The first spotlight in this mini-series, Buffy Jamison, has been blazing a trail for queer folks of color and marginalized communities over the past decade.
All photos taken by Jami Milne, and user with permission from IQCCC and Buffy Jamison
While most people seem to lose a part of their soul every time they log on to a video chat, Buffy Jamison is the opposite. Even over Zoom, Jamison’s a spotlight: all passion and energy that shines right through the screen, powered by her completely unfettered enthusiasm and zeal for the incredibly important work she does.
Today though, Jamison is conflicted. She’s about to be given an award, and it’s a pretty big deal. The Iowa Latino Hall of Fame is awarding her as 2020 Honoree — specifically receiving the LGBTQIA Leadership Award. While she’s happy to be recognized for her decade of work and advocacy around Central Iowa, she also wishes she didn’t have to do the work in the first place.
“It’s nice that the work is being recognized,” she says, “but you know what also would’ve been nice? Had you listened to my ancestors hundreds of years ago and implemented all of these changes back then so that I didn’t have to do this work right now.”
Jamison has done the work. Lots of it. She has spent the last decade trying to make her hometown of Des Moines a better place for everyone—particularly folks who are often marginalized. This is why she co-founded and now serves as co-chair of the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition. Why she serves on the board of the Des Moines Pride Center and the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change. Why she worked for One Iowa as their Program Coordinator/LGBTQ Healthcare Liaison. And why she constantly tries to educate those who will listen about the issues and struggles that both the LGBTQ community and communities of color continue to have.
Beyond all of the work she does for the community, what pushes her advocacy is her passion for education—that’s at Jamison core. She strongly believes in the right to education and providing that for her community. As a young child, education meant everything to her.
“Education is something that—I mean it saved my life, if I’m being honest with you,” she says. “Because of everything that I went through as a kid—I went through a lot of physical, emotional and psychological abuse by my peers and by adults. Just because of my disability and because I have always been a ‘pudgy’ person, along with the fact that for a while I had a speech impediment and selective mutism. It made me a huge outsider, and education was my escape.”
Jamison’s experiences as a kid is really what set her apart from her peers, and has made her into the fiery and impassioned advocate for queer, trans, and folks of color that she is today. In fact, she credits her disability as a child for helping spur on her passion for education. She was always good at explaining things. The reason? Oddly, autism. For young children with autism, including Jamison, sometimes things in school and everyday life have to be explained in a different way than for kids not on the spectrum. This gave Jamison the knowledge to explain things clearly to others and help them understand important issues.
Urban Plains: So your LinkedIn bio says that you are “an educator with a fierce passion for social justice.” What does that mean to you and what made you care so deeply about these topics in the first place?
Jamison: When it comes to education, there’s so much that people have not had access to as far as these matters go. As far as marginalized communities go, we just don’t get to learn about each other. When I found out about all the disparities and everything that I had been afforded … that angered me. It upset me. It made me sad. And that’s what sparked my passion for education. If no one else is going to give these resources to the community, I’m going to make sure they get them.
Jamison attended Iowa State University, graduating in 2013 with her BA in World Languages and Cultures with an emphasis in Spanish. While there, Jamison says, “I was heavily involved in everything, which is really what struck my passion for doing this kind of work.” At ISU, she was the President of the LGBTA alliance and played a large role in bringing the Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Ally Conference to Iowa State.
“During my time in Iowa State I learned more about education and the disparities that exist, as far as people of color go, folks who have low income, the LGBT community, like any marginalized person. And that broke my heart…And so I knew that was where I wanted to head [after graduation].”
This passion traveled with Jamison to the University of Denver, where she received her Master of Arts in Higher Education. In Denver, Jamison says she soon realized she was having a much different experience than many other students at the University of Denver. The school is almost 70 percent white. Many students come from affluent backgrounds.
“Lots of really wealthy people go there. So that was quite the experience, you know” Jamison says, “being one of few people of color that were part of the university period, much less the program that I was in.”
After graduation, she moved back to Des Moines and started a job at the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa as their Program Coordinator/LGBTQ Healthcare Liaison. There, she began to learn more and more about the history of Des Moines and pivotal people of color throughout the state. “The more I learned and the more that I saw, I was like, okay, I can see the gaps now. … And the folks that I noticed were falling through the cracks were queer people of color.”
Roughly at the end of 2018, Jamison left her role at One Iowa to join full-time the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition, a group she cofounded. It’s mission: “To use an intersectional lens to address the inequity of services, lack of support and space, socioeconomic disparities, and institutional racism experienced by our communities through education, advocacy, intentional inclusivity and organizing,” according to its website. And while that’s a mouthful, it also shows how broad the issues Jamison is trying to tackle are.
IQCCC is currently working on a project with the Des Moines Pride center to create a space and pantry for queer people of color to have access to a safe space, community, healthcare resources, and technology. “We’re hoping to get that starting at the beginning of next year, this is an ongoing project that’s going to take a little bit of time to get off of the ground, but it’s one of the biggest things [we’re working on].
Urban Plains: Your current role resides with Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition, as co-founder and co-chair. Being under the Iowa Department of Human Rights, what do you do in this role and what are your upcoming plans?
Jamison: Right now we’re still very much a baby, so the biggest thing for us this year and the biggest goal that we have for this year is just exposure, and letting people know that we are here. And you know, the world ‘caught fire’ this year so it set ablaze to a lot of our plans, which for me as a co-chair was super frustrating.”
That included having to scrap IQCCC’s launch plans. “I’m definitely a go-getter, so having to cancel our launch event for example was a big bummer for me,” Jamison says. “We had things planned for Pride Month, weren’t able to do that.”
“Like I said, we’ve still got a long way to go, we still have a lot of goals. But we’re working on it and I’m excited for where we’re going to be able to go and what we’re going to be able to do.