QUEER ISSUE: The queer youth of LYRIC build community and fight discrimination without waiting for the adults
Another such community-building effort was on display at the LGBT Center on June 15: Youth Speaks' queer poetry slam Queeriosity. The show, which was preceded by five weeks of free poetry workshops for and by queer youth, brought together young queer people from across the Bay Area, and one could feel the love and support in the air.
"Queeriosity is important because, in the poetry scene, we have so many people with so many different backgrounds," Milani Pelley, one of the show's hosts and a poet who works with youth in the workshops, told me. "A lot of times people who get identified in the LGBT category, they don't have that space where they're front and center and it's a space for them. It's very important that we celebrate everyone."
Pelley, 24, has been working with Youth Speaks since she was 16. She said the message of the It Gets Better videos might be too simple.
"Thinking about being an adult versus a teenager, adults go through the same things," she said. "The only difference is it's not encouraged to speak out about it, you're supposed to act like you have it together and it's okay."
Mia said youthful teasing and bullying are precursors to hate crimes: "Bullying and hate crimes are related because it's all about people not accepting you, and then violently reacting to who are. So either throwing insults or beating you up."
On April 29, Brandy Martell, an African American trans woman, was murdered in Oakland in a likely hate crime. CeCe McDonald's recent case has also exhibited the dangers and injustice trans women of color face. The young Chicago woman defended herself against a bigoted attacker who she ended up killing, only to spend time in solitary confinement while awaiting trial, get convicted on manslaughter, and, last week, be placed in a men's prison to serve her sentence.
I asked the four LYRIC teachers about the campaigns of national organizations like the Human Rights Committee — such as marriage equity or LGBT soldiers — and they all shook their heads.
"There's a huge disconnect between the national platforms of the major gay organizations and the actual realities of queer youth," Mia said. "Like they don't even have queer youth in the majority of their meetings, but then they act like they're the ones fighting for our rights, you know."
For example, she said "marriage equality wouldn't affect me at all. Yeah, it would be okay, it would be better if it was equal across the board. But when you have people dying because of hate crimes, and dying because of bullying, and dying because they don't have a place to stay and they're on the streets, it's like, I just feel like those are a lot more pressing than getting a piece of paper from the government."
SETTING THE AGENDA
Mia serves on the city's Youth Commission, where she's designing training programs for service providers to work with LGBT youth. Ose is working with Schwartz to create programming for LGBTQ youth who don't want to take the common path of rejecting religion and spirituality as they come to terms with other parts of their identity.
"I go to church a lot," Ose explained. "I grew up as a Christian. And I wanted to touch base on that because a lot of times, the youth that I come across, the majority of them are being silenced...I'm still going through some issues with my own church, especially with my pastor because just recently I've heard that he dislikes me over the fact of the way I dress, the way I act, my feminine gestures."
Stephanie sighed and said, "I wish there were more LYRICS around the city. One in Bayview, one in every district. And Oakland too."
"People who provide counseling, food, clothes, water if you need it," Lola added. "A safe space to go to, a place where you can make friends, and make connections. There need to be more places like that specifically for queer youth."