takeactionandshine

letyourspiritshine:

"We come into this world unknown, But know that we are not alone
They try and knock us down But change is coming, it’s our time now”

the first lyrics to Kelly Clarkson’s “people like us” the creating change 2014 theme song. I first heard about creating change when I applied for a scholarship…

One of our scholars wrote about their experience at Creating Change.  We’re really happy that you enjoyed it and got so much out of it, Jay.

compassyouth

compassyouth:

The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change 2014 was an unforgettable experience. On the way there, our flights were cancelled FIVE times and we missed this fabulous woman speak. When we arrived in Houston, the energy pumping from wall to wall of the Hilton-Americas was immeasurable. The 4000 people in attendance were all there with one unified mission: to change the world. So, the following day, when we happened to be eating lunch in the same hotel cafe, I was slightly more empowered to interrupt Ms. Cox’s lunch and tell her that I simply did not come all this way to Houston, with FIVE flight cancellations, to not have the chance to introduce my two Youth Scholars to the one and only Laverne Cox. Taking a picture with Laverne Cox was our number one goal going into this conference but when I asked Ethan and Emma what their favorite part about the whole trip was, neither one of them mentioned meeting Laverne Cox. Don’t get me wrong, they loved meeting her. She is fierce and a true inspiration. However, they met incredible new friends, attended a dozen seminars and workshops, and had the time of their lives. Neither one of them wanted to leave. Creating Change proved that there are endless possibilities, and the power is in our hands. 

Andrew Lawless, 16, Tennessee

Ok, so, hi! My name is Andrew Lawless and I’m from Portland, TN – which isn’t much of a town but it’s what I call home! I have four younger sisters: Brianna, Gracie, Lexi, and Sydney – they range from ages 5 to 13. They’ve taught my lots of things over the years and that includes “monkey see – monkey do”, haha! My dad is married and two of my sisters live with him; my mom isn’t married yet and she’s got two of my sisters as well! I enjoy an array of activities, which includes everything from video games, writing, hanging out with friends, reading, learning, and being an activist!  

Throughout my life I’ve kind of always known that I was a little different. When I think of the younger me I picture a little Romeo, stealing all the little girl’s hearts! However, when I started 8th grade one of my cousins came to stay with us, he was gay, and I had always known that, but this time it was different. When I would hear him talk about liking guys or something in the “gay community” I would feel butterflies and kind of start blushing. When I felt those feels it took me back to 6th grade where I remember sitting in the shower just crying and crying because I knew that I liked guys. The connection was made and I was so scared. I knew that he had been kicked out of his house when he was young, just because he liked guys, to me that wasn’t a big deal, but to others, I realized, it was a huge deal. During his stay I came out to my mom after he jokingly interrogated me (because he knew and wanted me to be happy & out!). She took it very well and just gave me the general “be safe” lecture and told me that she would always love me like God had instructed her to do. I was super relieved and I started to flourish and be happy because I had found myself and was able to express that! 

In 8th grade I built a network of friends who knew that I liked guys and I enjoyed having that connection. However, that all changed when I moved in with my dad. My parents and I decided it would be best for me to live with him because the high school I was attending didn’t have many classes that I would’ve enjoyed. I was excited to move in with dad because I knew that I would be able to have a better high school education, but I was also worried that I couldn’t be myself there because he still didn’t know. I remember for Christmas I got a huge pack of Sharpies from my mom that year, I used them to doodle on everything I owned, of course! February rolled around and my best friend decided that it would super fabulous if she painted my nails with my huge pack of sharpies. So, I let her! Why not!? When I got home I heard one of my younger sisters say, “why are your nails like that, only gay people do that, eww.” Almost in harmony, my dad said, “I couldn’t have said it any better” then he turned to me and asked me why I had done that. I instantly ran to the bathroom and found any liquid that would take the sharpie off; then I sat in my bedroom floor for the next half hour crying because I was terrified my dad would find out. He came into my room, sat down, and asked me what was wrong, did something happen at school, did I fail a test, did my mom call with bad news? The fact that he watched me scrape the sharpie off of my nails while pretending he had no idea what I was crying about pissed me off. So finally I threw a single finger up towards one side of my room. He looked in that direction and the only thing there was a huge poster of one of my idols, Lady Gaga. I laughed and said “dad, I’m gay.” 

