QUEER ISSUE: The queer youth of LYRIC build community and fight discrimination without waiting for the adults
Noted queer writer and speaker Dan Savage sent a hopeful message to LGBT youth with his 2010 YouTube video, "It Gets Better." But many queer youth in the Bay Area say they aren't willing to wait.
"If my adult self could talk to my 14 year old self and tell him anything, I would tell him to really believe the lyrics from "Somewhere," from West Side Story. There really is a place for us. There really is a place for you. And that one day you will have friends that love and support you, you will find love, you will find a community. And that life gets better," Savage said.
Savage and his partner Terry Miller's message went viral. It inspired hundreds of similar videos and eventually led to the creation of the It Gets Better Project, headquartered in Los Angeles. The videos were a response to a tragic cluster of suicides by children bullied for seeming gay, a trend that was only unusual in that the media picked up on it. And for many teens across the country, the "It Gets Better" videos provided crucial hope and support.
But last week, I was talking to Stephanie, Lolo, Ose, and Mia Tu Mutch, four Bay Area teens, about what its like to be a queer youth today. We were talking at the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC), a center for queer youth in the heart of the Castro.
When I asked about the "It Gets Better" videos, they all had the same reaction: "Ugh. I don't like those videos. I don't like those at all."
"Those videos are depressing," Lolo said.
"Yeah. 'Just wait 'til you're an adult?'" Stephanie asked.
"Just wait 'til you're an adult, and your problems will go away," Mia said, shaking her head.
"And it's celebrities, too," Ose noted. "'I got thousands of dollars, and it gets better!'"
The four of them are facilitators at LYRIC, leading weekly community-building workshops that deal with issues queer kids face. Between 17 and 21 years old, these youth are not waiting for it to get better. They're doing it for themselves.
LYRIC definitely promotes pride and empowerment. Founded in 1988, LYRIC organizers worked to secure funding for a physical space a few years later. Since then, this purple house on Collingwood has functioned as a crucial center for Bay Area queer youth. It offers counseling, food, clothing, community building workshops that kids teach, and a safe place to hang out.
But LYRIC, like many nonprofits, has felt the impact of the severe government cuts to health and human services. As a result, its budget has suffered steady declines from approximately $1.2 million in 2008 to $954,000 this, year primarily due to shrinking government funding.
But LYRIC refuses to give up offering paid internships, a rarity in the nonprofit world.
"The City has made it clear that they no longer intend to invest significant funding into subsidized employment model programs — they want to serve greater numbers of youth at a much lower unit cost — even if we all understand that some of the most marginalized youth will no longer be getting the intensive level of support they need to make it to a successful adulthood" LYRIC's Executive Director Jodi Schwartz told me, explaining that the organization is now growing support by more grassroots funding networks.
"We used to hire 60-70 young people per year, now it's more like 20," Schwartz says.
The organization still serves about 400 young people per year.
"I would guess we have 6,000 queer youth living in the city," Schwartz said. "So we're not reaching everyone. Not to say that all those 6,000 queer youth need a LYRIC, but they need community. We all need community."