Regenerative Activism with Cyn Gomez
Updated: Apr 17
Cyn Gomez is a queer, trans, disabled activist who uses he/they pronouns and studies social welfare at UC Berkeley as a first generation student, with a minor in race and law. They are also Mexican, and the youngest of three. You may know them from their work in mental health advocacy in organizations like Tangible Movement and Mental Health America, or from their appearance on Teen Vogue and GLAAD’s 20 under 20 LGBTQ youth shaping the future list from 2021. They also worked in Government as the Commissioner on Homelessness for the City of Berkley.
More recently, you may know him from the speech he gave at the March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy, a speech that you can watch here:
Today, I interviewed Cyn Gomez about their work in activism, what influenced them, and what it means to work within and with systems that committed historic traumas to create change. Enjoy the interview.
(Cyn Gomez. Source: https://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/glaad-20-under-20-2021)
To start us off, what can the queer activists of tomorrow learn from the activists and organizations of the past?
(Audio from my Interview with Cyn Gomez)
Mm I think the, I think what I'm starting to see now but for a while wasn't necessarily there um was the solidarity aspect of all of these movements and the kind of collective care that was prioritized for like the sustainability of, of those movements. I think of the networks of care and protection that kind of came about um multiple times throughout history for the queer community.
But ultimately, like at the end of the day, like served as like not only mutual aid and mutual care but like a genuine investment and like the solidarity of that shared struggle, whether or not it was like lesbians and like gay men or like um the protection of like trans women throughout history has been really, I think making a comeback but for a while it wasn't necessarily at the forefront of a lot of movements until recently.
So I think that's something I look forward to for like the activists of the future is to continue that because um for me, I think that's been really fundamental in how I've seen the work that I do or the priorities I have. Because that genuine investment and mutual aid when you show up for another community, when you actively ensure the safety of those around you, I think that that's like the strongest thing about queer history and about specifically black and trans queer history. I think that that's like a solid framework of mutual aid and mutual care that we're starting to, to see in like these newer iterations, I should say.
And on that note of the work that you do, are there any activists or groups that inspire the work you do today?
(Audio from my Interview with Cyn Gomez)
Yeah, I think well, it showed on the day we were marching. I think the Panthers are really fundamental to a lot of the ways I show up in my work. I think mediations and community care after really hard, like days of struggle especially when they're being brutalized and targeted and (have) so many other like oppressions on top of the normal experience of being um a black man or woman in America, I think was really fundamental for me.
So learning from that and learning how to be regenerative in the activist work that you do is really important because that's like the only way you can actually ensure progress or change or like revolution happens. And I think, yeah, as I mentioned in my speech as well, the lavender menace is, is a really cool, like feminist part of, of this queer movement and the ways which women showed up for each other.
(The Black Panther Party's community breakfast program, a mutual aid program. Source: https://oregonhunger.org/black-panthers-breakfast-program/)
And the way gay men played a role in that kind of protection is really fundamental to me because I also think that that's like a really powerful example of ways you can show up for like your counterparts in the community, even though your experiences may vary. I really appreciated the way, specifically those white queer men showed up and like, put their bodies on the line, made sure like their, their community is safe because they know that they have like the closest proximity to those powers and those spaces. So, I think there's just a lot of like direct action and direct intervention and intentional regrouping that has happened in those movements. And that definitely guides the work that I do today.
(The Lavender Menace. Source: https://lithub.com/radical-lesbians-and-active-desire-on-rita-mae-brown-and-the-lesbian-political-movement/)
Enough about other people, speaking on your work. Tell me a little bit about how you personally approach activism.
(Audio from my Interview with Cyn Gomez)
I think I approach activism from … a very like, mindful approach to capacity and collective action. And what I mean by that is I think one of the things that I've learned over the years is how to tap in and tap out when you're at your limit and especially in organizing work. There's an inherent culture because you're so eager for the change to constantly be going and constantly be making strides towards whatever the goal is.
But for me, I think that that's not um super sustainable for me personally. So I have to really channel into networks of care. And I think that intentionality around um like transparency when you can and can't do something is something that's really helped me throughout like all of my work.
