On a beautiful fall evening at New York’s Dixon Place on Tuesday October 5, writer Dinick Martinez took the stage, reading from a black and white composition notebook; “It’s hard to forget the harrowing moments when I was blind in love with the wrong man.”

The audience murmured an understanding response to the experience and the specificity of the language, perhaps remembering moments when they were also blind in love with the wrong person.

Martinez, who developed the piece during the Queer Shelter Project Stories Workshop led by author Sassafras Lowrey as a part of Queers for Economic Justice’s (QEJ) arts programming was just getting started.

Martinez read a total of half dozen short pieces, touching on themes of love, loss, family rejection and fear and ended with a piece about the decision to tell his grandmother that he’s gay, concluding “Even though I was afraid to lose her love, at this point it doesn’t matter to me, I love myself.”

The event, part of the Queer Text series at Dixon Place curated by Nicholas Boggs. was introduced by QEJ Interim Executive Director Amber Hollibaugh who explained that it was part of the QEJ mission to nurture the “creation of art by people who are not usually brought to the table.”

Set against the backdrop of the October 1 police shooting of NewProvidence shelter resident Yvonne McNeal, who marched with QEJ at the Gay Pride March earlier this year, the stories carried a particular urgency.

Lowrey later explained how the workshops leading to the event unfolded: “The premise behind my workshops is the idea that everyone has a story to tell, and that storytelling is social justice work. In order to truly understand an issue like homelessness, you must hear from the people who are living that reality. Additionally, it can be personally transformative to tell our stories including those of trauma and survival.”

Lowrey added, “These writers, these stories are at the core of who we are as a community and where we need to be focusing.  They are bringing realness to the page that many writers only dream of being able to capture.”

Writer Gykyira Rodriquez who began sharing with a piece entitled “The Last Kiss” perfectly illustrated Lowrey’s point.

“I am dying,” Rodriquez explained, giving voice to a man she described as her first love, “ I didn’t know how to tell you but I wanted to give you one last kiss.”

Jay Toole, the director of QEJ’s Shelter Project as well as a workshop participant was the last reader of the evening to take the stage. She squinted under the DP Lounge lights and joked, “So glad to be under bright stage lights rather than the bright lights of a line-up.” She went on to read a piece that explained her comments, detailing all the different jobs she has held: “Bookbinder…care thief to transporting stolen cards….bike messenger at least for two days, bike dispatcher, panhandler, pimp, armed robber.” At this point Toole looked at the audience and with perfect comic timing and quipped, “talk about upper mobility.”

Her next piece was less tongue in cheek: “I am dying; life on these empty streets is too hard. Because I am a stone butch I had to be strong. There are times I am so overwhelmed that I can’t think straight or gay.”

The last piece Toole read spoke directly to the incident the previous weekend: “Who cares if another homeless person is killed. Who cares if another queer person is killed.”

Perhaps the event itself was a partial answer to Toole’s rhetorical question. Perhaps if we listen to the stories of other LGBT people, particularly those whose voices are often ignored, we will begin to care in a way that makes a difference.

Photo: Jay Toole (courtesy of Kelli Dunham)