustice. In this instance, we realize that you were only trying to make sure that the message reached us as soon as possible so that we could potentially address the situation, and we greatly appreciate your fortitude and initiative. However, I think you would agree that QWOC+ Boston provides a very valuable outlet to many marginalized members of the community via a variety of community-building social events (including QWOC Week in August). So, were our good work to be overlooked and/or painted in a negative light due to lack of communication, possibly preventing future events from being supported/well-attended by any subset of the community, it would do ALL of us a great injustice.

On a final note, we are sensitive to the fact that you worked directly with the immigrant workers that fell victim to this instance of wage theft, and completely understand if you do not wish to support the business of OM Lounge. We’d still like you to consider supporting the idea behind this event by attending, yet abstaining from purchasing any food or drinks; this would be a great way to continue to support QWOC+ Boston but present your disapproval of the management of OM Lounge in a tangible way that hits home i.e. not giving them your money.

If you are dissatisfied with our response to this issue in any way, we are more than happy to have you come to our open meeting on Thursday, May 7th at the Cambridge Women’s Center at 6:30PM, and engage you as a new QWOC+ Boston volunteer so that you can meet the other organizers and schedule a time to discuss possible alternatives were this circumstance to present itself again in the future. Thanks again for your work, your words, and your voice. We hope you continue to support ours as well.

Sincerely,

QWOC+ Boston Organizers

http://www.qwocboston.org/

————–

Original Email from Amelia Chew
May 1, 2009

Hi,

For the past few years, I’ve served as staff at the immigrant workers center of the Chinese Progressive Association, a grassroots community organization in Chinatown. The workers center helps immigrant workers learn about their rights and supports them in taking collective action.

I am aware of serious labor violations that the owners of OM Lounge are responsible for. They, Bik Yonjan and Solman Chowdhury, also ran a Malaysian restaurant called Rendang, that shared a kitchen with OM (it was in the same building).

In late 2007, Chinese kitchen workers at Rendang came to our workers center. They reported working 72 hours a week, not receiving minimum wage and overtime pay in violation of labor law, and exploitative conditions including sex discrimination. They also told us that Latino workers worked these same hours but were paid even less, at $1300 per month. Rendang closed last year after issuing the workers bad checks.

While we did help the Chinese workers recover some of their unpaid wages and bounced checks, Yonjan and Chowdhury never took full responsibility for the full wages the workers are owed under the law; they are still owed tens of thousands of dollars. Wage theft is a serious issue for immigrant workers.

In light of this, I was wondering if QWOC would be able to change Mixology to a different venue? I am a queer women of color, and really support and appreciate QWOC’s efforts to build communtiy and create spaces! However, I would not be able to attend this event in good conscience.

I’m glad to provide more information or talk more about the above situation.

Thank you for reading and all that you do,

-Amee
————–

Follow-Up Response from Amelia Chew

May 4th, 2009

[ ] – info paraphrased for privacy

Hi,

Thank you for your reply and also taking the time to talk by phone.  I really appreciate, and respect, the serious consideration you’ve given to the email I sent, on top of all the event planning and organizing.

It seems that perhaps I caused some offense by posting my message on facebook.  I hope you might understand I didn’t mean to attack QWOC+ or dismiss its efforts.  My intention was to reach you quickly — and also provide information to more people, whom I believe should know about this situation if they are considering coming to the event.  I also did not intend for others to use this info to attack QWOK+ either, but rather, to act in ways promoting social justice.  I think QWOC+’s response would do more to paint itself in a positive or negative light than the words I posted — and am glad you have engaged in communication and encouraged collaboration.

Thanks for inviting me and others to the meeting on Thursday. I would indeed like to come — but unfortunately, it’s the same time as a [a prior engagement].  Perhaps I can make future meetings.  I do know, though, that [others plan to come Thursday].  Hopefully, there can be a time to discuss how we might be able to stand in solidarity with the workers’ situation — whether as QWOC+ or individuals — even though it’s too late to change the venue at this point?

I have enjoyed coming to other QWOC+ events, like the stress panel and the takeover of Caprice.  Thank you again for all that you do.

Sincerely,
-Amee

 

 

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    • Tikesha

      Greetings All,

      I thought it time for me to throw my two cents in this online/internet debate over the OM Lounge & where QWOC+Boston hold/host its events. I am one of the organizers for this organization & only hold great respect for the org. / its organizers / volunteers who give of themselves physically/emotionally/financially & back breaking work to make sure the Queer Community of color & allies have a place to celebrate/advocate/debate/socialize/and sometimes the only space where many fill comfortable.

      For the negative internet dwellers who have been posting to facebook/twitter/QWOC+ Boston webpage please take the time to step down off this pedestal & meet us on common ground as we have offered you in past email/facebook discussion to meet with us at our QWOC+ Boston open planning meetings. I am not sure how you expect or want us to guarantee you anything when you are not willing to meet us face to face to discuss venues that possibly have questionable work ethics. Please remember we are a full volunteer group with no funding or benefits from anyone besides our organizers/volunteers/members. It takes many hours/travel time/negotiating to find places that will offer their space to us at a low cost or no cost at all. This back & forth internet babble must come to an end. Lets get back to Human connection & face to face discussion. If you want to discuss our next meeting is Thursday, May 21, 2009 6:30p.m. start time at the Women’s Center located in Central Square. Until then please cease the internet bad mouthing. Peace/ Love / Done!

    • Kaveri

      Dear QWOC organizers,

      I want to very clearly add my voice to that of Amee, Ellora, and many others who have not posted here to make it clear that not a few, but many queer women of color find the venue at OM objectionable. Like you, I wasn't aware of the issue at hand until I received word from fellow activists, but I would think that upon finding out, however late, the possibility of changing venues would take priority based on our not wanting to have an event for queer women of color at a venue run by those that oppress workers of color.