As the restorative justice intern for the San Francisco District attorney's office. Can you tell us a little bit about restorative justice, the philosophy behind it and how it can be implemented?
(Audio from my Interview with Cyn Gomez)
Oh my God. Yes. That experience at the DAs was a bit insane. I'll start there because it gives context as to what it was like as that intern and, and what restorative justice really meant for San Francisco at that moment. But it was a very interesting time to be in that space altogether because it was during a recall of one of the (most) progressive DAs (due to) movements resulting from 2020 and um all of like the violence that came towards communities of color. And you know, Chesa got into the, got into office, created this restorative justice priority. And there was a very significant culture shift in San Francisco where mobilizing to recall or have a tougher on crime approach became really prevalent. So this was all context I didn't have before jumping into the role. I saw restorative justice and I knew it was something I wanted to learn about.
So I applied but coming into, into the role amidst all of all of the recall and election of our current San Francisco DA, I think that that really shaped that whole experience because even within the office, you could tell that restorative justice was necessary in that space because harm had been done to the folks that were working there.
They had all come in for the most part with Chesa’s Vision for justice and that kind of just got flipped on its head and they didn't know how secure their livelihoods and so many other things would be. So that's the context. So coming into the role itself, I really got the chance to learn about how restorative justice looks very different across the world.
(DA Chesa Boudin. Source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/article/What-s-next-for-Chesa-Boudin-Maybe-another-run-17226653.php)
It has a very deep and rich history for a lot of indigenous communities across the world. And it's really interesting to see the ways it's shown up in various communities and the ways it varies in severity and privatization in that context. And I think there's so much that we don't get from our current legal system that could really benefit from restorative justice.
And I think primarily about-, one of the two of the key components for restorative justice are centering the harmed person and community accountability. And I think that that is something- or community accountability and the ability to voice as the harmed person is really important because in our current legal system, you don't get the opportunity as someone who's, you know, filing um or like fighting in this lawsuit, you don't get that opportunity to directly speak to the person that's harmed you and say like what it really felt like and you don't get to share your story in a genuine way and be heard in a genuine way. But rather, our current legal system (works) from a fear and like removal of individuality framework. So, um I should say removal of personhood and restorative justice gives space for the harm person to say, to name their grievances amidst community, for the purpose of accountability.
"But rather, our current legal system (works) from a fear and like removal of individuality framework. So, um I should say removal of personhood and restorative justice gives space for the harm person to say, to name their grievances amidst community, for the purpose of accountability."
This is what you did to hurt me and this is what I need from you to feel better. And once that kind of social and sometimes physical contract is signed, it's bound by the community. There's A commitment from everyone to have that be a collective responsibility. And, you know, there's degrees of severity that I think ultimately, like allows for people to grow and allows for people to make mistakes (due to) like what they are currently deconstructing or possibly going through.
So, I think that those are like the most fundamental components. I think what we could like definitely benefit from um when it comes to restorative justice is the ability to give context and allow for growth. I don't think a lot of our- a lot of the systems that we exist in, the education system, the medical system, the prison system, I don't think any of it is very forgiving. Because that's just the nature of like, like this capitalist experience that we're having. So, when I think of restorative justice, I also note that it's oftentimes before these systems of harm were put in place and now we need to address the additional layer of deconstructing everything we've learned and understanding and seeing the validity of restorative justice and what it has to offer. So, yeah, you open the can of worms with that question. I could talk about restorative justice literally all day.
You might just have a chance to. You talk about sustainable change making and restoring systems that have committed and are committing historic traumas, a goal that a lot of activists share, but don't know how to proactively achieve. What does sustainable change making and reforming those systems look like on a practical level?
(Audio from my Interview with Cyn Gomez)
Yeah. Um … Yeah, I think sustainable change making, I'll start there from this question. It can look like a lot of different things and on a practical level, a lot of times that can entail just being mindful of like; I've said before being mindful of your capacity because if you're working at zero, you're not able to show up for the causes that you care about and your mental health will show up in that space oftentimes in like irritability, burn out, depression, anxiety.