He sat there for a while, at a loss for words. All I could do was laugh because I couldn’t feel a weight on my chest anymore and I felt free. He stood up and walked out without saying a word. When he left my room I started to feel scared though, I didn’t know if he would come back into my room and scold me or tell me that he couldn’t love me like this. However, he returned to my room, sat back down on my bed, and told me that he would always love me but he couldn’t accept that I was gay. 

Since then I have came out to everyone who knows me. I kind of say I have left my cocoon and blossomed into a gay little butterfly! My dad and I have grown farther apart but recently we’ve been working towards getting closer and spending more time together. The rest of my family has embraced who I am and loves me either way! 

So when I watched Prayers For Bobby one night I felt that I needed to be there for people. No matter if it was for their sexuality, gender identity, or how they looked! I knew that I had been one of “the lucky ones” and I wasn’t shunned for being who I simply was. I sought out a way to get involved, I emailed my local PFLAG Chapter and from there, my activism started. 

On January 18, 2013, I was sexually assaulted in my previous school’s bathroom. Before this occurred I was focused on preventing LGBTQ bullying in all K12 schools simply because “it was wrong”, after the attack, however, bullying prevention had a whole new meaning. I have worked hard with the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and many other organizations to spread my experience as an out gay student in a rural town right in the middle of the Bible belt of America. I don’t plan to stop anytime soon and I know that being a YouthLink Scholarship recipient will only give me more tools to make all schools safer and more inclusive for ALL students! Hi, I’m Andrew, and I’m ready to kick ass at Creating Change 2014 and the years ahead of me! 

Alexis Henry, 21, Georgia

Nobody molested me. I don’t have a problem attracting guys. I’m not experimenting, because I’m in college. No, I wasn’t raped. Many complicate and misconstrue my story, because they don’t understand it. That is unnecessary. My story is very transparent and simple. I am a Black, femme lesbian: I am romantically and intimately attracted to women. I am Alexis Henry with twenty notches in my belt of life. I am pursuing a double major in psychology and Spanish, with intentions of becoming a counselor. The populations I would like to work with are battered women, inner-city adolescents, and queer youth. Somehow I’ve become a small pillar in the queer community around me. A year ago, if someone would have told me that I’d be a moderator for a blog with 1,000+ followers, attending a LGBT activism convention, and a lesbian who is confident and at home with herself; then I probably would’ve scoffed at them. It’s funny how life makes you eat your words.

 The private, liberal art women’s college that I attend, Agnes Scott, is where I successfully came out (I’d made attempts before that didn’t go over well.)  My immediate family knows that I am a lesbian and we have collectively come to terms with it. The extended family does not know and I think it is best that way, for the time being. I don’t think I have the emotional fortification that is required to deal with the backlash of my Black, Southern, heteronormative family finding out that I’m a lesbian.

When I chose my college, I was unaware of how queer-friendly it was.  Although, I feel very safe and at home here, I think that my college places too much of an emphasis on queerness and not enough on queer issues. There is so much of an effort to recognize and accommodate queer students that heterosexual students and their needs are forgotten and they often feel neglected and silenced. I know this is hard to believe, because it is usually the opposite at campuses across the nation, but I tell you no lies. I fear that this environment will encourage some students to see themselves only as queer or become wrapped up in being queer. And they would be selling themselves short in doing so, because they are so much more than queer.

I am not very active in the queer community on-campus. I prefer to be more independent and network off-campus. This is how I became a moderator for “Fuck Yeah LGBTQ Black People” (http://fuckyeahlgbtqblackpeople.tumblr.com). When I came on board in June 2013, the blog had seventy-seven followers and now, as of November 5, 2013, we have 1,606 followers. The blog’s main goal is to propagate images and stories of Black, queer-identifying individuals, because there is a great need for it on Tumblr, where most of the queer narratives and images are of queer people that are not of color.

