When she’s not busy being featured in Seventeen magazine or appearing on I Am Jazz, Ellie Gaustria is a 22-year-old Santa Fe College nursing major. She’s also president of the University of Florida’s Queer/Trans People of Color United (QTPOCU), working hard to support and educate others about her community. Especially when discussions of the struggles LGBT people face often leave out how racism, homophobia and transphobia are deeply connected. Originally founded in 2011, QTPOCU didn’t really take off until Gaustria took on the reins.
QTPOCU strives to change the conversation for queer/trans people of color.
Previously, as the only trans person and one of the few women in Santa Fe’s pride organization, Gaustria felt the LGBT resources on her own campus were lacking, especially in the racial diversity department. “I’ve never really been in an organization that really talked about being a person of color…QTPOC for me was really beautiful in kind of showcasing more about what it’s like to be a person of color and also a part of the community,” Gaustria said. After joining Pride Student Union on the nearby Universal of Florida campus, Gaustria decided to run for president of QTPOC United to help put the organization in the spotlight despite its unofficial sub-org status.
These days, QTPOCU general body meetings are mostly educational. Members both inside the acronym and out talk about current issues, like what cultural appropriation and microaggressions look like and how to combat them. Students and locals can also get guidance on how to fight back against internalized -isms and -phobias, too.
On top of weekly meetings, QTPOCU organizes a Queer/Trans People of Color Awareness Week once each semester to dive into the nitty gritty with topics like sexual assault and mental health. “Every single day of the week we have events on campus that are targeted towards teaching people about our QTPOC community,” Gaustria said. QTPOCU also brings in guest speakers and will soon be featuring writer and Faith in America founder Eliel Cruz.
Basically, QTPOCU is a great place to meet other people dealing with the same hateful bulls—t as you. If the scale of Pride Student Union, UF’s largest LGBT organization on campus, is intimidating, QTPOCU can be where you find home. “We’re very close to a family, almost, and it is a more intimate scene,” Gaustria said.
Before Gaustria became president, QTPOCU only had about two meetings a year with three or four people showing up and no real programming. Since then, she’s created a curriculum and boosted promos of the organization. Each meeting has grown to about 30 people. “I think we could be more visible, but I think what I’ve set out to do, I’ve done,” Gaustria said. For Gaustria, what she’s accomplished is only the beginning.
Evenonline, Gaustria is an outspoken activist; she uses social media platforms to spread awareness of the violence trans women of color like her face. “I think when we’re talking about social media and we’re talking about being in the entertainment industry, when we do hear trans perspectives—and that’s very rare—it’s always white trans people. You don’t really get to see trans people of color, or specifically trans/queer people of color,” Gaustria said. LGBT history practically began with trans women of color, and Gaustria is continuing that legacy. The fame she’s garnered online exposes her to both love and vicious harassment. But at the end of the day, the community she’s built, her immersion into QTPOC-centric spaces and self-care keep her going.
Anyone interested in getting involved with QTPOCU can follow the org on one of their many social media accounts, where cabinet member applications are also posted. The organization has both a public and private Facebook page, so even if you’re not out you can still “like” them to your heart’s content. For more information, hit them up at [email protected].