And it's horrible for activists to be experiencing that because you know, there's so much love and care and drive that you have for these issues and the fights that you're committing oftentimes like your life at the time too. So, I think sustainable change making means being mindful of your mental health and responding to it. Acting on it because it's two different things between recognizing uh shit I'm really burned out versus I need two weeks off to, you know, have like intense self care and check in with the things that are very grounding to me so I can continue to do this work. And, you know, that's like one very practical example that, you know, is very much so easier said than done. But it's important to know that, that, that can be one of the sustainable practices that you aim towards as an activist.
(A protest at a board of medicine meeting in Florida. Source: https://www.tampabay.com/news/health/2022/11/12/florida-bans-transgender-care-minors-whats-next/)
And, when we're talking about reforming the systems that have committed historic harms, what that looks like on a practical level is, is 1. Educating, I think there's a lot of times that more often not folks just don't know what they, what they don't know frankly. So you have to get on the same page, and be able to share language about whatever you're speaking on.
If someone doesn't believe that the civil war happened because of slavery, like you can't have a conversation, you need to have a shared understanding and have that foundation set. So knowing and learning how to do that is something that I'm very much still in the process of but meeting someone where they are and having each other working together to get to a shared understanding is the first step to you know, even just acknowledge that these historic traumas have happened. And that's the first step. I think that a lot of times we look over that or it's, it's, it's hard to be able to reach over and say, I know we disagree, but I, I want to hear your perspective and I, I would love for you to hear mine and we can get to a shared point of view. And that's also very much so easier said than done. But it's important also to think of what, what that could lead to.
I think for me, that's a very powerful way to start having harder conversations and know that you trust each other to not move with harm or, or intentional malice in those conversations. So I think once you're able to, you know, build those networks and be able to challenge each other, you're able to, you know, step by step, make the changes that you're, you're striving for, especially when it comes to the historic traumas and remedying them.
When everyone is understanding that reparations is a priority, they will become a priority. And that's how we reform, that's a small step towards reforming these systems because we're able to acknowledge that that harm is done and there's need and priority collectively on both sides, on any side. That this is something that needs to be done.
"And that's how we reform, that's a small step towards reforming these systems because we're able to acknowledge that that harm is done and there's need and priority collectively on both sides, on any side. That this is something that needs to be done."
So that's an example. But I think in the practical level. It's important to, to give that kind of, um, like storytelling or, or dreaming, I guess because that's definitely a lot harder to achieve in practice. But that is ultimately the goal and something I and many others are still learning how to do because, you know, every day it becomes a harder fight to really just meet each other and, and be open to having those conversations.
I know for me, I get really anxious about trying to reach over or recognize- interfacing with someone that doesn't see me as like a human or doesn't see my perspective as a valid one. And that's, that's hard to, you know, still want to, to do that next step of reaching out. But in sustainability and restoration it is important to know that it is the long fight, literally by sustainability and change making. There are histories of action and mobilizing and knowing that it is gonna be a long struggle and that this is the hard work that needs to happen for the change to be imaginable. So, yeah, I think that's how I would answer that question.
"I guess because that's definitely a lot harder to achieve in practice. But that is ultimately the goal and something I and many others are still learning how to do because, you know, every day it becomes a harder fight to really just meet each other and, and be open to having those conversations."
While a lot of radical activists often fight against structures from the outside, what does it mean to be someone working to change that structure in your various roles between commissioner on homelessness and your minor in race and law and your noted aspirations to be a congressperson?
(Audio from my Interview with Cyn Gomez)
A lot of things have changed from that point but I think for the most part sentiment remains very similar and, um, you know, working from the inside is … I like to think of- or I appreciate the knowledge I've gotten learning from, hearing from, you know, some like indigenous elders on my campus.
I came to an event where they were talking about how one of their fathers lived on a reservation but worked in like their local city government or something like that. And, or no, might have worked in- anyways- worked in the capacity to, to be interfacing with the legislature or be a part of the legislature. And as a native man, you know, a lot of folks were like, “I don't understand why you're doing this” or like, what, why, why would you do this basically?
