BUFU’s Cloud 9 Builds New Networks of Care for QTPOC During the Pandemic and Beyond

Graphic by Sarah Sarwar // Images from BUFU

Before we ascend to the clouds, I hope we can begin with a brief check-in: how are you? Quite possibly, a silly question, I know. The circulated image of Ilana Wexler facetiously air-quoting “how am I?” continues to age like a fine wine. But seriously, how are you? Amid this insidious coronavirus pandemic, the need to foster love, wellness, and community takes precedence.

When the first wave of COVID-19 collided with our precious Queer lives, almost immediately the onslaught of calls for a “return to normalcy” echoed from the shallow shores of government and institutions entrenched in systemic oppression. Typical. As it becomes more evident that our current state- and federal-sponsored capitalist system is incapable of resolving a crisis on this scale, let us honor and shed light on the grassroots activists and organizations valiantly pushing for collective autonomy in our communities.

In a world built By Us For Us (BUFU) — a Queer collective of femme and non-binary organizers co-founded in 2015 by Tsige Tafesse, Katherine Tom, Sonia Choi, Jazmin Jones, and Jiun Kwon — the power of solidarity (not charity) can fundamentally dismantle the systems and structures that fail us. Deeply ingrained within the traditions and histories of marginalized people, mutual aid has long been the political action strategy for centralizing communalism. Especially for LGBTQIA+ folks who exist at the intersection of Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color.

“Under the mission of collaboration, BUFU’s work quickly tumbled into creating programmatic models that centered a ‘living archive’ approach,” co-founder Tsige Tafesse said to me via email. “[We sought] to create collaborative, sprawling projects under various themes that saw our lived experiences as expertise, and non-hierarchical care exchange as paramount.”

At the start of New York’s mandated quarantine this past March, within the perennial moments of deep uncertainty and anxiety for many folks, BUFU organized the Cloud 9: Mutual Aid Resources equipped with financial assistance, political action resources, spiritual/holistic exercises, and more.

“We want to create the interconnectedness necessary to build futures together,” spoke Cloud 9 Core Committee Member, Parissah Lin, over the phone. “With our team of folks — Alex Moon, Lee Jimenez, Michelle Ling, Fiona Feng, and Sajo Jefferson — we wanted to plug in, knowing that our skills, our capacities, and our histories are a valued distribution of information.”

In collaboration with China Residencies, BUFU launched Cloud 9: Collective Love on Your Desktop to virtually “share care strategies, wisdom, sweetness, resources, and love to support everyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic.” Conscious to always revert back to their care work mission, BUFU aims to wage a trusted alliance with their community. On May 5th, the Cloud 9 Mutual Aid team lead a town hall Zoom meeting for all QTPOC folks interested in becoming more involved in the cause. Whether you thrive in Fundraising, Tech, Workshop Programming, Nightlife, or Care Work, Cloud 9 and the Mutual Aid Team would be thrilled to welcome you as a volunteer!

“In solidarity with folks who experienced the pandemic earlier,” shared China Residencies founder, Kira Simon-Kennedy, “Cloud 9 aimed to get online programming and digital mutual support ASAP. All the committees formed organically and mobilized super quickly.”

As we move into a new chapter of archiving long-term strategies, what legacies will establish from our responses to this crisis? What emerging institutions will shape the world to come? Our need for mutual aid certainly existed before the present pandemic, and it’s important for our community to continue cultivating and gazing forward. When we reach a post-COVID-19 world, what do we want our society to look like?

To support the ongoing efforts of BUFU and Cloud 9, please consider donating here. Thank you! Stay safe <3


COMMUNITY CHECK is a series about mutual aid and taking care of each other in the time of coronavirus.

Elle McKenzie (she/they) is a Brooklyn-based literary agent and writer with a passion for identity politics, Black & queer culture, and mental wellness. Follow them on Twitter @inkresidue.

Elle has written 1 articles for us.

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