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Astraea interview with Jean Hardisty and Surina Khan - Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice

Astraea interview with Jean Hardisty and Surina Khan

Published on Apr 20, 2015

Last year, Jean Hardisty and Surina Khan chatted about their relationship to LGBTQI activism, being an Astraea donor and their vision for the future. Read their inspring conversation below.

Jean Hardisty                              Surina Khan

WHERE
USA- New York

How did you both get connected to LGBTQI activism and philanthropy, and what were your formative experiences with Astraea?

Jean Hardisty (JVH): I was late coming to lesbianism and when I did, at about 30, I felt that I had come home. I was married to a lovely man who said, “If you are a lesbian, you need to go and be one.”  I knew very little about the LGB movement (that’s what it was called at that time), and learned most from being on the boards of progressive organizations.  Because I was always out, I was often the only voice speaking from a gay perspective. I guess you could say I learned by being thrown into the deep end. 

By the mid-1970s I was beginning to developing expertise on the right wing of the political spectrum. My first encounter with Astraea was when Katherine Acey asked me to come to New York and talk to the Astraea board about ‘the Right’. Astraea was at 666 Broadway then, and the board meeting was held in a tiny, windowless room.  I was completely taken with the board members that Katherine had assembled. As I recall, it was at about this time that Astraea decided to come out as a lesbian foundation – the first foundation to do so. 

Surina Khan (SK): I came out in my early 20s and when I did, it politicized me around LGBT activism, and also broader progressive social justice issues, which was not really something I had given a whole lot of thought to up until then. Coming to terms with my lesbianism was hard on my family. My parents came to the US from Pakistan in the early 70s and while I always think of them as modern by Pakistani standards, they were pretty conservative by US norms, and my family had a really hard time accepting that I was a lesbian. That made me more dedicated to working on LGBT issues—to change the way we were being treated by our own families, our own governments, our schools. It wasn’t until the mid 90s that I got introduced to Astraea. In fact, dear Jean, I have you to thank for the introduction. You hired me at Political Research Associates in 1995 and gave me the opportunity to attend an LGBT people of color summit shortly after we started working together, and it was there that I met Katherine Acey and was introduced to Astraea. I remember feeling like Astraea brought my worlds together because here was a lesbian organization working on global LGBT issues, and I thought, “Wow, not only can I work for LGBT rights in the US, but maybe one day I can have an effect on LGBT issues in my home country of Pakistan.”

2) We are in a critical moment. While LGBTQI human rights issues are in a media spotlight and LGBTQ activists are poised to continue to do the work they have been doing, at the same time LGBTQI people continue to face disproportionate levels of poverty, violence and discrimination and LGBTQI movements are vastly underesourced/underfunded. What do you think the most important next step is for our movements? What do you think is the biggest key to propelling the resources towards this work?

JVH: I bring the same lens to LGBTI work that I bring to all my progressive work: a focus on poverty, race, and women. At the moment, poverty is not the subject of much discussion at the national level. I think this can be said of our movement as well. “Same-sex marriage” nearly defines the movement and has become a stand-in for rights. 

There is much to be said for same sex marriage, but I think that success in that area has obscured other problems that LGBTI people face. I cannot feel good about our work if it doesn’t foreground those of us with the least resources. I fear that the focus on legalizing same sex relationships has drawn attention to those most easily “mainstreamed”: that is to say, attractive, middle class/professional lesbians who are neither tran