      Specifically, I think that the impact of speaking up to the owners at OM after having already booked an event at OM, would be more powerful than us generally boycotting OM with no indication to them of why or of how much their labor practices are repulsive to potential clients. But since QWOC has indicated the venue will not be changed, I wonder if the organization can still stand up for these workers in some way.

      The questions I am respectfully asking of the organizers of QWOC are as follows:

      1. Were there any possibilities for you to change venues back to any of the previous venues at which QWOC events were held? Were these at all explored anew in light of the information from this email?

      2. If not changing venue, has QWOC at least informed the owners that this event was potentially lost to them because of these concerns, and that QWOC will not be holding future events there for this reason?

      3. Will QWOC not be holding future events for this reason, or if this is undecided could you tell us what the process is for us to be involved in this specific decision? I know that that one possibility is to attend all future QWOC planning meetings, but I don't think someone has to attend all meetings in order to ask for QWOC's transparency on decision making about this particular issue, if they wish to remain both ethical in their dealings and continue to attend QWOC events?

      peace

      Kaveri

      • http://www.facebook.com/ Maud

        Ah yes, nicely put, evneryoe.

    • Nathalie

      Hi Ellora,

      Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing it on this blog. As one of the volunteers deeply involved in finding a venue for Mixology (which, to be rather honest, is much more difficult as the type of volunteer organization we are than I had expected) I want to respond to some of the points you make.

      Though Facebook is certainly an open forum through which QWOC+ advertises its events–allowing for open comments even though there is the option of not doing so– Amee’s immediate post on the site came to me as a bit of a surprise not solely because of the disappointing realities of the venue, but especially because of the rather specific calls to change the event that followed in emails directed at members of the organization without previous engagement. Considering the type of work that went into the coordination of the event, the logistics of actually arranging a change with 10 days to go and multiple events to coordinate, the purely volunteer-run nature of the organization, and the emphasized focus of the event, the demands required a proactive response from our organization and an affirmation of our mission. The point is not that QWOC+ wants to discourage any feedback from the community, be it on Facebook or on this website. On the contrary–we want those invested in QWOC+ to learn about the issues that affect us directly while acknowledging how we work as an organization and getting involved.

      The information about Om was and is welcome. As an immigrant QWOC with too many family experiences of employer abuse due to low socioeconomic/immigrant status, I can tell you that this issue hits rather close to home. I did not know about these abuses beforehand and would have certainly loved to know about them before supporting Om as a QWOC+ event venue. When considering the situation, however, I am focusing on ways to move forward with all of the issues I care about. I am fighting to support all of the communities I identify with in positive ways, which is why you will find me at Om specifically to meet other MIXOLOGY attendants.

      I also want you to know that we mean no offense to Amee. As the first person to bring up the issue, I think it makes sense that we responded to her specifically and that we shared our communication with everyone given especially the high level of interest it incited. Our exchange has provided an opportunity for QWOC+ to present an open explanation about the way our organization is run and to express our need for invested volunteers and members such as yourself. Without your proactive involvement in the organization, all of these considerations cannot be taken into account throughout the planning process of any future events.

      Again, I am very glad you posted on the site. The blog is all about engaging everyone interested in QWOC+ and addressing the many issues that affect us. We fully acknowledge that we are complex individuals regardless of how we relate to three main categories in our organization’s name (‘queer,’ ‘women,’ ‘of color’). We include a + because of everyone who surrounds and supports us, welcoming these diversity-conscious Friends to our organization. We hope everyone knows that the portions of our name are not intended to simplify the definition of our very complex identities. Instead, they are intended to highlight the lack of emphasis in our communities of these important aspects of our lives. Moreover, in terms of activism, the fact that all of us invest so much effort to highlighting these issues as volunteers in specific events does not mean that QWOC+ organizing is simply a past-time or additional activity. If anything, it helps us to more fully complement the way we live our daily lives addressing the various social problems that oppress us in an organized fashion.

      Thanks again for engaging this discussion. I hope that addresses some of your concerns and that you will continue to be engaged in our conversations and programming. See you Thursday!

    • Ellora

      I am a bit taken aback by QWOC+’s response to Amee’s facebook message. I saw nothing offensive in her action–I think posting your event on a public forum on facebook invites public feedback, comments, opinions, thoughts, etc.

      I also think it’s strange how Amee seems to have been singled out here in your response. But that might just mean that others of us should have spoken up sooner. The moment I saw an email announcement about Mixology, I raised my eyebrows at the venue. I distinctly remember attending a protest against wage theft in front of Om last year. Since I learned about their labor rights violations, I have been committed to boycotting the restaurant. It was frustrating to see that Mixology was to be hosted at Om and I immediately emailed a fellow qwoc activist (not Amee) about it. I was heartened by Amee’s email and post because it showed that others in my QWOC community were also concerned about this issue.

      I don’t see activism as a past-time or activity I happen to do while being a queer woman of color. Being conscious of and organizing against classism is as fundamental to my identity as my sexuality, gender and race. The notion of “triple minority” seems rigid and arbitrary and leaves out other social factors like citizen status and class (if I’m right in guessing that by “triple” you mean “queer,” “woman,” and “of color”), and certainly doesn’t jive with how I view identity.

      I have a lot more ideas and concerns I would like to express, so hopefully I can make it to tomorrow’s meeting. I just wanted to get a few of these initial reactions off my chest. Thank you for allowing comments to be posted on this blog.