It was through Tumblr that I found out about the YouthLink scholarship. I am very excited to be a part of this convention, because I feel that I will meet so many new people, learn so much, and have the opportunity to influence LGBT legislation! This is very important to me, because if I am to truly be a pillar of my community I must have the knowledge that is necessary to take care of and uplift it. Honestly, my dream is simple: I want to be the Ruth Ellis of my day. I want my home to be the “gay house” where all the queer people, especially the youth, come to be free, safe, and at home in each other’s’ understanding. I didn’t have that as I went through my journey of self-discovery, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to provide it for others

Anthony Hughes, 20, Nebraska

Looking back at my experience of recognizing my sexuality and finally coming out, I’ve come to realize the normalized nature in my community toward LGBT people.  It’s not one of bigoted ignorance or religious zealotry, as I feared, but of unquestionable acceptance to the point of almost insignificance.  Although I’ve known I was gay since I was ten, I didn’t come out until the age of eighteen, shortly after having graduated high school and feeling a need to turn a page and start life slightly afresh.  My nearest friends and family were overwhelmingly supportive, indeed encouraged, with my coming out, safe in the knowledge that I was comfortable with myself which was by far their chief interest; in fact, several members of my family confessed knowing to some degree from a young age that I was gay (mothers know everything).  

Since coming out, I have been welcomed into several local groups and organizations focusing exclusively on LGBT and youth affairs.  My university’s Gender & Sexuality Organization has been a useful catalyst in seeing firsthand a caring, diverse, motivated, and community-wide organization dedicated solely to the interest of students and their sexual health and awareness.  My membership in the Queer Nebraska Youth Networks has been an important vehicle in not only interacting with statewide LGBT youth and simply socializing in normal and open settings, but also provides a chance to learn from so many walks of LGBT life the hopes, tribulations, and successes of activists, business professionals, academics, and many others as they find their places in the world as private heroes in our community.

The education I have received as an active participant in these and other organizations has given me another part to my platform of advocacy, and has positively contributed to my growth as an openly gay individual who never hesitates to express to people my identity and interests when asked.  Such is the change my life has undergone that I seldom have an opportunity to examine in retrospect the personal obstacles I have overcome to where I find myself today without a sense of regret for not coming out earlier.  I think of all the stress I could have avoided, the honest companionship I could have enjoyed, the holistic sense of self I could have experienced had I been more forthright and open.  Conversely, however, I reflect on the remorse I feel and translate that into a passion to serve my LGBT community as an unwavering disciple for equality and tolerance wherever it is needed.  If I can inform or guide or encourage someone to wash themselves of their ignorance toward gay people, or to recognize and be proud of their sexuality if they are gay, I’d be pleased beyond measure to know I have had a positive effect on the community which has helped fashion me into the educated, unperturbed, and strident gay man that I am.

Daniel Perez, 18, California

Every once in a while, I will carefully remove two folded-up pieces of paper from my wallet.  On the outside of the older, slightly-torn and frayed piece of paper reads, “You did it!  -7/12/11.” All I need to do is pull out the folded paper, read the note I wrote to myself last July, and whatever feeling of sadness, weakness, or inadequacy I’m feeling dissipates.  I still think it’s amazing that after fourteen months, I can still look at this memento and feel the same feelings of happiness and relief that I felt when I first read what was printed on the sheet.

On July 12, 2011, I was sitting on a comfy couch inside the office of Ann Jong, LCSW, for my third therapy session with her.  I was beyond nervous.  Ann and I had planned what I was about to do the week prior.   My parents walked in and sat down, having no idea what was about to happen.  I pulled out a much-nicer-looking version of the letter that now resides in my wallet and started reading, “Dear Mom & Dad,  I want to share something about my life that is important because I love you.  I am gay….”  My parents sat quietly through the rest of my 3-paragraph confession, and there was much hugging and crying afterwards.  I had read about what this moment was like for other kids that came out to their parents, but their stories didn’t prepare me for the emotions I felt; I never felt more free in my life than I did at that moment.  And I get to relive that moment whenever I need to; all I have to do is look inside my wallet.

