Shelby Chestnut is approaching her third anniversary in New York City, and was recently named the co-director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP). As co-director Shelby focuses on working toward ending anti-LGBTQ violence on the state and local level through campaign and coalition work and ensuring LGBTQ survivors of violence have access to services.
AVP was instrumental in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) being LGBTQ inclusive for the first time in this country’s history. A major campaign focus in 2013-2014 will be to increase LGBTQ survivors’ access shelter in New York City and state.
Chestnut recently sat down with The Independent for a short interview about her career, her work, and living in New York City.
Tell us about your position and your current work.
AVP (the New York City Anti-Violence Project) empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-affected communities and allies to end all forms of violence through organizing and education, and supports survivors through counseling and public advocacy.
You are incredibly passionate about your work. Why does it mean so much to you?
I feel very strongly that working in the anti-violence movement is a very important way to begin addressing oppression of all forms and the ways that it affected communities differently. Violence is a form of oppression and my personal and professional goals have always been to work to end oppression. Daily I work with LGBTQ survivors of violence and we strategize ways that we can increase their access to services and create policies that seek to end violence within the LGBTQ community.
What (career-wise) are you most proud of?
I don’t know if there is one thing I am most proud of. I like to think of myself as being very blessed to have a career that focuses on work that is important to the advancement of all people, particularly LGBTQ and HIV-affected people. Not everyone is as blessed as I am to have a career in a field where they believe in the work they do every day.
What did you study when you were at Antioch?
I had a self-designed [major] in cultural interdisciplinary studies. My studies focused on communications and women’s studies.
How did your time at Antioch influence your work?
To this day my time at Antioch continues to influence my work. The things I learned in the classroom and being part of a shared governance structure remain some of the most influential in my life and work. Being a member of AdCil and later a Community Manager, I learned how to engage a community, and facilitate and be part of a participatory democracy. I always say that thanks to my career at Antioch, I can now handle any job or situation. At Antioch I learned the tools to articulate the injustices in the world and work toward collective solutions.
Any professors that were particularly influential to either your work or your life?
The list is too long. The faculty at Antioch changed my life in deeply profound ways. I think the first class and professor that had a lasting impact was Steve Schwerner’s Civil Rights Movement class. It was here that I learned about one of my idols, Ella Baker. I learned about the strength of collective change and the power of “indigenous” leadership. Ann Filemyr, Suparna Bahskaran, and Dennie Eagleson were three of the most influential faculty I have ever worked with. They taught me a new way of looking at the world and challenging the status quo; they taught me to stand up and articulate what I believe to be right in the world. To this day I still reference the ideas they opened me up to in my work and they remain close friends of mine.
What would you say to current Antioch students who are interested in a similar profession?
I don’t know if community organizing is a profession, but if you want to work in this field and affect change in your community utilize co-op and connect it to your classroom work. Utilize the thousands of Antiochians working to affect change in the world. We all admire you and the journey you are on and want co-op students.
What about your personal life? Relationships? Travel?
My personal life could not be better. I have been in NYC for three years; I moved here in 2010 to start graduate school at the New School. I received my M.S. in May 2012 in non-profit management and have been with AVP since summer 2012. I continue to travel regularly as it’s the only way to avoid the Antiochian itch to move every three months.
Tell us about your next project.
I hope to continue my work in the anti-violence movement. I am in the beginning stages of creating a statewide shelter access campaign for LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence. I am working with mainstream domestic violence shelter providers to ensure their policies and procedures are LGBTQ inclusive, particularly of transgender women and gay men, as they lack access to shelter at higher rates than other groups within the LGBTQ community.