SALEM — It has been an interesting year for Joey Phoenix, a bright face in the local LGBTQ community who has gone from coming out with their identity to now supporting others trying to do the same.
The local writer opened 2019 by coming out as non-binary, then coming out as queer and poly months later on the pages of the Rainbow Times. Now, 12 months later, they’re a leading figure in the work to make North Shore Pride’s events come together under the social impacts of COVID-19.
Phoenix is a managing editor for Creative Collective and digital content manager for North Shore Pride.
“I’m a white queer,” Phoenix said, adding that they enjoy the privilege to say that publicly without losing either of their current jobs. “If I can do anything in my work on the North Shore to draw attention to the difficulty (faced by people within the LGBTQ community) and give them a boost, I’m sure as hell going to do that.”
Recent national headlines have spotlighted everything from crimes committed against members of the LGBTQ community to the recent ending of federal protections against health care discrimination for transgender patients.
Discomfort is something that, to some extent, has always followed Phoenix. They grew up in a religious household in Florida, creating a situation where they were “closeted for almost three decades,” they said.
Their family “didn’t hold space for me when I was younger,” Phoenix said. “I came out publicly in a story for North Shore Pride, and my family wrote and said, ‘What’s all this about?’ And I said, ‘We should talk about this for real.’”
Ultimately, Phoenix’s family embraced the news of their identity. But that created a powerful perspective for the writer.
“I’m privileged to be able to say all these things and keep both of my jobs,” Phoenix said. “And it’s because of that, that I have to say something.”
That’s especially so with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations playing out around the world, according to Phoenix.
“The events of the last few weeks have made (silence) not an option,” they said. “There’s widespread civil unrest as a result of unchecked white supremacy and systemic racism. This unrest is giving additional voice to the black trans movement in Pride, which has always been intersectional. We can’t separate it from the Black Lives Matter movement when black trans women have been some of the biggest targets of crime in the U.S.”
COVID-19 created a powerful opportunity for Phoenix to put their advocacy skills to work. With all of Pride’s in-person events for May and June curtailed, Creative Collective partnered with the organization to help pull things together digitally. That included organizing a virtual parade, lining up events and more.
“Virtual Pride is great. We all need Pride,” Phoenix said. “But what I’d like to see is more of these forums and opportunities. ... I want to create open dialogs where pride organizations can listen and appreciate their community.”
In other words, Phoenix wants to create the safe spaces that they have through privilege.
“Anybody with a platform should be asking the question. Like, ‘Hey, we hear you. You’re valid. How can we be better?’ and take that information and do things,” Phoenix said.
Hope Watt-Bucci, president of North Shore Pride, said Phoenix “is just remarkable. They’re so easy to work with, innovative, just a pleasure and true ally and member of our community. The foundation of their efforts, I believe, are to help the LGBTQ+ community, and it really shows through their efforts.”
The biggest thing Pride has enjoyed through Phoenix’s efforts, Watt-Bucci said, is getting word out.
Phoenix lightly panned the idea of being featured as a hometown hero, saying instead that they knew others who deserved to be recognized. That includes Ana Masacote with Queer Lynn Scene, who they said “is doing work with queer youth in the area who are young, coming out and afraid to do so.” They also named Nicole McClain, founder of North Shore Juneteenth, and NAGLY, the North Shore Alliance of LGBTQ Youth.
“It has never been about me,” Phoenix said. “Until we all have equal rights and are seen as humans, my work is not done.”