This year, Pride Month arrives on the heels of a slew of climate victories: the International Energy Agency essentially said ‘keep it in the ground’; a Dutch Court set a precedent by ruling Shell is driving climate change and must slash its emissions; ExxonMobil lost key shareholder votes in a bid to force them to adjust their strategy to account for climate change; Chevron investors demanded emission cuts; and an Australian court ruled the government has a duty to protect youth from the climate crisis.
These events signal important, people-powered wins against the fossil fuel industry and towards a more just, renewable future. That they precede Pride Month is both a happy coincidence and, perhaps, the universe’s nod to the incredible strength and resistance of both the LGBTQ+ rights movement and the climate movement.
Pride Month began as a riot, with the 1970s LGBTQ+ liberation movement in the United States and the Stonewall Riots. After the Stonewall Riots and the many riots that preceded them, organizers built on the spirit of resistance by organizing a Pride event in New York City. Since then, Pride has become a celebration of queerness in many countries around the world.
Stonewall wouldn’t have happened without Black transgender women rising up against police harrassment and violence. Yet Black trans people largely have not benefited from the powerful movement they seeded. While LGBTQ+ people in the United States are more than twice as likely to be killed, Black trans women are seven times more at risk of being murdered. And this injustice extends as 2021 is shaping up to be a record year for anti-transgender bills in the history of the United States.
If there is to be any racial, climate, or LGBTQ+ justice, the most courageous individuals around the world — from Black, transgender women in the United States to the millions of queer people living under oppressive, homophobic regimes — must be centered, supported, and uplifted.
In honor of Pride Month, 350.org is highlighting the visionary leadership of six LGBTQ+ identifying staff members from around the world: Joseph Zane Sikulu, JL Andrepont, Kelly Albion, Tianna Arredondo, Dawn Betteridge, and Peri Dias. Below are interview excerpts on their personal journeys and their visions for a better world.
Joseph Zane Sikulu (he/him), Tonga
“We need to have more conversations within queer spaces on how we can ensure support and resources to queer and trans people who are escaping the climate crisis.”
Joseph Sikulu comes from Ha’apai and Vaini in Tonga. He is a queer Tongan man… but still trying to figure it all out. He is Pacific Managing Director with 350.org.
“There is no climate justice without justice for Indigenous and first nations first. Queer liberation is a part of that because that [justice involves] cultural liberation, self determination, and ensuring the dignity of our people as we move through this world.
“Queer liberation in the Global North is very different than in the Global South. The fight for marriage equality is one thing… but, in Tonga, people are just fighting to be seen. In Tonga, the same people fighting for human rights are also fighting to protect their island and homes. It’s all the same people who are holding multiple hats. We need to have more conversations within queer spaces on how we can ensure support and resources for queer and trans people who are escaping the climate crisis.”
JL Andrepont (they/them), United States of America
“Just as we have to fight to ensure we are building a hospitable world, we have to make sure it is equitable.”
JL Andrepont is a Pansexual, FTX+, climate policy analyst, writer, puppy-parent, and lover of cloudy days. They are the Senior Policy Campaigner for 350.org.
“We have to be just as invested in the actual lives of the people that live on this planet as we are in trying to address the climate crisis. I’m thinking about this as someone who has multiple marginalized identities: I’m Black; I’m Queer; I’m Non-binary; I’m Disabled. All of my full self deserves justice and human rights. This fully intersects with how climate change is a justice issue.
“We must continue to focus on building a society based on not just equality but equity. If one of us isn’t free, then none of us are free. We have to [accept the reality] that soon there will be large swathes of this planet that will be uninhabitable. Those climate impacted individuals have just as much of a right to live their full lives and be their full selves as anyone who is not in a climate impacted community.”
Kelly Albion (they/them), Australia
“Climate justice is the journey we are on to create a better world. If we are creating a world that is better for everyone, queer liberation is a core part of that vision.”
Kelly Albion is a queer climate activist living on Wurundjeri Country/Melbourne. They are the Campaign Director at 350 Australia.
“My queerness and the freedom that I feel in who I get to be is what I want for the rest of the world. Climate justice is the journey we are on to create a better world. If we are creating a world that is better world for everyone, queer liberation is a core part of that vision. We want to create a world where everyone is loved, accepted, and celebrated for who they are.
“As extreme weather events get worse, [we must] make disasters safer for trans people, queer couples, and people with disabilities. [We must] make sure that no one gets left behind in a disaster by supporting queer communities as they sit in evacuation centres after bush fires, floods, cyclones. When everyone, no matter their age or identity, can feel fully free in who they are then they will also treat other people, and the planet with respect.”
Tianna Arredondo (they/them), United States of America
“My queer identity is about being able to adapt and pivot to what is needed in each moment.”
Tianna Arredondo is a gender queer writer and organizer. They are a national organizer with 350.org.
“My queer identity is about being able to adapt and pivot to what is needed in the moment. This morning, one of my community members said, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ That’s a way to explain my queerness, [and] that’s what climate activism is about — adapting to where we are in each moment [because] yes, we are advocating for the earth but we are also advocating for the more than human world and many people whose voices are needed yet are not always present.
“Queer liberation is about being able to express yourself however you feel is in your integrity while having access to basic human rights and safety. With climate change, it’s similar because companies are trying to shut us up when we are trying to survive and adapt to the needs of a changing world caused by corporate greed and extraction.”
Dawn Betteridge (she/they), Netherlands
“Life is a continuous coming out process about whatever it is you believe in, especially when you know you are not the majority voice in the room. Being a queer activist teaches you how to do that.”
Dawn Betteridge is a queer and climate activist, multiple passport holder, with no real belief in geographical boundaries. They are the Director for Strategy and Integrated Learning at 350.org and are currently based in the Netherlands.
“Queerness adds a filter to the way I look at the world: a hyper awareness of what assumptions people are making about me and I’m making about others. Life is a continuous coming out process about whatever it is you believe in especially when you know you are not the majority voice in the room. Being a queer activist teaches you that.
“I am quite introverted. Part of that means I’m not seeking spaces to come out. I chose to be a very visible queer activist in my 20s and 30s. I suppose I’ve learnt along the way that I can choose different roles in activism. I’m in my 50s now. I know that I have a lot of valuable experience. But I don’t need the confirmation or recognition anymore — maybe that comes with age. It’s hard to be out there at the front. It’s important to have people supporting from behind.”
Peri Dias (he/him), Brazil
“Being queer makes me more able to hear people.”
Peri Dias is a gay Brazilian journalist who loves to hear people’s stories and works to fight injustice. He is 350’s Communications Manager for Latin America.
“Being queer made me along my life to be more sensitive and more attentive to social justice issues in general. As a middle-class, cisgender man, and as a person who is perceived as having white skin in Brazil, I tend to be part of the privileged groups in most situations, but as a gay man, I am often confronted with thoughts and feelings that I would not get to know if I were heterosexual. I’ve understood since I was young how social dynamics and inequality and prejudice can play a role in an individual’s life.
“Being queer also made me more able to hear people. I am more open to listening to people without judgement and a preconceived idea of how they should be and what they should do and how they should live.”