And from what I remember her sharing with us, it was for the intention of recognizing the roles that everyone has in the community and recognizing that it's not necessarily one versus the other, but they are, you know, arms of the same movement. And, you know, I, I believe in the, in the case for this woman sharing, her grandfather or her father ultimately got some indigenous protections for their community.
And everyone was upset at the time because they fell short of what the community genuinely needed. And he said “My job was for us to get our foot in the door. And from here, we keep demanding more. We keep building on the foundation that's been set.” So I think that, you know, working in the, when I did work in the housing commission, I think that that was for me to be able to learn how to mobilize my community because I was able to understand how the commission was working and where their priorities were. So I think of when they were moving folks from People's Park, a local historical landmark and a homeless encampment right now. Moving folks from the park to, you know, hotel rooms, there wasn't an acknowledgement of the living conditions, the food conditions or anything else. That was actually happening and shareable from the community side, but it wasn't reaching the commission.
(People's Park. Source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/eastbay/article/UC-Berkeley-to-build-student-housing-at-16989720.php)
So my job was to say, hey, did you know there's actually roaches in the food or there's mold in the hotel rooms? Like why would you move people from their very safe encampments and move them to horrible living conditions? It's not a part of the agreement that's not what they signed on to and this is unjust. And I think that that is something that you wouldn't be able to do if you hadn't been able to navigate both spheres.
I also now see myself as the connecting aspect of it serving an intersectional role and knowledge sharing. Because I think that one of the most important things of like solidarity movements is knowing what other struggles are looking like and how you can connect them and how you can show up for each other and what that can mean for the long term goals of the collective movement.
So my role is also knowing what it's looking like on the inside and knowing, you know, what needs to be done in order to meet the folks that are in the positions of power to move and show up for the community in certain ways that we need… My job is the incremental change. And , when I put on my community organizer hat and move into that space, I then play the role of organizing and do that work.
So being able to know both spaces has been fundamental to the ways I show up in my community. Like, it's really fucked up I learn restorative justice from the District Attorney's office But now I know what the District Attorney's office looks like and I know what restorative justice looks like and I can bring that back to my community and we can fight stronger because we have knowledge and in the instances where institutional knowledge is gate kept and we don't know how to access these spaces, my job is to open that up and bring that back. So I think that that is like, fundamentally the role I play in the activist space.
I think this congressperson aspiration definitely changed when I lived in DC. Um And yeah, I've seen the way congress staffers are treated and ultimately, if you're the congressperson, you have the ability to determine that, but the general atmosphere is quite horrendous.
So, um I don't know if that's necessarily where I'm still headed. But I do, I do recognize that there's a lot of horribleness that I would be contributing to if I did. But yeah, I think also the minor in race and the law serves a similar function but to learn the theoretical side of all of this, of why this radical activism needs to be in place.
(People's park, from a different angle. Source: https://www.foxnews.com/us/uc-berkeley-converting-peoples-park-haven-for-homeless-and-drug-users-to-student-housing)
I think one of the biggest things for me also, is learning the laws of, of why this history has panned out the way it (has). I think civil rights law is one of the most interesting facets because it simultaneously opens up doors and closes so many all the time because of how controversial it is and what that means for the communities being harmed.
So I think my race and law minor definitely plays into that whole network of knowledge sharing because now I am able to also share with communities the resources I have or know how to show up because of the history that comes with their community and how to hold space for that. So I think learning the legality of (how) a lot of the harm manifests in all of society and (that) either it's that society is creating the law or the law is affecting society.
And I think that that relationship isn't acknowledged enough when it comes to why it's important to know that kind of history and legality that comes with the community because they carry all of that trauma and they carry all of that pain still because it's been an attack on their community by a space that is claiming to protect them.
And I think that that is really powerful. And I would love to see how I'm able to use this knowledge in the future because it's really powerful stuff in that, in that a minor in particular.
