QUEER ISSUE: The queer youth of LYRIC build community and fight discrimination without waiting for the adults
Youth from across the country come to San Francisco seeking that community. Often they have escaped intolerant, abusive, or dangerous situations in their families or hometowns. But when they arrive in this storied city, these youth are often disappointed.
"I was that kid who left a small town in Texas and who got to San Francisco as fast as I could," Mia told me. "And I was like, you know, I'll figure it out, I'll find a job, and I'll do this and that. And it was really hard."
" I think that the difference is that there are more LGBT specific languages and policies, and organizations that are affirming. All of that is the best in the US, probably," Mia said. "And there are all these cultural groups and all of that. But queerphobia and transphobia exist here just like it exists everywhere else."
"So my big thing is how we have all these systems in place that make us a little more queer friendly," she said. "But how do we actually get the public to stop hating people, to stop doing hate crimes, to stop bullying?"
Ose, who now lives in the Bayview, grew up closer to the city. But coming from a religious family in Modesto, he says, "I had heard things about the Castro itself. I always thought the Castro was the devil...I was a church boy."
He remembers fear that someone he knew would recognize him in the forbidden neighborhood, that "my mom would find out and be like, what are you doing in the Castro? So I was scared to death my parents would find out I was coming to the Castro."
That was two years ago. Now, Ose works in the Castro, and he was dressed in cut-off shorts and a slicked back Mohawk, long painted nails clicking on the table. "I'm hella gayed out," he happily reports.
When Mia made it to San Francisco, she initially settled into the Tenderloin, rather than the gentrifying Castro.
"As a trans person, a lot of trans history is in the Tenderloin and there's a lot of trans women who live in the Tenderloin and who work in the Tenderloin," she explained. "So I feel more at home there. Even though it isn't technically the gay neighborhood, it's always been the queer ghetto and that's where the low income and queer people of color live a lot."
The Tenderloin is also the site of many of the services that queer youth use. Mia made some of her first local connections at Trans: Thrive, a program of the Asian Pacific Islander Center. And many of the kids at LYRIC, as well as the city's other queer teens, benefit from Larkin Street Youth Services.
The homeless shelter oversees the only beds reserved for queer youth in the city, all 22 of them, a number Schwartz believes in inadequate. A report from Larkin Street in 2010 found that 30 percent of the homeless youth they serve identify as LGBTQQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning).
LYRIC is part of the Community Partnership for LGBTQQ Youth and the Dimensions Clinic Collaborative, which includes service organizations like the queer-specific health clinic Dimensions, the nearby LGBT Center, the Bay Area Young Positives HIV health and support nonprofit, and the city's Department of Public Health. But LYRIC is one of only a few organizations that focuses on fun, informative community-building workshops.
Savage promised queer kids that, in the distant future, they would "have friends that love and support you, you will find love, you will find a community." But LYRIC's workshops, largely envisioned and run by the youth themselves, show kids that they don't need to wait: they can create those supportive networks for themselves, in the here and now.