I mentioned that I keep two pieces of paper I my wallet; you now know that one contains my “coming out” letter I read to my parents, and unlocks for me the feelings of freedom and confidence that I struggled with for many years.  The other, slightly newer piece of paper contains a list of 207 names. On my 17th birthday last February, I felt ready and supported enough to come out to the rest of the world.  I wrote as my Facebook status, “All I want for my birthday is to live in a world where a boy doesn’t have to wait 17 years to come out as gay to his friends and family because he is afraid that people will treat him badly for it.”  207 people “liked” and/or commented my status.  I can look at this list of friends and family and know that this world is mine for the taking, because I have the love and support of all these people in my repertoire.  Look out world, because Daniel Perez is ready to make himself known.

Ethan Kennedy, 16. Florida

My name is Ethan Kennedy, and I proudly identify as a gay male. I’m born and raised in South Florida and currently residing in Royal Palm Beach with my mom, step-dad, and younger sister. I’m a total band and theatre geek, and I’ve been playing the Baritone for 5 years now. When I’m not on stage performing, I’m living life as a junior in high school at Oxbridge Academy. I founded and currently run my school’s GSA (which is one of the largest clubs in school), and strive to promote tolerance and equality throughout the student body. While I love performing arts, I also enjoy spending time hanging out with my friends, reading, and cosplaying at Anime Conventions. My favorite things in the world are Paramore, Homestuck, and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I came out in January of 2012, when my mom outed me at, believe it or not, Chik-Fil-A. After finding my blog and seeing several pride posts, she confronted me about it and I’ve been out ever since. The transition after coming out was very difficult, as I was dealing with severe depression and stress that led to my attending therapy for a while. But with the support of my family, and my mom eventually finding acceptance to my sexuality, I dug myself out of my pit of despair and began to slowly travel the road to pride. 

While in therapy, my therapist had suggested a GLCC (Gay Lesbian Community Center) in the area that held youth meetings. At the time, I had very little confidence in myself and tried to steer clear of interacting with others. I was worried that even at an LGBTAP community center, I’d be an outcast. I was soon convinced to attend a meeting, and it has changed my life ever since. My self-confidence increased dramatically, as did my ability to stand up for myself and not let anyone bully me. It was at that moment that I truly began to feel pride in being gay. That, mixed with the forming of a tolerating and supportive school environment and an even more supportive family, led to the blossoming change in my personality.

Since attending Compass, I have grown more social and active in my LGBTAP Community. I’ve been asked to represent Compass at events, attended and worked at Lake Worth PrideFest (my first PrideFest) last March, and have even had my writing published sharing my story to my community. I hope to continue my LGBTAP advocate work in college and through more opportunities with Compass and continue promoting equality for all.

I’ve been criticized a lot in life for being gay, especially in school. People have even made derogatory comments at me on the streets. But with my friends and family by my side, I’ve been able to overcome the depths of depression and plan to do great things. I hope one day I can make a difference in my community like they did for me.

YouthLink will be hosting a webinar in partnership with Pathfinders about Runaway and Homeless LGBT Youth. With record breaking cold bearing down on America, the hazards of homelessness in winter are even more severe. We hope that you all register and join us on Wednesday, January 15th, at 2:00PM EDT.

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The presentation will consist of an introduction to the hard facts known around the LGBT Homeless Youth population. 

Learn why the existing institutions that are engaging with this population have neglected the LGBT community. 

Details about the current status of the Runaway Homeless Youth Inclusion Act and how it attempts to address the current lapse in care. 

Find out which organizations are working on this issue, and who is in position to affect a greater role. 

This will also be an opportunity to discuss who else is working on homeless youth awareness efforts and what resources are available for those who want to educate their community on this issue.