"So being able to know both spaces has been fundamental to the ways I show up in my community. Like, it's really fucked up I learn restorative justice from the District Attorney's office But now I know what the District Attorney's office looks like and I know what restorative justice looks like and I can bring that back to my community and we can fight stronger because we have knowledge and in the instances where institutional knowledge is gate kept and we don't know how to access these spaces, my job is to open that up and bring that back."
In your interview with Teen Vogue for Glad's 20 under 20 LGBTQ list, you say in relation to your heroes” being activists, government officials and organizers showed me that the fight for change can take many forms and taught me that the change that I make is important because there are people that came before me that paved the way.” How can LGBTQ plus youth who want to change things get involved in the fight?
(Audio from my Interview with Cyn Gomez)
Oh my goodness, that's beautiful. That makes me really happy to think about the ways like young queer folks can get involved. And I think it's, it's so multifaceted, especially right now when there's varying degrees of safety that come with the ways you show up in your community, but getting involved can look like so many different things.
And it can be anything from showing up as a support person for someone that is able to.
you know, especially right now, put their body on the line for like the struggle and the fight that we have, you can be that person that's out there. You know, confronting the legislature and being out there and vocalizing your opinions and your experiences because more than anything, they don't know shit about what, what it's like in our lives.
So we, they should, we should at least make them hear us. You can do art or music or poetry and capture this moment in a very different light and be a part of that knowledge sharing visually or audibly. And I think there's so many different ways that folks can get involved by just organizing, finding the various spaces that either online or in person can not only provide you community but a sense of empowerment and genuine empowerment because you're able to mobilize or share knowledge and resources and be able to, you know, ensure the longevity of that struggle. Because the folks on the front lines need breaks and they need to come down and, and not do that work. And, you know, there's gonna be times when you, you need to kind of fill in those gaps or be anticipating them and ensure the sustainability of the space and the struggle by, you know, making sure that that knowledge doesn't go anywhere, that energy doesn't go anywhere.
So when folks are ready to go out on the front lines, again, they have the community, they have the sense of strength that comes from that kind of people power. So I think, you know, it can look like anything if you're in high school getting involved with your GSA or like queer club equivalent. It can be, you know, organizing amongst your, you know, ethnic or racial identity and finding community there to mobilize for that very specific intersection of struggle.
You can work in mental health and, you know, do the research or do the knowledge sharing that comes with what mental health needs or current state looks like for us. And you can do financial literacy and share what knowledge is, which is necessary for us as like queer folks to be able to live and succeed in this very capitalist structure that we're in.
And I can keep going, but, the point being that you can show up with your skills, with your passion and I guarantee there's a space because this is been a movement and community that has been visible and invisible, and through it all, we've been able to coalesce and continue to struggle and continue to show up because everyone has shown up with their individual skills and values and like just knowledge to be able to make sure that this happens.
So show up in the ways that are safe for you and show up in the ways that you know you're willing to offer your community, your skill, your love and your heart. Because at the end of the day, whether or not you win the struggle or not, the heart is still gonna be there at the end of the day, or at least you would hope it would be.
And I think that all of that is really important for young activists to know because it's hard to know where to start. And once you, once it dawned on you that there's, there's this huge issue and you want to mobilize for it where to go from there can be really daunting. So I think knowing that you don't need to change or you don't need to, you know, learn something completely new if you don't want to, you can show up and the very beautiful thing about the queer community is that you will be valuable no matter what and you can show up with what you're able to and that is enough. And I think that organizing and how we expand the definition of like coalescing in this way can really encapsulate all of that. And it's important to catch all of that because, you know, for so long, we've gatekept and kicked people out of this community based on various different identities or experiences. And I think that it's up to us to redefine that and show up for each other with a loving ethic and genuine care for what we're able to bring to the table.
So I think knowing that you don't need to change or you don't need to, you know, learn something completely new if you don't want to, you can show up and the very beautiful thing about the queer community is that you will be valuable no matter what and you can show up with what you're able to and that is enough.
This article was written by Samira Burnside. You can reach her firstname.lastname@example.org .
You can find Cyn Gomez @Thecyngomez on twitter and Instagram.