Voices in solidarity
This is part one of a series
In this time of the pandemic, many folks are contributing behind the scenes for communities in need of help. Speaking up, risking their lives to spread the wealth of resources and ensure the health of those ill are these individuals who are reaching and saying, “Let me help you. Let me listen to you. Let me stand in solidarity with you.”
Sergio Mato (He/They) is the Community Developer at Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY). Mato spoke with me about the mutual aid they provide side by side with volunteers as they work to combat the impact COVID-19. Isolation and lack of reach to the stimulus aid package has become an issue on the intersections of LGBTQ, black, Latinx, Hispanic, and the impoverished and elderly communiies.
“I can’t afford to stay home, especially when transgender people of color don’t have access to their means to live,” said Sergio Mato, full-time worker at MCCNY. MCCNY’s mission statement states they are a spiritual home for the LGBT community and has been for the last 49 years. Right now, MCCNY is using everything in their power to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mato assists in both MCCNY’s shelter, which has been at capacity for the last two weeks, and the Silvia Rivera Food Pantry delivery. The small charity delivers to all five boroughs with the help of volunteers. Many drive their cars to make deliveries. Mato takes the metro to maintain their drop-offs after their work in the municipality is complete for the day.
“We are one of the only few shelters and [food] pantry open, and we won’t stop until everyone is fed and housed,” said Mato.
All volunteers and employees to MCCNY are taking risks in delivering food and shelter to people that will not see $1,200 of stimulus aid out of a $2.2 trillion aid package. The truth is universal; MCCNY needs more resources, more food, more aid. Sergio receives countless calls per day for updates on their mission to serve.
Due to the pandemic, this is the first time MCCNY has made a delivery service system out of the Silvia Rivera Food Pantry. They made 100 deliveries in the first week alone. It is projected by Mato that food deliveries will surpass 1000 soon.
The $1,200 per-person stimulus is available taxpayers up to a $75,000 yearly income for a single person and $2,400 for a married couple. The $1,200 in aid will start at $23,500 or if a married couple takes home $47,000 per year. Your income is on line 8b on your income tax return.
This also assumes people have bank accounts for the government to deposit into this month. Others may have to apply and wait up to four months, some say, if they do not have a bank account.
People and communities living paycheck to paycheck spend their money because it has to be spent in order to live. It is known that each dollar given to the poorest people of America will be put back into the economy so that these households can survive and take care of their families. One would think that would stimulate the economy as a means to protect all Americans in need. But much of the sitimulus bill instead protects what’s most precious to corporate America—the Stock Market.
Mato said there is fear and uncertainty about the lack of leadership. “There is no direct resource for people in need. There are only crumbs. There are mutual aid groups that don’t have access to food and other resources. We must make sure that people left out have this community.”
MCCNY has collaborated with Trans Latina Network and Black Trans Media in finding people who are queer people of color, black, and Latinx trans folk to ensure food, shelter, and safety is provided. The services of MCCNY and Silvia Rivera focus on the LGBTQ and intersections within, but the organizations will, of course, help anyone who needs aid.
In response to the special needs of elderly LGBTQ people Mato discussed the lack of protocol for LGBTQ elders. There is no consideration toward healthcare, pronouns, identity, respect, or understanding of the life of an older queer person he said. This diverse spectrum of needs is why mutual aid groups are so important. If the government cannot be of service for the people, then the people will have to mobilize as Mato and his peers have.
Mato is inspired by the late food pantry director, Siliva Riveria. Rivera’s goal in life was to have a shelter and food pantry that now holds her name. She was praised as a resilient person whose dream will live on.
“I never met Silvia, but we have archives and photos,” said the community developer. Moved by the values Silvia, Mato embraces her legacy in his work to help New York City communities. “She was a person who mobilized people and did her work out in the open. This has been the same value I try to instill,” said Mato.
Like hospitals, medical health facilities, and other mutual aid groups, MCCNY is in need of resources and taking donations to further support their aid efforts. To donate visit https://app.easytithe.com/App/Navigation/mccny
Eli Erlick, Director of Trans Student Educational Resources
Eli Erlick (She/Her), Director of Trans Student Educational Resources, writer and activist discussed how isolation is taking effect on self, and the queer community. Erlick’s thoughts on our immense dependency on capitalism, our turn towards socialism rather than the possible force of ecofascism, and worries of her mother on the frontlines of healthcare at this time.
How are you in this time of the pandemic?
Eli Erlick: Stressed! Isolation and economic anxiety may be as big of factors as the virus itself. Most of my friends were unexpectedly fired, and I’m glued to the 24-hour news cycle as though it will fix any of the problems we face today.
Do you have access to the things you need?
EE: Yes, I am very fortunate that most of my work is remote, and I’m still paid by my university. However, social isolation has been… well, isolating! I grew up in a very rural town where I had to cope without seeing people my own age for weeks at a time. Often, it felt like I was waiting to turn 18 and go to college where I could see other queer people. This reminds me of that time without the community, contact, or connection I needed.
Has anything been stifling or unpredictable for you, your physical health, and or mental wellbeing?
EE: I’ve been sick on-and-off for the past few weeks. I am lucky to be young and healthy, so the coronavirus only had minor effects on me.
Mentally, this quarantine reminds me how capitalism creates boredom. Unfortunately, we live in the belly of the capitalist beast. We are more alienated from our labor than ever as anything we produce is inevitably more separated from our bodies than ever. Many of my colleagues were reminded how expendable we are to institutions, fired without hesitation.
My mom is also a frontline healthcare worker working with coronavirus patients. She’s already overwhelmed, and all but guaranteed to get the virus herself. She’s over 60, which adds extra stress into the mix.
Do you feel like you’ve been able to maintain some sense of community?
EE: Yes, sometimes I feel fortunate that my rural upbringing taught me how to maintain community online.
What have you seen looking outward?
EE: Overall, we have two paths. We can go down the current one: ecofascism, with Trump leading the way to a new, sick population that welcomes the state to tightly control our everyday lives. The current government hopes to “shock” the public into accepting the draining of our economy into large corporations and the military.
However, I see more people heading in a new direction: socialism. This pandemic may be what the U.S. needs to recognize the importance of universal income, healthcare, and mutual aid. There’s no way to tell where this will go over the next few months but I’m hopeful we’ll have more people than ever supporting the wellbeing of our population.
Do you believe that people are struggling, particularly the queer community, in isolation?
EE: Queer people face unique challenges in this pandemic. We are reminded of the AIDS crisis, having to hide who we are, and our own personal isolation. Queer people are more likely to be immunocompromised, have inadequate healthcare, and live in sub-standard conditions. The quarantine and pandemic exacerbate these harsh realities beyond what we could have imagined just a few weeks ago.
LINKS FOR MORE:
Nathan Chait, “Republican Stimulus Plan Gives Less to Poor Households,” New York Magazine: Intelligencer, March 20, 2020,
Abby Vesoulis & Alana Abramson, “‘A Double Whammy,’ Those Who Most Need The $1,200 Stimulus Checks May Wait the Longest To Get Them,” Time: Politics, April 3, 2020