Brooklyn native Kaz Mitchell has roots that run deep in this city and this movement. She has helped lead multiple LGBTQ women’s health initiatives and is now helping elect the borough’s first openly gay District Attorney. Kaz talked with ELIXHER about her advocacy and how she’s rallying our community around the out DA candidate, Marc Fliedner.
ELIXHER: Tell us a bit about your background.
KAZ: I was born in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and I’m still a proud Brooklyn resident. I started my community activism during the beginning of the HIV epidemic, working as an outreach coordinator for Brooklyn Pride and Black Pride NYC, and as Economic Development Co- Chair on the LGBT Advisory Committee for former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. I worked at the LGBT Center’s Lesbian Cancer Initiative to help provide support and free mammograms to lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) women with catastrophic illnesses. I saw cases of late-stage diagnosed cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and more for the same reasons: women had no insurance for pre-screening and annual check-ups like breast exams and pap smears. There is a real lack of cultural competency at New York City hospitals when it comes to support for Black and LGBTQ folks.
Currently, I am the director of Circle of Voices, Inc. (COVI), a non-profit organization that addresses issues through art. We offer cultural night events for women to come together, while partnering with GMAD (Gay Men of African Descent) and GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis). Our initiative AU-NU-BU (About Us, Needs for Us, Because It’s Us) helps women find free or low-cost medical care and mental health services that are understanding of Black and brown lesbian, bi, and queer women. I also serve as chair of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center’s Community Advisory Board, working with a great group of patients, former patients and staff who support us to address ways patients can best be served at LGBTQ friendly medical spaces.
ELIXHER: What unique perspective are you bringing to your role as constituency organizer for Marc Fliedner’s campaign for Brooklyn District Attorney?
KAZ: I have carved a niche as the LGBTQ political liaison, especially for the LGBTQ communities of color. We want the campaign to reflect Brooklyn’s diversity and it’s only right that the first out gay DA candidate would have LGBTQ staff.
As a long-time resident of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, I’m able to connect Marc with communities that would traditionally not be the most open at first glance to what they perceive to be another white politician.
Marc and I have worked together for years — prior to his becoming a candidate earlier this year — on issues that affect the LGBTQ community. While he served in the DA’s office [as an Assistant District Attorney in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office], he was always attentive to our concerns, especially when it came to addressing concerns about safety and hate crimes.
ELIXHER: Why did you decide to support his campaign in this way?
KAZ: As a well respected and valued community influencer and knowing Marc’s dedication to equal justice, it was no question. When Marc speaks to a crowd I watch how engaged people become because they hear him and they want equal justice too. Black and brown people have been victims far too long and Marc prosecutes all people and police, too.
Many people don’t know what the DA does until something happens. I want people to know about the DA before something happens — whether they’re arrested or a victim of police violence. I want people to know who is responsible for the policing decisions in their borough.
As a long-time resident of Bed-Stuy, I’m able to connect Marc with communities that understand the realities of racial profiling and racially disproportionate policing practices. I’m supporting Marc because of his role as prosecutor in the Akai Gurley case. For those that don’t know, Akai Gurley was a young man of color shot in the Pink Houses [public housing projects in Brooklyn’s East New York] by a cop in 2014. It’s a familiar story, but I am proud to work with Marc because he is the only prosecutor in the country to actually get the conviction when a cop killed someone in our community. We see officers get off without even being tried, but it was important for Brooklyn to send a message of accountability.
ELIXHER: Why should other LGBTQ women of color, the LGBTQ community at large and communities of color at large get behind Marc for DA?
KAZ: It is vital that we stand with someone who can relate to discrimination due to sexual orientation. With the latest increase of hate crimes, especially in the transgender community of Brooklyn, we need a prosecutor that will fight for justice to the full extent of the law. [During his tenure, he tried and convicted Mashawn Sonds for the brutal hate-crime beating of a transgender woman in Bushwick.]
ELIXHER: How can we support and get involved?
KAZ: There is so much work to do in a borough-wide race like ours. Many hands make light work, and we need help getting Marc’s message out to Brooklyn. Whether it’s carrying petitions, going door-to-door, or hosting a house party for Marc, we need your support.