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Voices at the Intersection: Liz Phebus

Recently, we had the privilege of interviewing Liz Phebus a member of Mothers Out Front Pueblo, Colorado about the importance of LGBTQIA+ representation in the climate justice space.

Liz joined Mothers Out Front to make a tangible impact in her community. Initially drawn by her involvement with Clean Air Pueblo and No Nuclear Pueblo; groups that celebrate and welcome voices from all walks of life. Liz highlights the depth of their commitment to advancing climate justice. To Liz, being a mother transcends the traditional definitions.

“Although I am not a mother yet, I do not see myself as independent from the obligation to protect today’s children and the future generations. To me the word mother means protector. It is an innate responsibility to assume the role of the protector and action taker. It is doing what must be done and saying what needs to be said while staying true to the core of it all, deep unshakeable love for our children and our earth. I often think of what has been found in archeology and historical studies of the matriarchal societies that once existed, where matriarchal values were at the forefront. Centering of women, children, and elders and the community as a whole having reciprocal practices that sustain both the community and the environment. I believe all mothers and caretakers who are standing for environmental justice and human rights are upholding the matriarchal values of long ago.”

  • How does your LGBTQIA+ identity intersect with your passion for climate justice?

“As I witness the history of resistance that gave me my rights as a queer person today, I am reminded of the roots of Pride. Led by Black and Indigenous Trans Women, pride began as a protest, and the foundations of the environmental justice movement also started with Black and Indigenous people. This is the intersection for me, my marriage to my wife, my job, my community, and our activism is because of people of color. The foundations for my activism & queer rights were paved by the most severely impacted communities because they had no other choice but to raise their voices, take to the streets and resist. Their identities, lives, homes, and families were at stake and still are. To them it wasn’t a responsibility to resist, it meant life or death. I do the work that I do in the way that I do because the BIPOC community is still facing the same issues today, and I owe everything I have, and everything I can do, to them.”

  • Can you share any personal experiences or insights about the unique challenges faced by queer individuals in the context of the climate crisis? 

“Something I think we need to remember when having conversations about queer liberation and environmental justice is that Indigenous 2 Spirit people are continuously going missing; often mentioned as missing and murdered Indigenous women and 2 Spirit people (MMIW2S). Gender-based violence, including sexual assault and physical violence, is committed against 78% to 85% of Indigenous 2 Spirit individuals. It is directly related to industrial development on or near indigenous land, which not only further contaminates the land, but often involves the oil industry and exacerbates climate change. Due to outdated policy on tribal sovereignty, it is almost impossible to hold perpetrators accountable which leads to them feeling empowered in their violence towards Indigenous women and 2 Spirit individuals.

Queer liberation cannot be separated from Indigenous Liberation and land & tribal sovereignty, without it, we cannot have environmental justice either, because protecting Indigenous people is environmental justice. Indigenous people make up 6% of the global population yet they protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. The movement for a liveable climate must incorporate indigenous knowledge and a pathway to healing and reparations for those who knew how to work with the land reciprocally and sustainably for thousands of years. Many Indigenous 2 Spirit people were killed throughout colonization and are still being targeted, while a person like me a white lesbian, can remove themselves from experiencing that reality. The violence we see inflicted on Indigenous 2 Spirit people is a direct reflection of the violence inflicted on the land and climate by the fossil fuel industry. 

In addition to 2 spirit people, communities of color are at the forefront of the climate crisis, and the queer liberation movement. Black trans women and men face the most violence because of their identity and they are more likely to live in areas that have been sacrificed to industry, lack green spaces which is crucial for reducing the heat island effect, and are most likely to lose resources like water. Due to the intersections of being trans and people of color, Black Trans Women and Men have the highest risk for violence both in climate and LGBTQIA+ identity.”

  • How can we ensure that the broader climate justice movement remains inclusive and supportive of queer individuals and their unique perspectives?

“Center those who live at the intersections. They can provide insight into both queer and environmental justice from the perspective of the most affected. They have stories that go beyond what I have experienced myself, with a tremendous opportunity for us to see the bigger picture.

Recognizing that Queer people are everywhere, including in the Congo where all of the Coltan used in the electrification of our vehicles and tech comes from. We cannot just be supportive of queer individuals and perspectives from within our country. We must advocate for the safety and well-being of all queer people, not just the drag queens on tv, not just the people you see at your local pride parade–but all over the world. And we need to recognize that they are simply just people and you will most likely not ever know they are queer, but if we are fighting for queer rights and environmental justice, then we have an obligation as protectors to protect everyone, and everyone’s children, not just the children here in the United States, and if our green energy movement is using minerals that are obtained through violence and desecration to the land and people, then no we are not being inclusive to the international LGBTQIA+ community or international environmental justice.”