Brennan Lewis co-founded Queer NC and works with the Committee for a Queerer Carolina. Brennan shares tips for others who want to get involved in activism.
Above, photo courtesy of Brennan Lewis.
Brennan Lewis is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They are a co-founder of QueerNC. At UNC, they work with the Committee for a Queerer Carolina and Catalyst Conference. Brennan shares their journey with activism and advice for people who want to get involved with activist efforts.
Q: Where does your passion for activism come from?
A: I’ve always been that kid that said, “I want to save the world.” When I was in third grade I had a lemonade stand in my backyard. I would sell lemonade and popsicles to people to raise money for the local animal shelter. I’ve always felt this desire to be involved and thought if I wasn’t working to make the world better, then I wasn’t living a full or just life.
Q: What inspired QueerNC?
A: When I came out as queer in high school, I started getting a lot of pushback. I also started to meet other people who were not as fortunate as I was in my family background. I meet a lot of folks who were struggling at home and shared stories with me about physical or emotional abuse because they were queer. It was really hard when I was 14 or 15. I’ve been really privileged to have this super supportive background and I felt the need to leverage that position in order to help other people. So I ended up founding QueerNC and doing a lot of work with LGBTQ youth.
Q: Activism can be really draining work, so what keeps you going?
A: I mean, that’s pretty hard. This past semester I’ve been really sick, and in combination with the election, that’s really sucked. I really get my energy back from working with young people. I guess technically I am still young, but I love working with high school students. My favorite part of the work that I do is talking to people who are younger than me, who are smarter than me, and so passionate and motivated to make things better.
Q: What makes working with high school students special?
A: I think high school students face the worst out of any of us, because they’re at an age where adults can still kind of tell them what their reality is. A lot of them don’t know how to ask for help with people that are discriminating against them and restricting their access to resources. That’s so tough. I remember having a really hard time in high school, and I had so much support, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for these people. But, they are still persisting, and they are so optimistic that our future is going to be a better place even when things are going wrong in the world. That really helps me to feel better and (like I) need to keep working so I can give them that space.
Q: What is your advice for people who want to get involved in activism?
A: I would really emphasize that activism doesn’t always look like this big, huge impossible thing. Activism can be a lot of different things. I think that if people want to get started, it’s really important to learn about the issues that you are interested in. Talk to people in your community and figure out what people are doing. Have that understanding of your background and understanding of what folks around you are thinking and feeling. Then, use that knowledge to figure out what you want to do next. You don’t have to start your own initiative or come up with this amazing new idea. There is so much amazing work that is being done right now. Some of the most important people in organizing are folks who support what’s already happening.
Q: What is your advice to allies that want to get involved but don’t want to overstep?
A: That’s a tough question and something I’m still figuring out: how to be an ally to queer people of color. Where is it okay for me to step in? But I think it’s really important to make genuine connections with people in the community you are interested in, rather than just showing up and being like “I’m here” and deciding what people want. Consistently show up for folks and ask them what they want you to be doing so that you are perceived as reliable and committed to actually uplifting the voice of other people and not just stealing the spotlight.
Q: What do you mean “stealing the spotlight?”
A: I think it can be really tempting to rush in and be like, “Wow, I’m so excited to be here and engaged in activism.” But I think it’s so important to take a step back and be like, “Oh, maybe this march isn’t actually a place where folks want white people to be.” Just be aware of that context before you show up to events. Make sure that you are asking people for their thoughts rather than speaking for other people.